On national defence

I've recently stumbled on the topic of relative military spending and force sizes in NATO again. The childish "free ride" talking point aside, there's in my opinion simply no good reason for increases in military spending in Europe. We could make our forces fitter with the current budgets - and even fitter with a smaller budget.
These forces would still suffice - just as they do today.

Look, NATO was meant as a collective defence bulwark against the Kremlin-guided forces. Germany promised and raised 12 divisions to guard the Central European frontier of the alliance (total strength there was 26 divisions).
For a very short period after re-unification we had about 14 divisions. Now it's much less (and has admittedly too much overhead). Does this mean we're bad at defence? Hardly.

There's no huge Kremlin-controlled army any more, after all. The 'threats' of today were not or would not have been taken seriously enough to be mentioned as 'threats' during the 80's.

The Arab forces deteriorated much and are still largely on the other side of the Mediterranean, without noticeable naval capability. They're not exactly hostile to Europe anyway.

Iran is on the far end of Eurasian NATO member Turkey and its parade/museum/stunt forces look weak in comparison to Turkey's power. Iran is also on quite OK diplomatic footing with Turkey.

The Caucasus countries can raise armies that are barely comparable to a European NATO heavy division in strength. Again, no hostility to us there.

The Ukraine has retained a tiny fraction of the former red hordes, but the equipment is largely rusting and rotting, decades old and on top of that they're -you guess it already- friendly to the EU.

Finally the forces left under Kremlin control, the Russian army. They're a plausible threat to the Baltic EU and NATO members; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Only Estonia seems to have noticeable diplomatic troubles with Russia from time to time. Now, do European militar forces suffice to defend the Baltic?
First of all, they would come late. The Baltic Sea happens to freeze at times and block some ports, airports can be turned into concrete versions of Swiss cheese and the land connection with the Baltic is basically one road. So even the glorious 1991 14-division army could not intervene there in time.
The Russian army is on the other hand so much neglected, rusting and rotting that by comparison the EU military budgets were lavish and EU military forces well-trained, well-equipped.

Is the U.S. approach of throwing near-endless amounts of money into the armed forces a better security guarantee for the Baltics? I doubt it, for Washington DC is thoroughly disinterested in the region for any other purpose than using it as a pool for auxiliary forces, a source for UN assembly votes and a region of potential proxies for the sabotage of EU consensus-requiring decisions.

The question is not whether (continental) Europeans could fight their way out of a symbolic wet paper bag. They question is whether they could if there was one at all. Right now, there's nothing.
The forces of NATO's EU member states could defeat all neighbouring non-allied countries simultaneously in a conventional war and two of them could basically nuke every country to 'some other period', including the U.S..

What we're lacking is not the capability to defend ourselves, it's the capability to launch punitive strikes and expeditions in U.S. fashion. We do so because our defence would happen at home, there was no ocean between us and the Cold War front line. We never needed aerial tankers for trans-ocean fighter deployments, we never needed a high seas navy to reach our enemies, much less did we ever need aircraft carriers for national defence. Our fighters can basically sortie from paved roads - how would big expensive aircraft carriers and their can of worms of expensive escort ships and logistical support help our defence?
This is, btw, one of the reasons for why we get much more combat power for the buck than the U.S. does. We simply don't need so much long-range logistical support and we don't do expensive forward deployment much.

- - - - -

The real problem in regard to military readiness isn't one of current budgets. Budgets are superficialities.

The real readiness challenge is to be ready for worse times. NOT with a fully built-up force with high costs of maintenance and reinvestment, but with, well, readiness.

We need readiness

(1) to recognize a military power build-up in the periphery (China's army is irrelevant to Europeans)

(2) to have the political will to build-up ourselves with a minimal political lag

(3) to have the economic and fiscal health to sustain such an arms race if necessary (or else it won't impress anyone)

(4) to have the economic capability and diplomatic relations for the timely procurement of good equipment for the forces

(5) to have decent equipment designs on hand, suitable for a conventional great war (not the same as MRAPs and assassination drones!)

