Field manuals

I was no enthusiastic reader of German field manuals back when I was in uniform. The very title - "Dienstvorschrift" (~service regulation) was repelling; its tone has a promise of even more orders. You already get ordered around enough when you're in uniform, unless you are at the top where you have to instead lick the boots of career politicians instead.

In the end, it didn't hurt me; reducing field manual reading to the minimum early on helped me to keep an open mind.
To read more field manuals doesn't teach one much anyway; the pedagogy for adults had made huge improvements during the last two generations, but field manuals have actually recessed in quality.

The three best approaches for military education which I have so far found and could serve as alternative to field manuals are mostly old, and now uncommon:

(1) The Fibeln from WW2. Tigerfibel, Pantherfibel, Schiessfibel - humorously illustrated guides which not only keep attention up, but also focus on what's important. I suppose this format is very advisable in its niche; routines.

Tigerfibel page; this style of illustration fell out of fashion
during the 60's, likely due to improved printing technology
(2) Eike Middeldorff's style of writing books (1950's), specifically Handbuch der Taktik. It is loaded with details and no doubt based on specific assumptions. Still, it's much more pleasant reading and much more informative than all field manuals I've seen so far (=too many).

(3) The style applied in "Kriegsnah ausbilden - Hilfen für den Gefechtsdienst aller Truppen"

Honourable mention goes to John F.Antal who produced readable books which did cast stereotypical  U.S.Army doctrine into decision-making game books during the 90's. Nice try, but very limited in terms of lessons.
Another honourable mention goes to Paul Ritschard, a Swissman who attempted to communicate the very basics in a book ("Einführung in die Taktik", 1990).
The Austrian book publications of the Truppendienst Taschenbuch series are also better than corresponding Austrian field manuals (in my experience - I didn't compare many of them).

The modern education approach.
At a university you don't simply learn the symptoms in science classes, as you would learn to choose a route for driving in an armour course. Instead, you learn about the why. A lot. Science education can be obsessed with educating about the evidence background for the really, really simple and handy formula which you actually are supposed to understand.
The advantage of such an approach is that it prepares you for instances when the problem is a bit different than the textbook example. The aforementioned armour course attendee may for example learn to drive along the edge of woodland to avoid early detection by tanks or ATGM teams 2 km away - thus gaining the few critical seconds to survive. The very same route may be suicidal if the main threat aren't main battle tanks and anti-tank guided missiles, but infantry anti-tank weapons and mines. 
I'm not making this up*.

I recently read the U.S.Army field manual about counter-rocket artillery mortar and compared it with what I wrote about the topic. The FM looks like a technical guide specifically for the Iraq occupation by comparison. It doesn't educate more than a checklist would.

It is about time to scale back the bureaucratic style of field manuals. Field manuals shall educate first and foremost. The writers should shed the pro forma blather, make them more readable, should pay much more attention to psychology (both of the reader and on the battlefield) and should pay more attention to organisational and battlefield dynamics as well as changing environments.

Most importantly: We need to make field manuals more ambitious. Modern field manuals (more than some historical ones) appear to be written for the dumbest fifth of the troops, including the dumbest fifth of NCOs and officers. The authors could still separate the basics from the difficult content, but the difficult, thinking-heavy content is the most important. The dumbest fifth isn't going to win our battles and campaigns anyway, and your odds are clearly suboptimal if you didn't elevate your smartest four fifth of leadership to a high level of professional education.
Don't leave the sophisticated stuff all to the trainers in courses. Especially not so if you trained them with dumbed-down lessons as well. The stuff shall be printed on paper to be useful, not to be the bare bones.**

Sven O

*: AnwFE 224/120 411/2 printed1998
**: There is a saying about how one should not write or print anything one intends to keep a secret, though.


Milporn against racism

I am from time to time exposed to some dangerous idiots. Regrettably, they're everywhere.

One of these dangerous idiots recited a talking point which appears to be semi-popular among the racists among the dangerous idiots: Scientists claim that there's no real race difference in a scientific sense and we're all one species with minimal (though at times visible) differences. Well, racists get cognitive dissonance from this in their little grey matter. So they apparently made up the notion that blacks are still different (inferior) because they lack several per cent DNA from Neanderthals.

Well, next time you encounter such an idiot, agonise him with some well-deserved cognitive dissonance, please:
All humans share about 99% of their DNA with Chimpanzees and Bonobos. Obviously (obvious to any non-idiot), there can't be such a thing as several per cent DNA difference between Europeans and Africans.

Racists think humans differ noticeably when the difference is in reality as if one Leopard 2 tank was painted light green and its engine equipped for multi fuel while another Leopard 2 tank was painted in dark green and guzzling diesel only. Who cares? It's still the same thing.

If only the dangerous idiots wouldn't mess up so much. We should keep them away from political power (other than voting) at the very least!


Political reforms in mature countries

This is a copy of a comment I gave elsewhere (FM). It's not directly about defence or freedom, but indirectly it's relevant. It helps to understand the diminishing freedom of action of mature / sophisticated countries' governments. The effects of what I describe are running parallel to the Solow-Swan model's predicted effects and the resources allocation stickiness I wrote about in June.

