Internet censorship again

Last year the German government and parliament agreed to a bill that enabled internet censorship in Germany, but the new government coalition agreed not to execute the law.
The new secretary of justice justified her reputation as a civil liberties bulwark.

Huge popular and expert resistance had pointed out the ineffectiveness and dangerousness of such an entry into web censorship.

The old government had used a the old trick of first stomping the least-liked people (this time pedophiles) with a new power of the state.

Zuerst holten sie die Kommunisten;
ich schwieg, denn ich war kein Kommunist.
Dann holten sie die Juden;
ich schwieg, denn ich war kein Jude.
Dann holten sie die Gewerkschaftsmitglieder unter den Arbeitern;
ich schwieg, denn ich war kein Gewerkschafter.
Danach holten sie die Katholiken;
ich schwieg, denn ich war Protestant.
Schließlich holten sie mich,
und da war keiner mehr, der für mich hätte sprechen können.

(Martin Niemöller)

(First they came for the communists;
I kept silent, for I was no communist.
The they came for the Jews;
I kept silent, for I was no Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists among the workers;
I kept silent, for I was no trade unionist.
Afterwards they came for the catholics;
I kept silent, for I was protestant.
Finally they came for me,
and nobody was left who could have raised his voice for me.)

(OK, this was a quite heavy calibre for the purpose, but they deserve it for it really seems to be the same old political salami technique!)

The assurance that there would be no extension of the tool was not beliebable - not the least because politicians from a government party had already called for extensions of the censorship to other topics before the bill became a law.

So basically we have this stupid law, but for some reason the government ignores it and it's not being used. Don't ask me how lawyers can call that rule of law for I was quite surprised by this turn of events.
The law is a Sword of Damocles, of course. Its use wouldn't require much more than a new coalition.

Anyway, the worst was fended off - the government doesn't create an internet censorship infrastructure - yet.

My car radio informed me today that this was only the first wave, though: The EU commissioner Malmström is proposing to go even farther than this censorship law - with the already well-known misleading arguments and ineffectiveness problems. It seems as if we need to fight the same fight again to fend off a dangerous entry into internet censorship made easy - although first reports indicate that the German government isn't inclined to agree with her.

The latter is not necessarily good news, for the German government's comments do not necessarily mean that it will stem itself against such a EU Directive. It appears as if the German government argues more along the line that our measures are more effective and new a EU Directive would thus not change much - except of course an entry into internet censorship.

I've also heard that this EU commissioner also wants to standardize up to 22 elements of an offence, some of them new and strongly smelling like impractical bullshit.
By the way - I cannot remember that any EU proponent known to me expressed his or her delight over the EU getting involved in national criminal law. I've yet to learn why this area requires EU-wide standardization.

I also think that something is wrong with the design of the very indirectly legitimated institution EU Commission. It's too often the source of bad news and too rarely the source of good news.
The EU parliament is different. Its reputation isn't the best (more along the lines of "overpaid/lazy"), but somehow it has an organisational culture that's said to turn even extremists into cooperative EU parliamentarians and it's quite reliably on the side of civil liberties. Maybe that's because it wsn't really powerful for most of its existence - maybe the members of this parliament weren't infected by "power" groupthink?

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: I have zero tolerance for civil rights infringements like this. It's right to oppose such projects with full (yet still legal) power from the beginning in my opinion. One could react to such infringements with small resistance and increase the resistance only when the infringements become more outrageous, but that's an inferior approach in my opinion. There's no reason why we should tolerate the watering-down of protection rights against the state. Our politicians seem to be convinced that they would never mis-use power and they seem to be convinced that no dangerous people will ever rise to power and mis-use such powers. Seriously, they forgot their own commemoration mantras!
I don't want them to have powers that they shouldn't use. Period.

edit 2010-04-02: Added translation for the quoted poem.


Military Helicopter prices and choices


I did recently look into the prices for helicopters - for example the very expensive NH90 TTH and as low-cost helicopters the Indian HAL Druv and the old Bell 412EP.

My initial prejudice was that the new helicopters (NH90) are too expensive for their performance.
Well, it turned out that their price may be justified by the raw published specs in comparison to Western alternative designs. The NH90 offers a good payload (in weight), high speed and greater abilities in difficult conditions.
That's a very superficial guesstimate, though. A complete comparison of such hardware would yield a study of 100+ pages and include findings about details such as the hardening of fuel lines .

There's still an unpleasant feeling about these high tech helicopters. Air transport is usually not that much limited by payload (in tons) as it is by cabin area and seats.
We could buy a larger fleet of AB412EP and would obviously end up with a larger troop transport capacity in terms of a "(men * distance) / 24 hrs" metric.
Quantity is also a quality in its own right; a few losses can seriously impair a small high-performance fleet (think of the Atlantic Conveyor in the Falklands War which sunk with three of only four Chinook helicopters of the invasion force).

A NH90 is on the other hand quite obviously more survivable than a AB412EP in a 1:1 comparison - this is an amplified advantage in small wars.

The old Bell 412EP has furthermore a very maintenance-intensive rotor head design (outdated for decades) that would probably be replaced with a better one (elastomeric bearings as in NH90) if the helicopter was procured by an Army like the German one.
The same applies to the Mi-17; both Cold War classics are nevertheless prime examples for proven & relatively low-cost tactical transport helicopters. I would without hesitation advise armies to buy such models if they don't pursue a high-tech strategy as do forces of rich nations.
Let me lift a quote from Wikipedia:

Flight International quotes the Thai army’s rationale: “We are buying three Mi-17 helicopters for the price of one Black Hawk. The Mi-17 can also carry more than 30 troops, while the Black Hawk could carry only 13 soldiers. These were the key factors behind the decision.”

...and the Black Hawk isn't even an example of the priciest, latest helicopter generation!