(6) in our industry to actually produce the equipment; heavy industries, automotive, aerospace, chemical, electronics, shipbuilding, machine building industry

(7) in our officer and senior NCO corps; the readiness for a personnel expansion without terrible loss of competence.

Let's face it; the U.S. and UK approaches are great for bullying developing countries in distant places and it's great for certain domestic special interests, but it sucks in regard to some of these points.
The U.S. shipbuilding industry is a laughing stock, especially if you subtract the Great Lakes shipyards. U.S. and UK equipment is frequently gold-plated (big ticket items) or inferior due to internal politics (everyday items such as small arms). The fiscal and economic health is 'questionable'.

I wish for defence policy discussions that discuss these readiness challenges. 
Budget discussions are for special interest lobbyists, run-of-the-mill journalists and people who prefer to not look beneath the surface.



  1. What about cyber warfare? China and others have been accused of it in the past.

    Ukraine has those who are trying to make it more pro-russian.

  2. Yeah, what about cyber warfare. Nothing about it.
    To defend against it is no job of the military, but of civilian IT security personnel, police and possibly counter-espionage.
    I don't see a relation to military budgets. We don't need to follow the U.S.'s militarisation of IT security (which they already demonstrated their incompetence at).
    The better IT personnel is not exactly enticed to join the military.

  3. What I mean is if a country were to use cyber warfare to cause severe harm to your country and the country that did it wasn't highly dependant on tech itself would you consider using military force to retaliate?

    Also militaries need good cyber protection and that cost money even if you hire civilians to do it. The military pays for security upgrades out of its budget. Is it unreasonable that in a future war with all the use of tech that an emeny may try and hack your systems to cause the most damage they can?

    On a different note, have you ever put together a TO&E on a brigade, company, etc... formation? I found your blog one day when I came across this post, http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/10/new-russian-brigade-to.html wondering if you ever thought much on doing one yourself.

  4. Sounds like a reinforcing feedback loop to me. Other measures are available, more diplomatic ones.

    Besides; there are enough non-government hackers for unofficial retaliation (and I suspect they're more effective).

    I've put together fantasy TO&Es, for calculation of qty of vehicles and personnel and so on. It makes little sense to show a TO&E that's based on an unorthodox set of assumptions and ideas, though.

    In regard to heavy brigades my basic idea is to have them split into 2-3 battlegroups and one support group. The support group would include a reserve of infantry and long-radius (up to 80 km) support that smaller and less well-rounded non-organic units in the general area can rely on as well. The brigade would be capable of assuming different TO&E patterns for different missions.

    I don't see a need for a light brigade; independent battlegroups (variable size, about 1k personnel) with a defined recruiting region (~old Alpini) would suffice.

  5. This is a very good description of why armed forces are dwindling in potential and budget. This is why I can't understand the last question.

    It would be like to be in the 20's and discussing why there are less and less horses, and how to be able to have enough good horses for when the needs arise.

    No advanced nation is investing in a conventional military anymore because, as you pointed out very well, there is no point to do so. Cold War armies have been dismanteld at a record pace right at the start of the 90's - and it would have been even worse without Operation Desert Storm.

    If war is a means to achieve political goals, it is not the only one. The central, and extraordinary, political challenge worldwide is the instability that is going to appear everywhere as more and more jobs get automated.

    The focus of government spending on security is on internal forces ("gendarmerie" -style) along with the blurring of lines between domestic and foreign use of armed forces. (see the current "domestic assassination" issue in the US)

    There is not going to be any Su-35 Vs Rafale dogfights anytime soon, because there would be no point in such a conflict.

    One would almost have to resort to a marxist point of view to imagine future conflicts, which might well be the guerilla of the "redundant"/"obsolete" humans Vs the completely automated industry-military-surveillance complex (aka "capital living on its own") that only works for the club members (whatever that club looks like).

