Thinking about Mali and mobilisation in general


Mali's southern people could easily fend off the Northerners. A single small city's population of unemployed, unwed military age males and a few dozen useful NCOs as well as a few million bucks for guns would suffice. They don't do it.*
Meanwhile, the troublemakers appear to originate from only a 1% share of the North's small population. It looks as if this one per cent knows how to mobilise.

It's always amazing to me how some societies fail to mobilise their population for war. Afghanistan's economy could easily sustain (=feed, clothe) a million men army with AKMs for years. It just fails to pull it off. They simply don't do it.**

Just as the late Roman Empires weren't able to raise more than 30k non-mercenary troops for a field army after the much smaller Roman Republic of the Punic Wars raised 80k men armies out of nothing within months. Another example; the late imperial China wasn't able to deal with a division-sized expeditionary force from Europe.

I believe it either takes a culture in which males are considered part-time warriors or an effective bureaucracy to mobilise the war-making potential of a country.

The great advantage of Europe over the rest of the world was probably that it survived the transition from one to the other (the Middle Ages).

This topic is probably about THE solution for Third World "national" defence: Any Third World country which is understood to be able to mobilise several per cent of its population into a lightly armed, effective militia or army would be effectively save from invasion (think of Rwanda, Eritrea). It's the conventional deterrence equivalent of having nukes in such regions.
I suppose the often multi-ethnic population and the often exploitation-oriented governments are unlikely to prefer the ancient warrior society approach. It's too much of a risk to their power.
On the other hand, they typically fail at setting up and maintaining an effective bureaucracy because they corrupt it top-down.

This - and not hardware arsenals or Gross Domestic Product - is probably the main reason for the great military weakness and fragility of almost all Third World countries.

The result are ridiculous conflicts such as the LRA surviving for decades, tiny Rwanda treating Congo as if it was a great power itself, Southern Mali being unable to fend off a handful of Northerners or a large country like Afghanistan falling to a few thousand resolute invaders.

I suppose if one wants to "stabilise" in the Third World, one should probably help the elites to enrich themselves with natural resources so they can somehow be kept from corrupting the bureaucracy and then one should rebuild the bureaucracy in order to create an indigenous war-making capability. Set up a few government-overseen workshops capable of small arms and ammunition production and no-one would want to invade them or start a guerrilla war, ever.

The other challenge would be to keep this war-making capability from being used on neighbouring countries - especially if they've become capable, too. Nobody wants an African World War I replay, after all. The utterly inept Gulf War '80-'88 was already too much of that sort.
Again, it would probably be advisable to address the indigenous elites who run and exploit the country. They need to have a vested interest in peace because war would be (made) bad for their business of extracting the fruits of others' labour.

*: A country with a city this big (1.8 million people!) needs foreign help to fend off a handful poorly armed warrior-mercs from a semi-arid region. Ridiculous. It's about time for them to man up.
**: (In case of Afghanistan likely so because stealing from the Western cash cow is so much more profitable to the "government").


  1. so would you advise a similar system to the Byzantine Themata(Theme) to raise armies?

  2. The bureaucracy is what counts. It doesn't matter how you organise it on the regional level as long as the bureaucrats do their jobs.

  3. Insecurity is what they thrive in - local elites that is.

    They have no incentive to support the gouvernment in providing security or welfare, because thats their job. The more insecure a region is, the more people creep around them expecting protection and willing to pay in labor or goods.

    Europe solved this problem by establishing a nationwide marketplace of honor (the court) for those elites who were rich enough to pay and a institution for elite welfare (the army and less so the bureaucracy) for those members of the elite less well off. Neither of this is feasable by most african countries. Bamako isnt exactly the place to be and military service isnt very attractive to an elite that doent define itself as a warrior-caste. With the alternative (massacre the old decentralized elite and replace it with a new centralized one - aka communism in the third world) blocked, they have to find their own way.

  4. The problem is, Mali doesnt exist.

    No one is going to die for Mali, in the way they are prepared to die for England, or America, or Russia, or China.

    There is no shortage of men willing to fight and die *in* Afghanistan. They just arent willing to die *for* Afghanistan.

    Themes may work, but it would involve recognising that every village is an independant state with nothing higher on the list of priorities than settling scores with the village across the river.

  5. Warfare in Afghanistan: Now and Then

    A very interesting book came out in January of 2013: a collection of stories told by Soviet officers who fought in Afghanistan. The book is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B5YFS66

    What if you asked ordinary soldiers (not officers but simple soldiers who fought in the 1979–1989 war in Afghanistan) of the Soviet Army the following question: “What do you think about NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan, considering that you fought in this country as well?”

    The authors of “Soviet Afghanistan Veterans Share Their Stories, Make Predictions. Comparison of Soviet (1979-1989) and American battlefield experience in Afghanistan (Warfare in Afghanistan: Now and Then)” asked this question, and here are some of the answers they received:

    1.I guess they have it easier in Afghanistan than we did. As far as I know, they’ve got large stations, they don’t go into mountain raids. They don’t have convoys crossing the Salang Pass. They’ve got phones, TV, and Internet access. We used to be happy to get our hands on a month-old newspaper with the same old speeches by the current Secretary General! But even though they have it easier, I don’t believe the Americans will achieve anything. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t know much about history, but Afghanistan is perhaps the only country in Asia that no one’s ever been able to conquer!

    2.You cannot defeat a nation, especially a mountain one. You can betray it or sell it, but never defeat it. Of course, it must be hard for the NATO troops in the mountains. It’s a kind of mountain wasteland, you can’t even see the enemy. It’s basically a guerilla war, and it’s easier for the locals, since they’re at home.

    In the end, the ISAF has no hopes of ever taking this country under control. Same as we didn’t. These are all pointless losses.

    3.I think the NATO forces are there for a reason—it’s at least some kind of deterrent against all the various rebel groups, the mujahedeen, the Taliban, and so on.

    Still, they haven’t achieved much either; the NATO forces are mostly engaged in trench warfare, with few field trips. Of course, the soldiers always take the brunt of it, be they Russian or American.

    4.This is my personal view. Compared to our military campaign in Afghanistan, they’re effectively just maintaining presence. They don’t carry out any large-scale operations, like we did. They don’t even fight drug trafficking.