- - - - -

There IS a problem, though: HAL Druv, Mi-17, Bell 412EP - these aren't really low-cost helicopters. Their price is still in the millions. These designs are merely low-tech by today's standards.

The true low-cost helicopters are in the six-digit range - such as the Robinson R44 (you can buy more than 30 R44 for the price of one NH90!).

We've become so accustomed to orthodox military helicopters that the thought of an R44 as a useful military helicopter has become "strange". You might have that feeling as well and look at the twice as expensive, higher performance R66 instead. It's still a bargain.

A look at the Bell 47 can ease the unpleasant feeling as well: It evacuated 21,000 WIA soldiers as MedEvac helicopter in Korea and meant the breakthrough for helicopters in military service. The R44 is actually much more capable than a Bell 47.

You don't need more than an R44 equivalent for many liaison flights, for observing a brigade's road march from the air, for MedEvac (unless you insist on luxury MedEvac with on-board medical facilities and care).

The R44 is actually expensive in performance/price terms in comparison to a Mi-17, but several R44 equivalents instead of one Mi-17 have the invaluable ability to be at several locations at once. A small fleet of Mi-17 would often fly with few payload & passengers and waste much of its potential and it might be unresponsive if many small missions are deemed necessary at the same time.

- - - - -

Sure, the luxury of the NH90's extra performance is tasty - and maybe a high/low mix would be advisable. You wouldn't want to MedEvac with a R44 equivalent at night, for example. On the other hand NH90 would never be able to provide affordable general MedEvac support in a full-out war and it requires a larger clearing for landing.
I fail to see how a NH90 could provide more bang for the buck than a Mi-17 at daylight. This inability is in my opinion a hint that the design is a poor, gold-plated one (although the Mi-17 has high operating costs and benefits of low wages in Russia).

The all-high-end strategy in military helicopter procurement looks ill-advised to me. We can never get enough helicopters for the job like that - unless we ignore the primary defence job of collective self-defence and are only concerned about small & stupid wars in distant places.


(NH90 photo copyright see here.)



Kind of good news

I'm again commuting by train (not exactly a quick ride). This means that I'm again thinking about mil topics and making notes for about five hours per week. This will likely yield a small flood of new ideas, judging by the experience from last autumn. Some of these ideas will certainly make it into the blog. The supply of blog topics should be good in the next months.


Let's improve our democracy, a work in progress (II)

Having vented my interest in plebiscites recently, I'll show off a much more unorthodox idea for the improvement of representative democracy this time.

Let's begin with some examples.

Germany has a five-party system (CDU/CSU, SPD, Linke, Grüne, F.D.P.), evolved from a three-party system. There has always been a ruling coalition of two on the federal level and coalitions of three have been discussed at times, but they weren't necessary for a majority.

Well, I could vote for the F.D.P. because of its stance on civil liberties, but the F.D.P. won't rule without a coalition with at least either CDU/CSU (civil liberties abusers by German standards) or SPD (not that much better) anytime soon.
Even worse; I may agree with the F.D.P. on civil liberties and at the same time dislike their proximity to corporate special interests (such as a recent *questionable* tax break for the hotel sector).

It's perfectly common that a poll yields vastly different approval ratings of parties in different topics (such as economic policy, foreign policy, fiscal policy, environmental policy, social policy...).

Such dilemmas coin German elections; almost no-one is able to vote for a perfect representation of his/her own political opinion. You're always voting in favour of some political stances that you disagree with. It's all about suboptimal compromises.
Isn't this stupid and an embarrassing defect of the system?

A growing share of the German citizens got tired of this and doesn't vote anymore. Maybe they would vote again if they were confident that their vote would yield less random policy effects?

Plebiscites offer an alternative, but a plebiscite is quite an effort. It's justified for very important decisions, yet impractical for everyday decisions on a federal level.

- - - - -

I have an unorthodox idea; how about splitting the parliament into departments just like the cabinet is split up into different ministries? We could basically have a separate parliament for social policy, one for economic policy, one for foreign policy ... and a general one for reconciliation, as primus inter pares to break deadlocks. This system could replace the parliamentary committees of the present system.

This might help to improve the accuracy of representation because people tend to agree or disagree with parties less on specific issues than on the parties' general policy approach.

A valuable side-effect would be the vastly reduced workload per member of parliament. They would need to read less bills per year than the year has working days.
The specialist parliaments could also be downsized to a highly practical size of about 20-40 members each.
Every specialist parliament could have the expertise, time and motivation to fulfill the oversight role in regard to the corresponding ministry. The system would probably push us towards choosing specialist MPs more often as ministers (instead of failed and way too often incompetent state politicians).

Generalist politicians and arbiter characters would seek to join the primus inter pares parliament, while the specialist politicians with great expertise would move into the specialist parliaments. In the end, we wouldn't need more MPs than today.

Such a different system poses the question of how to elect the cabinet. The present system lets the parliament elect a Chancellor who then selects ministers (usually based on an agreement with the coalition partner).
A diverse parliamentary system as the outlined one could have the Chancellor elected by the general (primus inter pares) parliament and the ministers by the corresponding specialised parliaments.
The Chancellor could also be elected directly. The justification for the present system is in great part that it (almost) prevents the situation of a Chancellor in conflict with the parliament majority. Such a conflict would be of rather small relevance in the proposed system - the Chancellor would likely be in conflict with some specialist parliaments anyway.
The whole nature of the political system at the cabinet / parliament level would become more a bottom-up than a top-down setup.
The head of state (Chancellor) would need to focus on arbitration among ministers even more than today.

It's furthermore interesting that coalitions would make less sense than ever before, and they would likely be confined to individual parliaments. SPD and greens could form a majority coalition in the social policy parliament, greens and F.D.P. could form a majority coalition in the justice parliament - while the CDU/CSU and F.D.P. could probably have majority coalition in the economic policy parliament.