    I'm sorry to derail that thread, but the original question doesn't mean anything anymore. One would have to identify the enemy to be "ready" against, or to define how "worst" times will be worse.

    If there is a war at any time in the future between large powers, it will undoubtedly go nuclear (the present-time equivalent of the 1918 spring offensive or the strategic bombings of 1944), and nuclear capabilities really are the field where still a lot of budget and effort are still being diverted to.

    Then, "readiness" would be for a post-apocalyptic context in which the "automation" option would make the more sense.

    I would not like to sound disrespectful, because I enjoy this site a lot. But really the frame of thinking has to be widened to the new realities and technologies. It's like hearing cavalry officers in 1912, for whom the 1917 october revolution sounds like plain nonsense. (Not mentioning tanks, air recon etc...)

  6. Conventional defence is, after decades of seeing no invader, a hedging against an unlikely risk of potentially disastrous effects.

    It's tricky to handle this risk. In the end, a thorough analysis would come down to admitting that many variables are unknown and a clean democratic process is the best representation that includes the sum of those unknowns (mostly preferences).

    A point could be made that the U.S. citizens prefer to be highly armed in response to this risk (which is extraordinarily small for them due to geography), and Europeans decide otherwise.
    A point could also be made that there's not really a 'clean democratic process' behind the decision-making.

  7. You raise very interesting points.
    "A point could also be made that there's not really a 'clean democratic process' behind the decision-making."
    Exactly, I suspect this is why there are still conceptually obsolete weapons still being developped, like the JSF/F-35. Europe has it share of it too.
    Beyond that, there is a definitive neo-colonial orientation, very 19th century indeed, that is absolutely not democratic.

    The question is also if such a concept as a nation is still going to exist in the future. Perhaps these "undemocratic" decisionmakers are envisioning some feudal future, much like the Third World, and then a specialized military (air force etc.) as the "king's" army (a bit like 16th century France). Nations were born out of the French Revolution and tend to do nasty things to profiteurs and feudalistic minded people.

  8. The last paragraph has to be corrected : the *idea* of a nation is hostile to profiteurs and feudalistic people.

  9. The key risk is that some other power doesn't agree on what's obsolete and what not and invades you with 'obsolete' conventional forces against which you need to field the same.

    My point is that there's no such unfriendly power ready to defeat what conventional forces we have today. We need to watch out and be ready for changes in this regard, but we don't need to spend more on conventional forces right now.

    The Iraq war even proved that the U.S. conventional forces are too big. They were fixed in Iraq, yet no-one invaded the U.S. or an ally. Thus it's proved that these forces are excess forces once they're withdrawn.

  10. -My point is that there's no such unfriendly power ready to defeat what conventional forces we have today.- Yes, I agree with you on this.

    -The Iraq war even proved that the U.S. conventional forces are too big. They were fixed in Iraq, yet no-one invaded the U.S. or an ally. Thus it's proved that these forces are excess forces once they're withdrawn.- Well it can also prove that the US military has mismanaged its forces and has set impossible goals. One might say they are the prime culprits for their own defeat, by losing so much value in this kind of warfare (as Rumsfeld said when he talked about a million dollar missile used to destroy a ten dollar tent).

    Thus also the move to "new", economical forms of war, a bit akin to the "Cheaper Faster Better" policy used at NASA. Libya was to be the prototype of this, and we can see variations in this just as we saw "coloured revolutions" during the two last decades.

    But I'd like to know what your views are on this question : do you think Europeans are still willing to fight and possibly die to save their country ? Especially if their country has been dragged into some senseless adventure like Georgia did in 2008 ?

    I'm talking about the general population, and not about professional soldiers. Personaly I doubt it.

  11. There's no choice once you're caught in a shitty situation. Few countries ever have dropped their leadership in favour of an invader unless the leadership was really awful and the looming occupation expected to be temporary only.