"People seeking to reform [a country] typically search for a list of policies that will cause [the people] to rally around."
I'm not sure if this is accurate, but it would be a folly if true.

A few categories of policies:
popular & effective - done already
popular & ineffective - some are law of the land
unpopular & ineffective - very rare
unpopular & effective - rarely done yet

A country with an already mature set of policies has mostly the unpopular & effective policies left for its own improvement. The repealing of popular&ineffective policies makes up most of their other good options.
Neither is going to rally many supporters.

Next, this mini-model can be enlarged by splitting popularity between popularity among the voter base and among the sponsor base. Again, what's left are the political actions which would at least alienate one of both, for the common ground policies are already in place.



[Deutsch] Polit-Talkshows von ARD und ZDF

Empfohlene Lektüre:

(A quick and dirty study about how German public TV stations have invited ruling coalition members and small parties disproportionally, clearly favouring the ruling coalition and especially the conservatives.)


Attack helicopters

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of a large army aviation (helicopter) branch. Some Western army aviation branches have slid towards gold-plating since the late 70's and failed to deliver on the promises. Army helicopters are also a huge fiscal and logistical pain in the cushions.

There are four distinct dominant modes of attack helicopter (in a wide sense) operations;

Alouette helicopter with SS.11 ATGMs
(1) The standoff approach. Anti-tank helicopters hover close to friendlies, serving as a very mobile floating anti-tank missile launcher system. These may have great use for theatre command because this way 50+ ATGM launcher systems can be moved by almost 100 km in 30 minutes. This mode of operation doesn't require much; you can bolt on ATGM launchers onto a civilian helicopter or a utility helicopter, bolt on a stabilised optic for fire control and that's it. The West German PAH-1 followed this concept, as did Gazelles and Alouettes and Hughes 500 Defender series models.* The conversion is so affordable that there have been dozens such conversions.
The biggest problem to this concept was the introduction of self-propelled anti air gun systems such as Gepard and "Shilka" which made this tactic much more dangerous. You need at the very least a radar warning receiver to cope with this problem.
A more careful attack helicopter would strive to expose itself only as much as necessary, if possible only a mast-mounted (top) stabilised sensor. This behaviour largely eliminates the bird's view advantage and reduces the field of vision to rather short ranges on many forms of terrain. The required very low level flight reduces the advantage of the helicopter over soft ground vehicles mostly to its greater speed, which may easily mean it just gets more opportunities to run into trouble.

(2) Climb, approach, hit and run. The Soviets liked this most. The attack helicopter climbs, spots the target, flies a bit towards it and fires with unguided rockets and an autocannon with limited field of fire (forward). This tactic was likely the explanation for why some Russian attack helicopters have an almost fixed gun. It also requires heavy hardening for vital components and the crew.
This tactic turned out to be not such a great idea once the helicopter faced at least ManPADS or other basic very short range air defence systems. It was a great success in the very early 80's over Afghanistan, though.

The U.S.Army also liked this approach a lot before the TOW missile and the impression left by Shilkas changed the picture. This largely explains the genesis of the AH-56A Cheyenne program.

(3) Hover or circle high and shoot at ground-bound opposition preferably with a fully movable autocannon. This is what we know from milporn videos of Apaches killing insurgents in Iraq. It doesn't work at all in face of effective air defences (same fate as fixed wing gunship tactics and related loitering flying drone tactics).

(4) Infiltrate with a helicopter's unimpeded high mobility over all terrains (but high mountains), then proceed to attack the enemy's rear area. This was typically advocated by the most ambitious army aviation branches; dominantly in the U.S.Army, but it was also advocated by Simpkin and exploited by the German Heer to justify the Tiger and NH90 programs during the budget squeeze of the 90's (long dropped since).
In theory, this yields easy success against supply columns, low readiness combat troops, headquarters and so on. In practice it first and foremost requires a much more sophisticated helicopter than mode (1); armour, more versatile fire control, a gun, unguided rockets, a second engine, long endurance, versatile armament, radar/missile/gunfire warning and locating sensors, possibly an obstacle avoidance sensor (to avoid power lines at night), long-range radios, missile countermeasures et cetera.
The problems with this tactic are that the helicopters expose themselves to much hostile fire (including small arms fire and heavy machinegun fire against which a 100% passive protection is impossible) and the endurance is still a problem.
An air mechanisation approach which meant to provide such attack helicopters with utility helicopter escorts for command/control, electronic warfare, infantry 360° security on the ground during breaks and refuelling capacity was developed and ranks high among the least cost-efficient army concepts ever devised.
The low tech ambush against a AH-64 Apache-equipped regiment in 2003 which downed one Apache* and damaged 28 others has forced many to re-evaluate the survivability of attack helicopters over hostile or contested ground in a conflict with an actually competent opponent.