The only outstanding parliaments and cabinet positions would be the one for fiscal policy and the general (primus inter pares) one. Maybe these two should be joined into one?

This model opens up a whole range of topics to think about. I have spent some time reading political science literature, but I've never found an established model like this one. Maybe I missed one, then this would be a mere reinvention. Anyway, I think it's very interesting.

The concept of specialist parliaments with a reconciling primus inter pares general parliament could generate a much better match of the sovereign's political intent and actual political representation. It could at the same time address certain issues like lacking oversight, lacking competence and excessive MP workload.
I have a feeling that such a reform could be the biggest progress of representative democracy since the invention of proportional representation.



About my dog and the terrific complexity of our society

I had a dog until a few years ago. We got along greatly and I enjoyed to take the dog for a walk. It wasn't like with many other people and their dogs. I didn't need a dog leash for he never attacked or threatened strangers and he never crossed the street on his own.

He always ran ahead of me and simply walked around the bent when we came to a road interjunction. He had his fun with traces of smells and with leaving his marks and ran back to me once I reached the road interjunction as well. Then he looked up to me and waited for me to do the first step on the street before he himself began to run to the other side.
There were simply no troubles thanks to the one rule that he had learned; to never cross the street without my consent.

I always think of this when I see how other dog owners keep their dogs under control with short dog leashes, forcing the dog to walk at their relatively slow pace. That's so suboptimal, stressful and no fun. And then I need to think of something else because I begin to miss him again just as I do now.

Normal traffic isn't much different. In some places it's chaotic and full of "friction" and crashes while elsewhere it's an orderly flow. Sometimes I'm sitting in a café and watch the street. Everything works neatly, no collisions, no arguments, no electricity blackout - many rules are at work to keep the complex action on street in the precinct and on the nearby street going. I could hardly count the rules that all those people - and electronic hardware! - obey all the time, without exception. Well, until some drunkard comes along and violates the limit on how loud he's supposed to be at most.

We spend many years to learn to conform with the myriad of rules in our society (and immigrants have understandable problems to adapt). We consider people to be (almost) mature at 18 - as opposed to about 14 in less sophisticated societies. Four additional years of learning, till the age of 18 - and then the learning only begins for many young people.
A university is supposed to educate a young man for a profession and awards a title when he's done. That's nice, but in effect it doesn't train for one, but often for at least half a dozen different professions. It would take about 10 to 15 years to really attend (and learn for) all courses as a MBA student, for example. Even after this time, the student would merely have learnt the basics. It's no wonder that few MBA students can live up to the expectations of others when asked to comment on some particular economic legislation proposal.

The age of universal geniuses - people who knew all advances and insights of Western art and science - passed sometime in the early 19th century. Nowadays even Nobel prize winners from the same field of science can disagree fiercely on topics like the present economic crisis. The difference is usually easily explained with a look at their specific research, for they aren't really top experts beyond their narrow field of research - and thus they're excessively influenced by whatever their speciality suggests as interpretation and solution for a problem. The fair synthesis of existing knowledge busts even their capabilities.

The increasing specialisation and division of labour is extreme. Look at a "soldier", for example. He's not just a soldier; he's more. A soldier is (supposed to be) expert, specialist in something. Modern armies have hundreds of different job descriptions just like corporations have hundreds or thousands of different job descriptions.
Today we've even got Powerpoint soldiers. Their job (description) makes them produce the flood of at times neatly decorated Powerpoint slides. These decorations remind me of ornate medieval books. It's no wonder that there's a dedicated job description for this job; such a job existed even in the dark ages when people were really able to recount all couple dozens different professions in their society.

It's a weird feeling to relax, to empty the mind and then simply think of the world as if it was strange to you. Suddenly you can see all those self-evident things as a terrific, super-complex and clockwork way beyond your abilty to explain it. You think of the park bench you're sitting on and realise that you couldn't produce such a thing in a thousand years because you have no clue how to make such a green paint. Or the steel. Think of all those mine workers, steel workers, truck drivers, salespersons, metal workers involved in producing that simple park bench.

How could anyone make a decision or develop something new without ignoring almost the whole world? You need to ignore almost the whole world, after all. You couldn't handle its complexity if you didn't dumb it down to the point of near-total ignorance.
Think of a general; do you think that he could recount every military job description of every soldier under his command by title? How many could he recount in detail?

What does this necessity to simplify everything to the point of near-total ignorance mean for our ability to advance without primitive trial-and-error?
Are we locked into evolving, never revolutionising our institutions because building new ones would require a Herkulean job of constructing a new rule set?

I still miss my dog badly.




Let's improve our democracy, a work in progress (I)

Germany's consitution dates back to 1949 and was adopted for the whole of Germany in 1990. The only really big push for more democracy in Western Germany post-'49 came with the Brandt government in 1969:

"Wir wollen mehr Demokratie wagen."
"Wir stehen nicht am Ende unserer Demokratie, wir fangen erst richtig an"

"We want to dare more democracy."
"We aren't at the end of our democracy, we've only just begun"

I like this attitude. A state should be a work in progress, up to its constitution; the society should always strive for its improvement. This includes democratisation (Brandt meant a in part the democratisation of the economy, though).

The diversity of (nation) states in the world offers us with a huge repertoire of alternatives and lessons learned. We should be able to find superior solutions than our old ones and to figure out how to integrate some of them into our system of government.

This doesn't really happen nowadays. Politicians are content with their powers and most pro-democracy forces in the society emphasize the superiority of and (their loyalty to) our political system so much that they forget about working on its improvement. This is probably the worst effect of left and right wing extremism in Germany.
It's difficult to improve something that you declare "great" in it defence against critics whom you dislike.