    About the soldiers on the other hand (the only ones really asked to sacrifice their lives besides maybe firefighters):
    I had asked myself back when I was 16 or 17 whether my generation was really suitable for the army. Music, girls, silliness and all that.

    Then I joined the military myself and once I had some time for reflection again I was astonished about what had happened to us.
    We had lived for months under conditions so poor that unemployed people and even prisoners in jail for major crimes had a better life than us.
    We had endured shitty weather, sleep deprivation, decidedly unfashionable clothes, crappy superiors, meagre pay and generally an environment that seemed devoid of the technology advances of the last 10-20 years.
    There's something in the military that turns ordinary people into strangely frugal people.

    Since then I've never again questioned the suitability of Germany's civil society for a big war. If war comes, we'll simply turn into war mode. When war goes, we'll go back to consumption mode.
    Humans are incredibly adaptive if need be.

  12. You are right on this.

    BTW, here is a link on an article (written in french) about a NATO meeting about robots in Coëtquidant (french officer school).


    ("With warrior robots, war is going to change its face")

    When you were asking what topics you could speak about, I mentionned robotics. Any ideas on this topic ?

  13. You sound almost like a tester. ;)

    Robots: Quite the same as I wrote about robotic planes.
    + if extreme endurance is required
    + if extreme environment
    + if extremely small size intended
    - all else

    My "screamers" text was rather a long-term thought.

  14. Thanks for the reply, what I was getting at is, "the country that did it wasn't highly dependant on tech itself would you consider using military force to retaliate?" so hacking them isn't as good since they have little to hack, maybe the threat of taking out a bridge or etc... might make them leave you alone. Diplomatic solutions can be found, but with all the diplomatic problems with countries using veto power at the UN (really don't like that) sometimes you have to be able to go all Falklands on someone.

    Interesting TO&E, so use a recruiting region to help with cohesion? Would you include a field replacement unit (i think the germans had a battalion in a division in WWII) to help the soldiers get mixed in with their new units? I read in "Fighting Power" by Martin van Creveld that the U.S. 79th inf. division under General Wyche had a unit like that and it worked well.

    I see a certain size in the armed forces as hedging against a catastrophic defeat. With my concern of the west being able to take on an army that might do it right (a competent army not some taliban like guys) leads me to desire extra troops just encase. Think of all the blogs on the need of western forces to improve in various areas and consider thoughout history having some insurance (extra troops) helps.

    Something I don't get about democracy is doesn't allow me to impose my will on others? If i can get 51% of the people to see it my (or our) way doesn't it let us force the other 49% to do our will? I get that it is different from an autocracy (1 person) or an Oligarchy (small groups of people), but at heart isn't it the same 1 will is forced on another (be it one person's will, a small or large groups will) being forced on the other group(s)?

  15. On Ersatzbataillon:
    The modern Heer approach is to have basic training organic, but that was a design for perpetual readiness during the Cold War. It's not a design for a long campaign.
    I think rather of having formations in different phases. Whenever one focuses on more basic aspects of training, a similar formation would be in advanced stages of training.
    These formations would build up a reservists pool during peacetime that makes basic training in wartime unnecessary.

    The quickly-trained wartime levées would instead go to other than field units or join field units in not very demanding jobs (or be a small majority among more well-trained troops).

    There's still a bit hope in my idea that even in case of war, one could get over with it fairly quickly. Quality troops simply need too long for readiness; six months for infantry, for example.

    On democracy; democracy is both rule of the majority and protection of the minority. It can work well as long as the two groups are not too firm.
    Ethnically divided states have more trouble with this than merely ideologically divided states with independent voters.

  16. Nice thoughts in reply to my training question.

    Democracy, some groups tend to have at least one issue they are firm on. Both thinking they are in the right. People tend to be firm on what they think is the right way.

