Some really, really basic things about national security

I got into a kind of ranting mode when confronted with a specific opinion on a forum. The discussion was about whether it's acceptable to wish that a country's officer corps is combat-experienced. My point was that this requires involvement in warfare and is thus only achievable under condition of a failure of national security policy, resulting in the conclusion that combat experience is logically not desirable if you look at the whole.

Another forum member intervened with this helpful remark

It wasn't long ago I asked you what a military should do (other than attain victory). You responded with me earning a load of disrespect (but yet, never answered my question).

I don't remember the specific instance, but his description may nevertheless be correct. I'm at times "abrasive" when I'm "appalled" by a behaviour or opinion.
Anyway, here's an excerpt of my reply. I think it's decent blog material, too:

Victory as commonly defined is often a form of failure. The harm done to the own country by warfare is often greater than the harm done by not going to war (if there's any of the latter at all).
(The foolishness of the 2003-2011 Iraq conflict is a good example: pretty much nothing was gained but the busting of a few stupid fantasies. Thousands died, ten thousands were crippled, trillions of dollars were spent - for no real gain.)

The military shall -in the event of war- achieve the minimal net damage outcome for the country, with political efforts to the same end in parallel.

The mission for the government as a whole is to avoid damage altogether, to maximise the benefits of the population. The details are tricky from a philosophical point of view, but it's quite obvious that in our age you cannot really be better off with "winning" a war of choice than choosing not to go to it. You don't get to annex fertile lands or gold mines any more these days, not even oil fields.

This leaves wars of necessity, which again are only meeting the criteria if they're the least terrible alternative. To choose a more terrible alternative than a less terrible one is folly/incompetence, thus you gotta choose the least terrible (again, determining this is tricky detail stuff). Obviously, if the least terrible alternative is the only one that should be used, war can only be the way to go if it's the least terrible way to go.

After all, war is a terrible alternative, thus it's in the context "of war or not war" pointless to cover the "most beneficial" line of argument that applies to many peacetime policy outcomes.

So what's the military's purpose in peacetime?
Support the policy in its quest for good outcomes by making war and sovereignty violations less likely. This can be pursued by putting a hefty risk premium on all foreign aggressions. This risk premium is the visible and widely known probability that an aggression would fail to overcome the resistance (at costs that appear to be acceptable to the aggressor's top decisionmakers).
Thus I finally found an answer to my question what to post on this blog today. I've got some draft texts too, but it seems there's a reason why I didn't hit the "publish" button on them yet.

About war and peace (which, btw, is a label here on this blog!):
People in uniform, people in war ministries (whatever their name nowadays is) and people with a focus on the military (or even its hardware) drown out the voices of philosophy, reason and diplomacy in regard to national security debates.
It's a shame. More brain less guns could have kept many conflicts cold, millions of people alive, entire nations intact.

There may not be enough people out there who can detach from emotions and silly ideas and think rationally about war and peace when needed, but that's no excuse for not accepting that rationality is the way to go.

S Ortmann


  1. mabuhay, Germany. happy unity day.

  2. combat experience doesnt require war.
    You could equaly mount 'police actions' to grab somali pirate financiers.
    Not war experience, but definatly shooting experience.