I am especially unsatisfied with the legitimacy and accuracy of political representation in Germany.

- - - - -

Today I want to write about one general direction towards improvements. The system is in my opinion quite primitive and not optimized yet. We have basically two levels of governance: The legislative and the gubernative. The latter is empowered by the former through laws to issue legal ordinances and to slightly modify their budget to handle topics without lengthy parliamentary discussions.

This makes sense, for many small topics mean way too much work for a (single) parliament. The current workload of laws per year is already too high as it is. It's already implausible to believe that a member of parliament has really read all bills that (s)he voted for. The parliament copes with the workload by assigning a few MPs to investigate a bill in detail and to report the findings to their factions in the parliament.

- - - - -

Acts of governance should be understood as having two most important characteristics: The strength of required legitimacy and their importance. Both should correlate positively more often than not.
An example for the strength of required legitimacy: You would not want to allow a chancellor to change the constitution. This should require a parliamentary (super)majority or a plebiscite majority. Meanwhile, neither of both should be necessary to move some per cent of a construction budget to another construction budget.
The strength of required legitimacy sets the minimum workload for the stronger sources of legitimacy, such as plebiscite and parliament.

The other important characteristic is importance. The parliament is probably not yet fully occupied with what the former criteria allocated as its workload. It can do more, but what should it care about? The important things, of course.
It could give a secretary of defence a general budget without specifying what he should do with it. That's generally not the preferred mode of operation. The use of the budget is important, and thus the parliament defines a budget with sub-titles and sets the allocation of resources (usually based on the government's commendation).
Likewise, it's custom to ratify all international treaties in the parliament because this kind of treaty is considered to be important no matter how trivial its content is. Most such treaties are actually based on some standard form (such as the OECD standard non-double taxation treaty standard form).

- - - - -

In the end, there are different topics with a different 'optimal' level for their handling. This may be cabinet's legal ordinances, parliament, both parliaments, parliament super majority, for example.

Finally, there's the case of an even greater demand for legitimation; the sovereign itself needs to decide. This is the case that requires a plebiscite in countries where the people are the sovereign as in Germany.

I do not believe that the legitimacy of representative democracy is strong enough for topics like war or peace, changes of constitution or permanent delegation of cabinet or legislative competences to a multinational body. I consider only the sovereign itself - the people - as the legitimate decisionmaker on such topics.

Article 20, Abs. 2 or the German constitution actually says something similar:

Art 20
(2) Alle Staatsgewalt geht vom Volke aus. Sie wird vom Volke in Wahlen und Abstimmungen und durch besondere Organe der Gesetzgebung, der vollziehenden Gewalt und der Rechtsprechung ausgeübt.

(Article 20
(2) All authority stems from the People. The people exercise authority in elections and votes and through special organs of legislative, executive and judicative.

The "votes" (Abstimmungen) part is quite rudimentary today - and non-existing on the federal level. We had no plebiscite on the NATO, WEU, EG, reunification, EU, Euro currency and Lisbon treaty.
Some village can have a plebiscite on whether it wants to support an airport project or not; that's about the level of our direct democracy.

The Swiss have much more, and they demonstrate that it works well. Their political system isn't perfect and should not be adopted as a whole, but they offer an irrefutable proof of concept for plebiscites.

A major obstacle to federal German plebiscites (ranking behind politician's thirst for power, of course) is a German myth. This myth basically asserts that plebiscites have helped to bring down the Weimar Republic. That's rubbish, and I wrote about this before.

Many people are skeptical of the people's ability to rule wisely through plebiscites.
The first obvious counter-argument is of course that the people only need to meet the quality of politician's decisions. We all know that the latter are often outright terrible. I shudder to think of the possibility of a future German chancellor who comes close to any of these politicians: Bush2, Scharping, Lafontaine, Gisy, Blair, Schäuble or Putin (to name just a few examples). Well, actually I already shudder to think of Merkel or half of her ministers.

Yet, the real problem with the distrust against the voters is a fundamental one: A democratic-minded person cannot have such a distrust. You're either democratically-minded and believe in the idea of democracy & bottom-up power - or you're an authoritarian-minded person who trusts into technocrats or hopes for a benevolent dictator. You cannot distrust the voters and be a democratic-minded person at once (in my opinion).

Voters aren't perfect, but I trust them more than I do trust politicians. Top politicians passed a selection process based in great part on their thirst for power and their ruthlessness in the competition with others. The average voter is better than that.

There's also a difference between an electorate that only discusses about plebiscites and one that actually voted in some for years. Responsibility comes from the necessity to be responsible.

We should treat our democracy as a work in progress and keep looking for possible improvement - and implement convincing proposals. The alternative is to stick with an unnecessarily defective system till some great crisis, for crisis seems to be the exogenous shock that enables great changes in systems of governance. Sadly, such shocks don't lead to improvements nearly as reliably as well thought-out improvements without desperation.

The inclusion of federal plebiscites is a very promising proposal for an improvement of our system of government. It could help to improve the legitimacy of the most important decisions.



Illegitimate influences on our governments

Corporate influence on legislative and executive is dangerous for the freedom of a society. This problem is acute in many countries and some societies are very aware of this problem of theirs.

This recent example from the UK is an interesting and disgusting reminder.

The discussion is on a minimal level in Germany. We had some critical voices about the presence of top bankers in meetings about how to react to the financial crisis, we had a small scandal about external lawyers writing bills and being confident enough to use their own letter head and the influence on lobbyists is as well known as the proximity between many CEOs and top politicians.
Nevertheless, the topic of improper corporate influence on policy is not a big or persistent one in Germany.

The problem is in fact not so much their influence as the lack of a counter influence. The asymmetry is the problem.