    So what are you planning on posting next or have you decided?

  17. -You sound almost like a tester. ;)-

    IRL I'm a history, geography & civic education teacher ;)

  18. Sven
    I get your arguement, and it could be valid, but it isnt valid.

    *IF* the German army was structured to meet and throw back Russian thrusts into Poland and the three Baltics, you could say, "what do you mean, we dont take defence seriously, we can meet and defeat a Russian invasion"

    But its not.
    At best, the German armed forces are set up to hold Russia at the Oder.

    Realisticaly, at the outbreak of wear, Germany will be demanding NATO holds the Oder and the states further east are abandoned.

    It cuts both ways

  19. There are two NATO options for handling a Russian threat.
    a) Counter-concentration. This is official doctrine; NATO members send their troops to the region under threat in time. NATO would then be vastly superior.

    b) Hurried response to a strategic surprise. I'm more concerned about how well NATO forces can deploy given the poor traffic infrastructure and potential interference from Kaliningrad.
    The Poles will certainly be more than pressed to at least set up a thin red line on their border with Belarus. Airborne NATO troops would arrive first in the Baltics (including ours), but they lack SP artillery.
    NATO forces would arrive piecemeal given the logistic constraints (1 road between Poland and Lithuania) and different distances. It wouldn't matter much how many troops we have, for the counter-concentration would last for weeks anyway.

    Given a strategic surprise, even a 12 division Bundeswehr would likely not do much more than hold an Oder line and some bridgeheads, given the small size of the Polish army and the distances involved.

    Deployments of heavy forces on roads over 500-1,000 km are problematic and are not exactly on the annual training program in any army.

  20. Sven
    Ok, but in the 50's, the UK had 4 divisons in West Germany.
    And our troops are still there, although the last are now coming home.

    If Germany was serious about NATO, It would have "German Armed Forces in the Baltics" already dug in, and it would be argueing that everyone else should too.
    Instead, its gutting anything and everything to do with mobility and writing off the eastern members.

  21. By that goalpost, no NATO member would be "serious" about NATO. Even the Baltic members have been pushed towards auxiliary forces for military adventures.
    Published news was last year that NATO had only last year begun to at least write some contingency plan for Baltic defence.

    The current German defence politics are about the transition to all-volunteer, about saving some bucks, and about overseas missions. Nothing unusual if you look at the other Europeans. Even the Russians are looking at these things.

  22. But thats your goalpost....

    Your arguement is that Germans arent "freeloading", they are true to the true principals of NATO, keeping out Johny Russian.

    But thats simply not the case, Germans are free loading, simply not for the reasons most americans suggest.

  23. No, you did set an extreme and completely arbitrary goalpost by which ALL would be freeriders. That is, by definition, not possible.

    Besides; we're talking about the defence of the Eastern frontier here, and Germany is not really part of that any more; so logically it cannot be free-riding in this affair.

    NATO wasn't formed against the Russians of today, but against the Soviet Union and its puppets of the 50's to 80's. Nowadays it keeps existing as a defensive alliance on paper and as a military adventure club in practice. Sadly, we're too true to NATO.

  24. exactly.
    Defence of the eastern frontier is no longer defence of germany, so germany is no longer interested.

    Now russia is no longer a serious threat, america isnt overly bothered either, but a realistic appraisal of german strategy is poland/baltica die to buy time for the oder to be manned and germany saved.

  25. There are no earthly military threats to Europe within the extended "European Theatre of Operations" inside of 15 years (which would be required to armor up from a virtual stand-still). And there is no power - short of a reincarnation of Salah ad-Din or Genghis Khan - that could challenge Europe on its own soil.

    Russia is not a threat. Not any more than the U.S., that is ...

    Europe needs a para-mil border patrol, some air policing capability, a strategic (defensive) BMD system, and expeditionary forces and naval forces to take care of its global interests in far-away places. And at some point, if the unification ever gets that far, Europe should think about offensive strategic (nuclear) weapons.