The ministry bureaucracies don't have enough expertise to do their job alone - they depend on information input from lobbyists, corporations and NGOs. These bureaucracies would become even costlier, larger and slower if they had to do allr esearch on their own - and even then they would at some point need to ask others for information (which would be filtered, of course).

It's a systematic design fault that modern states aren't able to keep a proper balance. It's probably not humanly possible at all.

Well, there's a problem - a serious one. We should begin to understand it and to understand it as a challenge. More transparacy would be a possible approach. Maybe we should enforce that all outside contacts of politicians and bureaucrats need to be logged. Even a scaled-down version of such a requirement would would produce a huge amount of data - and we would need trustworthy journalists and/or NGOs to analyze this data.

Another possibility is to set new rules and to enforce them - if necessary with serious sanctions. A bureaucrat who copies a corporate proposal into a bill deserves to be fired as a principle, for example. Politicians need more protection - it should suffice to expose their action to the public.

There are likely dozens if not hundreds of promising proposals for how to meet this challenge - we merely need to pick them up.

The point is: We need to recognize asymmetric exogenous influences on legislative and executive as a problem and as likely causes for serious societal problems. We need to meet this challenge and strive for a reduction of the problem.
Corporate interest influence on legislation is a relative of foreign rule. It's a problem that severs our sovereignty and liberty.

The people are the sovereign in Germany. The government shall serve them, not corporate or other organised special interests.

Sven Ortmann


Germany's Alliances (II)

edit March 2013: I misleadingly called the relevant treaty "Treaty of Lisbon" in this blog post. It's accurate to call it Lisbon treaty, Treaty of the European Union or EU Vertrag. The relevant provision is in
Treaty of the European Union / Title 5 / Chapter 2 / Section 2 / Article 42.

I'm trying to keep track of my country's formal alliances and this is much more demanding than I'd have expected a few years ago.
I even forgot to mention the newest formal alliance of ours back in December.

Are you German? Did you get the news about the extended alliance responsibilities of Germany back in December? We committed ourselves to much greater collective defence responsibilities than ever before. Something like that has certainly sparked a great debate and produced much news in our newspapers and TV channels, right?
Well, I cannot remember that, but in fact I'm not just fooling around.

Our NATO collective defence was regionally limited, basically to Europe and North America. Attacks on the Falklands, for example, wouldn't have activated NATO obligations. NATO is only a collective defence north of the tropic of cancer (see article VI).

The WEU treaty has stronger wording about what to do in case of an attack, but it's limited to Europe (see article V).

Well, what was the extension of our collective defence commitments (and I'm really sorry that I'm so late on this, but it wasn't exactly well-reported elsewhere either)?

7. If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

Commitments and cooperation in this area shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation.

In other words: We would have a V-Fall, the situation of collective defence, if the Argentinians invaded the Falklands again. That would be an armed aggression against the territory of the treaty member UK and would activate our obligation to aid and assistance by all the means in our power.

I suspect for some reason that the German public is not sufficiently informed about this (albeit many may believe that the Falklands would be covered by NATO obligations without being able to tell how that would fit to the history of the Falklands War).

I have a feeling that we are committing too frivolously to military-related obligations. There was absolutely no security gained by expanding our commitments after 1999, neither in EU nor in NATO. Meanwhile, the German public is not appropriately informed about defence commitments because of our focus on economic matters.




The first (and only?) phase that counts


Do you remember the headlines about the occupation of Kosovo? The Russians (206 paratroopers in light AFVs) hurried up and reached their objective (Pristina airport) faster than Western ground troops. This became one of the ingredients of the "8x8 AFV" and "air deployable" fashion of 1999 till about 2004.

To get into a favourable position early and quick has also kept NATO busy during the 90's. The NATO strategy for a great war in the post-Cold War 90's was counter-concentration, the deployment of reinforcements in a crisis region. Many formations were selected for such early deployments in many European nations.
That may include a kind of vicious circle mobilization dynamic as it was important in the final days before the First World War, but it was adopted nevertheless. Oh, well, and its chance of actually deploy combat-ready forces in time despite the initiative advantage of whoever wants to launch an aggression is debatable.

These and other examples reveal a great interest in the first phase of a hot conflict; get your troops into the place in question ASAP. An alternative would be to exploit an aggressor's culminating point and prepare for a counter-offensive only as happened in the Libyan desert in 1940 and in Korea 1950/51, but that's apparently not something you can sell to politicians.

The interest shifted away from the early (deployment, stop aggressor's advance) phases of war to the final one - occupation - due to the course of the recent mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

- - - - -

I think it's about time to allocate attention again to the first one or two phases of war.

Nobody wants protracted war, especially not amongst great or even nuclear powers. The outbreak of an armed conflict of this kind (most likely on a proxy's or allies' terrain) is nevertheless possible. What would be the obvious political conclusion? You should end the war ASAP, preferably by making sure ASAP that the aggressor accepts that his plan failed and by offering a draw.

Let's take the Baltic example; the Baltic is known in NATO to be quite indefensible, at least without predeployment of forces. We could do something about this weak spot (like subsidizing them into copies of Israel at least in regard to their armies), of course.
A quite difficult scenario would include a Russian coup de main in a matter of days and the occupation of the three Baltic countries with Russian internal ministry forces (~Chechnya) behind a screen of military forces.
Russia could then annex all three (NATO member) Baltic countries and simply state that any attempt to reconquer or continue the hot conflict would lead to tactical and operational nuclear strikes.
I bet we wouldn't risk that and instead go through the predictable procedure of a UN-guarded ceasefire and UN talks. Exiled Baltic governments would probably partially save our face by asking us not to risk a nuclear war in their homeland.

- - - - -

There are more such examples of wars that could be decided in a matter of days because a continuation of the conflict after fait accompli would be a too terrible alternative. The South Georgia conflict in 2008 fits quite well.

Then again, air-deployable forces probably lack the punch and even the steadfastness in the defence for the job. Air-deployable forces are limited in their vehicle size, weight and quantity as well as their quantity of supplies. They tend to rest much combat power on infantry, anti-tank missiles and rather basic indirect fires.
Positional defence is - and always has been - unsatisfactory in warfare. You always depend on at least local counter-attacks to succeed in the defence (even during the Trench War 1915-1918!).
The "air deployable" fashion seems to be an unsatisfactory answer for the problem of few-days-wars to me.

Pre-deployment isn't satisfactory either. Take the Baltic example; it would take about six to twelve brigades in the theatre to deter or stop a competently planned invasion cold. These troops could be misunderstood as a threat, the deployment would cost much and it's an impossible approach for many other conflict hot spots. We couldn't use pre-deployed troops to deter a Russian intervention in Ukrainian domestic conflicts, for example.

- - - - -

Well, what should we do about this?

First of all, I'm only pro "wars of necessity". This cuts down the range of potential scenarios because it excludes many possible follies.
We agreed to protect the Baltic when we welcomed the in NATO and this means that we should be prepared to defend their sovereignty with violence - successful violence. This ranks higher than all stupid adventures that our politicians have embarked Western troops on since '91. Adults recognize that the world isn't a playing field and life includes unpleasant obligations.

I personally like my idea (quelle surprise!) of a "Grenzer" kind of defence for the Baltic. They could be subsidized to build up forces way beyond their own capabilities. The Baltic would become militarized like Israel, probably the least unlikely method for having enough defenders in place.
I called this "Grenzer"; the Austrian-Hungarian empire had almost perpetual troubles with the Turks (Ottomans), which had proficient light cavalry capable of devastating raids even in peacetime. Their answer was to exclude the border regions from taxation and to require that the inhabitants and colonists in these regions be prepared to defend themselves in return. The model was kept for many generations; it seems to have worked. The Grenzer model allowed the empire to cut its regular army free from the Southern Border.

This model adapted to the Baltic would replace the tax exemption with subsidies (quite the same effect if you think about it; the border regions get the economic ability to sustain sufficient military power by themselves). NATO manoeuvre armies could be held back, would not need to deploy and especially not to garrison the Baltic in peacetime.

An improvement of land traffic infrastructure is highly advisable as a preparation for this and other possible peripheral conflicts. There's only one real road that connects the Baltic states and Poland, for example. Such a bottleneck is unacceptable.

It would also be worth a try to have some full brigade deployment exercises. The German, French and Polish Secretaries of Defence should phone some colleagues and get the right to deploy a brigade for the purpose of exercising (and as an experiment) sometime in the future. Then, months or years later, they should suddenly during a Saturday night decide on their own that one of their brigades should deploy ASAP.
That would become an interesting spectacle. I wouldn't expect Western or Central European Brigade to become 80% combat-ready (with supplies) in Lithuania in less than two weeks. Units with many tracked vehicles would probably take much more. An invasion on the other hand would likely be complete after a few days.

We should really go back to old habits and stress the look at the early phases of armed conflict and the prevention of conflicts. That is when you can still keep the war from taking a bloody, expensive and protracted course. The occupation phase does by comparison not even exist in many armed conflicts!
There's much to do in regard to the early phases of conflict. NATO's "counter concentration" and "multinational rapid reaction forces" approach doesn't cut it in my opinion.



Who should conceive of strategy in hot conflicts?

Who should conceive of strategy in hot conflicts?

This question seems to be answered in theory (many times) and yet not be answered at all. Let's take the example of the Afghanistan conflict or to be more exact: Our involvement in it.

Who should do the strategy thing?

- the NATO general secretary and his staffs?
- (U.S.) CENTCOM ?
- ISAF/OEF-A leadership?
- NATO summit?
- special envoys?
- the relevant parts of the Afghan government?
- some NATO committee?
- some NATO HQ?
- the U.S. president with advice by exclusively U.S. advisers?
- the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff and his staff?

And then of course it's possible that outsiders or informal groups conceive of a strategy and only convince the powers that be to adopt it.

The differences are

foreign (us) OR indigenous leaders?

lead nation OR alliance?

politicians (electorate) OR flag officers?

individual leaders OR teams?

institutional or custom choice of leader(s)?

foreigners or indigenous leaders?

This is specific to expeditionary warfare. Both an assistance to an invaded or threatened country and stupidly messing in a foreign civil war require such a decision.

The answer seems to be relatively simple; I would always prefer to give the indigenous leaders priority, with caveats. They must not consume the foreign resources needlessly, of course.
The higher regional competence of the indigenous leaders is the reason why they should be allowed to conceive of the allied strategy if they are able to do so.

lead nation or alliance?

I think this is quite simple; the larger powers in an alliance tend to have superior resources and thus a natural influence advantage over the smaller allies.
This doesn't mean that a lead nation should conceive of strategy by itself, or have decisive influence. A good strategy is in everyone's interest and thus we should use a mode that allows for the use of best ideas that emerge from unlikely places.
Some of the recent hot conflicts took a shape in which smaller allies were almost(?) reduced to a pool for auxiliary troops - a hardly sustainable mode of operation if said "smaller" allies include several great powers of global significance, some of them even nuclear powers. Even a lead nation would always need to listen much to its allies in order to prevent their breakaway from the project.

In the end, it would be smart to not lead from a lead nation, but to strive for selecting the best and most relevant leaders (the latter especially if it's being done on the political level) for the decisionmaking.

politicians (electorate) or flag officers?