    What I would like to see is a solid national guard system of light infantry (with certain reinforcements) and methods to
    uphold "Wehrbewußtsein" and "Wehrwille". Hardware and toys can be built, spirit and morale are much more difficult.

  26. Interesting post. And I mostly agree.

    I would, however, like to make a few points regarding European security:

    1. To use a Rumsfeld expression, a "known unknown" would be the effect on European security of the decline and fall of the United States as a superpower. Would it matter? Perhaps not. Perhaps it would.

    2. Another "known unknown" is the coming decline and fall of the European Union. I don't expect the European Union to collapse - at least not completely - but I think it is very likely to imagine the periphery will break away and only leaving a core (with Germany is the natural leader) behind. Perhaps Greece, Italy and Hungary will remain members of the EU, but in name only. Will that mean war? Nobody can tell. Hopefully not.

    3. Then there is the question of Russia. As you write: "The Russian army is on the other hand so much neglected, rusting and rotting that by comparison the EU military budgets were lavish and EU military forces well-trained, well-equipped." I agree, but only to a certain point. It has almost become a cliché that the Russians are always in a perpetual state of decline and always will be so (I suppose they will also be perpetually drunk). In truth they have begun to modernize their military forces and are receiving plenty of help from NATO members like France (I am referring to the sale of Mistral ships and similar stories). It will certainly take a long time and it is easy to point out the difficulties, but eventually they are going to get a modern military.

    4. What should be a concern for anyone is the fact that despite Russia's perceived weakness it has several times since 1991 come close to a military confrontation with NATO or individual NATO members. It happened in 1995, in 1999 and again in 2008. Perhaps the most dramatic confrontation happened at Slatina Air Field in Kosovo in June 1999, where Russian soldiers were surrounded by British NATO forces. The Brits were actually ordered to attack and destroy the Russians by SACEUR general Wesley Clark, but refused. My point: Capabilities doesn't really say much about intentions. Russia was far weaker in 1999 than they are today.

    5. Somebody mentioned the decline and fall of conventional warfare. The truth is we have seen plenty of conventional wars in recent years. My own country (Denmark) has waged wars against Yugoslavia in 1999, against Iraq in 2003 and against Libya in 2008. Conventional warfare is a tool - nothing more, nothing less. I agree that irregular warfare - once in the periphery of warfare - is now in the center of warfare, while conventional warfare has moved to the periphery. But current trends don't say much about coming trends.

  27. So what I hear is that the US should drop it's military budget to less than 2% of GDP, bring our forces home since there are no threats in the world anymore. The US should leave NATO as you said no threats there, we shouldn't spend not one dollar on European missile defense as like you said no threats there. Let those on the middle east do as they wish as long as they leave Israel alone. Tell Iran that it can take whatever country there it wants as long as the oil to the US flows and let Europe make whatever deal they want with whomever takes over. How peaceful the world seems to everyone in Europe. I think that the US should say to all NATO partners that if you don't spend the 2% of GDP you agreed to on defense we will not come to your aide when needed.

  28. @Anonymous:
    The U.S: missile defence is no defence for Europe, so that point is utterly irrelevant. My opinion on ABM is here

    The U.S. should drop its military expenses to less than 2%, but it's the right of their people to waste money on more.

    I did not say that the U.S. should leave NATO; that's poor strawman attempt of yours. I want them to be loyal to the North Atlantic Treaty in its actual language.

    Same strawman crap with Iran; Iran has signed the United Nations Charter in which it accepted that wars of aggressions are unacceptable. That's the standard to apply.
    Btw, they didn't invade a country for centuries. How does the U.S. look by comparison?

    The U.S. has no right to neglects its (vaguely worded) article 5 obligations because spending less than 2% GDP is not a North Atlantic Treaty obligation nor a legally binding commitment. It was merely a kind of letter of intent afaik.