This is no question to me. I was raised in a Germany where the primacy of politicians over flag officers wasn't in doubt. A German General has a weak voice in German media - a Petraeus cult or a political campaign waged by flag officers on the political level in favour of a war project is quite unthinkable in Germany.
I'm a child of this society and thus come to a quite typical conclusion; politicians should decide, offciers should advise.

I added a "(electorate)" to the question for a reason, though. A nation such as Switzerland with a strong direct democracy could approach the matter very differently. It would have the time to make a national instead of government decision on strategy in a conflict. A plebiscite could be used to choose a prepared option among at least two options.
Many people distrust plebiscites (these people don't really believe in democracy in my opinion) , and at least as many distrust politicians. Finally, there are plenty who distrust flag officers (especially Generals). I think all three groups - politicians, flag officers, electorate - are reasonable alternatives here.
I would usually prefer politicians. The plebiscite options deserves more thought, though.

individual leaders OR teams?

The age of individual leaders passed centuries ago. Multi-national efforts make the "individual leader" option look foolish in my opinion.
The choice should be obvious; a team should agree on a strategy as much as necessary to prevent that too many partners opt out. Not every partner needs to agree and stay in the boat.
Some chairman or institutional leader may still become the representative of the decision, for easier public communication of the decision.

institutional or custom choice of leaders?

Let's face it; organizations that have existed for several years are usually *very* suboptimal. Look at the G8, G20 summits; it began as a dicussion round for a couple of top politicians. It was turned into a huge bureaucracy with much show and little ability to decide.
Multinational military-related institutions aren't better.

I'm clearly in favour of assembling a custom team for conceiving of a strategy.
This does merely shift the problem, of course. Who selects the team or the staff?


I tend to favour indigenous leaders, but also an alliance and team work. In other words; the indigenous leaders and experts should have great weight in the alliance. The indigenous power should be very influential if it's capable of it - no matter how small it is relative to others. Caveats to protect the interests of the other allies are necessary, though.

I believe in the primacy of politics over military, and thus the politicians should decide while officers advise and execute. The politicians could delegate the decision by accepting the advice 100%, of course. I would consider that as a quite reliable indicator of their incompetence.

Teams should be custom-created for the job. That's the only way how it could come close to a lean team of the best or most powerful people.

Alternatively, this setup could merely provide the options for a plebiscite. That option deserves and requires additional research and thought, though.



One example of so-called "anti-terror" legislation going ridiculously wrong

The British have - thanks to Blair - some of the least acceptable so-called "anti-terrorism" laws.

A law that enables police to stop & search just about everyone is a great example for how this 'terror' craze can go wrong.

The Metropolitan Police used section 44 of the Terrorism Act more than 170,000 times in 2008 to stop people in London.

That compares to almost 72,000 anti-terror stop and searches carried out in the previous year.

The Met said anti-terror searches had been more widely used since the planting of two car bombs in central London in July 2007.

Of all the stops last year, only 65 led to arrests for terror offences, a success rate of just 0.035%.

Note, they don't say that there were 65 convictions, or even 65 sustained charges, just 65 arrests.

The UK police watchdog is finally looking into the widespread use of anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers by cops. The event that spurred them into it? Two plainclothes cops stopped a 43-year-old man and his 11-year-old daughter and her six-year-old friend. They took the man's USB sticks, phones, camera and CD, made him stand in front of a CCTV to be photographed, and then they searched and photographed the children.

They never told the man where he could go to get his property returned. They never returned it. Where I come from, that's called "being mugged."

A group called "Love Police" seems to be dedicated to expose the needless stop & search efforts.

Sven Ortmann


Musings about a military theory framework

I mentioned a long time ago that I treat military theory like a mosaic: Many tiny components form a full picture and you can already understand much of it even if many components are still missing.

Today's boring afternoon apparently motivates someone behind this keyboard here to write again about some mosaic stones.
Specifically: The outer ring of mosaic stones.

- - - - -

I'll attempt to outline a basic and miniature version of a theory of war framework:

Troops fight in war because their leadership attempts to achieve something with violence. The exact mechanism how the effort is supposed to function depends on the specific circumstances and is often unknown in advance. People simply get used to the idea that sometimes you get what you want when you become violent.

This organized violence can vary a lot in its extent. Nation states with air, land and sea armed services can have the potential to wage the full range of organized violence. No power has ever been able to maximize its repertoire of organized violence to 100%, though. Judging by guts I'd say no power ever reached a greater capability than 90% of the possible repertoire. The Germans and Soviets of WW2 were unable of carrier warfare while the British and Americans were unable of certain tactics, for example.

No power exploits its full repertoire in war. There are always some capabilities in war that are considered to be too inadequate by themselves. Much more interesting is that the opposing power suppresses the use of additional capabilities. The British attempted to bomb Germany at daylight in 1940, but gave the idea up for the next years because losses were catastrophic and the effect marginal. The Germans didn't attempt any major offensives in Russia after Operation Zitadelle because no major offensive was promising any more.
The ability of armies to counter each other's capabilities is of greatest importance because it protracts warfare. Both powers' forces could simply advance into each other and come to a quick conclusion of the war as experienced in early Hellenic Polis Warfare. That doesn't happen any more because the option of simply advancing and attacking is in general suicidal in modern warfare; exceptions prove the rule and are called "successful offensives". The capability to simply advance & attack still exists, but it has been countered to such a degree that it's rarely a useful part of the repertoire any more.

This suppression of enemy capabilities can extend to defensive capabilities. At some point even a nation state army isn't capable of defending and holding terrain any more and needs to withdraw because it cannot match its opponent's capabilities any more. This happens usually not long before the state's collapse as a warring power.
A great geographic distance between battlefield and the homeland can still protract the war, of course.

The point of a state military's defeat is remarkably similar to the starting point of guerrillas. Occasionally, both are even historically matched as in the recent case of Iraq. Guerrillas are from the beginning unable to match most of their enemy's capabilities. They survive for a simple and extremely valuable advantage: They are elusive. Guerrillas are almost indistinguishable from civilians, so they can in fact survive without actually controlling any terrain.

The suppression of their capabilities is what coins the guerilla war. Some guerrillas have enough capabilities to take out entire army garrisons or to control remote areas. Others are barely able to plant explosives and assassinate traitors.
The suppression of their capabilities has - just as the suppression of an opposing military's capabilities - a declining marginal rate. The addition of the same amount of resources offers ever smaller reductions of the guerrilla's useful repertoire.

The usual approach to conventional inter-state warfare - overpower your enemy - doesn't work that well against guerrillas. The latter do not reach the point of collapse so easily - they are already beyond it. They keep surviving thanks to their elusiveness. In worst case they could become sleepers and reduce their activities to a very low level. A level like mere terrorism, for example.
Meanwhile their opponent still needs to spend great resources to keep the guerilla suppressed.

A counter-intuitive, yet promising move is to do something that's likely to be associated with failure and weakness. An army could allow the guerrillas to expand their useful repertoire instead of suppressing it as much as possible. The guerrillas might eventually step over a threshold and turn into a rather conventional force. Once beyond that point, it would be possible to push them back beyond that point - exactly what's being done in inter-military warfare to provoke a collapse. The result tends to be quite the same as in inter-military warfare: Collapse.


Naval procurement

In August I wrote about the cost of naval aviation and how much more expensive it is to prepare for naval-based air war in remote places than for airfield-based air warfare (about factor three).

The topic for today is different, and will probably be more of a surprise.
I recalled a claim that the USN spends more money on aircraft procurement than on ship procurement. That would be quite astonishing for such a huge navy and I decided to fact check the claim. The fact check was surprisingly quick and easy.

14,716.8 (FY 2009, $ IN MILLIONS)

12,732.9 (FY 2009, $ IN MILLIONS)

The claim was apparently true. Maybe the budget figures were changed in the meantime; the difference was likely not enough to change the conclusion:
The biggest navy in the world seems to have spent more on aircraft than on ships in FY 2009.

Maybe it shouldn't be that surprising, after all. Aircraft like F-35 or NH90 have quite insane per copy prices. Ship prices are outrageous as well, but in the end the quantity multiplier sides with the aircraft.

A modern navy has a defined mission and a defined budget. It would serve its nation best if it accomplished the mission at minimum cost and sustains that performance.
In short; a truly good navy would not spend its whole budget. Such a navy doesn't exist, of course. Armed services are bureaucracies and bureaucracies consider "waste of resources" to be the same as "not to spend everything possible".

Anyway; the efficiency is a quality criterion. A wasteful navy is no good navy even if it accomplishes its mission (and that's difficult to verify in peacetime). This allows for the question of the optimal force structure. A larger (procurement) budget suggests that the budget title has more to offer than a smaller one. It's not perfectly accurate to look only at procurement instead of procurement and operations & maintenance budgets, of course. Well, shit happens. I'm kind of lazy at times.

- - - - -

I wonder whether the structure is (near-)optimal while looking at the procurement budgets only. Aren't submarines supposed to be the great ship killers in naval warfare? The procurement structure doesn't seem to fit to that assumption - or maybe another mission drives the costs?

That's where I refer to the cost of carrier aviation again. The cost for the carrier-based land attack capability is so outrageously high that I question whether such costs could ever be justified by the small advantage offered to the own nation.

Carrier land attack capability isn't the cost driver for most other nations, though. Nevertheless, their aviation component is taking a heavy toll on their budgets as well. ASW frigates at times look like a ASW helicopter with a moving landing deck, and the cost ratio of ship : helicopters approaches this weird picture as well.

- - - - -

I identified air power (and subs) as extremely important in naval warfare myself in a post a year ago.
The combination of my musings with the aforementioned real world naval budget anecdote lets me wonder whether the orthodox idea of a navy is obsolete. Maybe we should learn to understand navies as air forces and submarine forces with some supporting floating vessels?
Only offensive navies with amphibious and carrier land attack missions seem to require a prominent surface component.

The U.S. Navy's procurement of Super Hornet and Growler combat aircraft (400+, 90's technology) exceeds the total strength of almost every air force by itself. The U.S. Navy could take on the PR Chinese or Russian air force on its own.

What does the emphasis on naval air war in naval strategy tell us about the German move that took away combat aircraft from the navy to the air force, thus assigning the air/ship mission (mostly) to the air force?
What does it tell us about the German navy which seems to focus on ship hulls (frigates and corvettes) quite much, with lesser emphasis on subs and well, no combat aircraft any more?

The naval air power component has grown in importance way beyond the established understanding of navies and is taking a heavy toll on naval budgets. The consequences of this trend have probably not been incorporated into the common understanding of naval power yet. On the other hand; maybe we do merely see a terrific potential for cutting waste in naval aviation?




The Bundesverfassungsgericht has spoken

The German federal constitutional court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has spoken today and completely trashed the law that forced internet providers to log all connections and to keep the log for six months. This law has been criticized a lot for being a step towards a surveillance state.

The law was nullified completely and is officially unconstitutional.

The court also provided a long list of requirements in case that the state wants to create a new, similar law. One of the many limitations is that such data must only be used against serious crimes.

The civil rights aspect is huge; the constitutional court did once again reject the legislation's ambition to spy on the own people. It's bad news (again) that this rejection was just one in a string of rejections. We've got a legislation quality problem here in regard to constitutionality of laws, domestic security and civil rights.

By the way; those who download copyrighted material will cheer. It'll be very difficult to identify them, especially as many German IP adresses are variable (a new one on every login) and their activity is certainly no serious crime.

Sven Ortmann