It would be pointless if I pretended to draw conclusions from these four modes. Fact is, I described these modes years after having drawn my conclusions:
I'm for some cost-effective utility helicopters (such as the Dhruv). Some of these could be equipped as basic anti-tank helicopters in order to provoke potential adversaries to waste resources on countermeasures and in order to distort their tactics with a bit caution.
I also see a niche for a few heavylift helicopters, albeit all but the Mi-26 seem to be ridiculously overpriced these days and the Mi-26 is too big and too expensive in operation.

The glorified thoroughbred attack helicopters - well, I don't think that they're worth the fiscal and logistical hassle in face of a really dangerous opponent. And we would have done something really wrong if we face not really dangerous opponents, for it's almost unheard-of that inferior powers attack a powerful alliance.


*: The success of anti-tank helicopters depends a lot on the spectacular outcome of remarkable exercises in Germany on civilian property (tanks were even allowed to run over fences) in '73/'74. These pitted helicopters with 3,750 km range TOW missiles against tanks and M163 SPAAGs with a 20 mm gatling gun which was limited in range to about 2,000 m. It was a turkey shooting for the helicopters and the kill ratio ranged from 3:1 to 14:1 in their favour. Suitable countermeasures changed the picture dramatically and the M163s VADS was no adequate representation of Soviet "Shilka" anyway.
**: Published at the time as a "Iraqi farmer shot down a American helicopter with his rifle" story.


The Peter Principle and multinational cooperation

The European unification of the post-WW2 era started out small, with some rather rerassuring cooperation. It quickly escalated and grabbed some low-hanging fruit: Tarriffs and visa requirements were removed. More cooperation followed, but the low-hanging fruits with great benefits at small costs were already gone. 
European unification had turned into an ideology, though: To further European unification became considered a "pro" argument for new cooperation treaties or EC/EU actions in itself. it had become anend in itself, instead of a means.

Sooner or later some new European cooperation was bound to deliver less benefits than it incurred costs. I think the common currency is such a case* and the infamous bureaucratic excesses are other such cases.

I mentioned before how Niskanen's budget-maximising model of a bureaucracy explains such behaviour. Well, a different way to describe it is to apply the Peter Principle: Multinational cooperation (or bureaucracies) expand until they passed the optimum size. They may even expand to a point at which the net benefit is close to zero - especially if a step back is less possible than the clearly unsatisfactory total unravelling. The European Unification moved forward until it moved into territory which it couldn't master at all.

NATO has in my opinion shown similar behaviour, and I don't mean its expansion into East Europe:
The benefits of the classic defensive alliance were huge at least during the time of the Cold War. The Soviet Union with its satellites' auxiliary forces could have overwhelmed or isolated Western countries piecemeal if we hadn't stood together. The benefits of the new NATO playgrounds (military interventions, occupations and blue helmet missions) on the other hand are much less evident. In fact, the cost/benefit ratio may actually be horrible.
Still, reversing course is tricky (not as tricky as with the EU and Euro currency, though) and defendants quickly conjure the image of all or nothing; either play along fully or no alliance at all.

It seems to me as if a sternly modest approach towards bureaucracies and also multinational cooperation would be advisable. We shouldn't consider institutions as bad or evil; their net utility depends on their extent. A small institution (such as the original G6 meeting) may be spectacularly efficient and useful, while the same same in a less modest shape may be a waste of time (such as the Byzantinian G20 bureaucrat orgies) or even outright ruinous (as the Euro currency).


Graduated or continuous

The recent post on the operational level of warfare and plenty discussions and other communications of the past have told me more about the importance of how people look at the world.

I already wrote about the mosaic and gems thing; that a 80% crappy book can still be fine if it has 5% gems, while a 95% mediocre and only 5% crappy book without gems is utterly useless.
I'm not in much company with my emphasis on the few gems and disinterest in the average quality of books. I know people who dislike a long text because they disagree with some premise, completely ignoring what they could learn from other parts of it.

The difference between graduated and discreet is apparently another thing which divides people in their approach. Look at this graphic:

I can see purple, dark purple, blue, turquoise, green, yellow, orange, red and dark red.
I cannot quite tell where the delineations between them are, but I don't care. I've got some tolerance for this kind of fuzziness. There's no tolerance for fuzziness if once well-defined terms become fuzzy because of inflationary use, though. I won't accept the yellow as "red".

Does this tolerance for fuzziness matter? Well, yes, I think so.
It's nice to have great clarity thanks to order, definitions et cetera - but these normally useful mental tools become perverted if one insists on them in face of a problem which is inherently fuzzy.
Sometimes there is no "yes" or "no" answer, but only a "it depends", for example. Other times it's obvious that there are some different things, even if one cannot pin down the exact delineations.

Plenty people insist on "yes" or "no" - they insist on simplifying the world. It's being done a lot in professional training, for example. Courses with high graduation rates are especially prone to this. The greater the share of graduating students, the more you need to dumb the content down.
This is probably why some military forces are so fond of simplistic maxims. The business world also uses some simplistic models which are useful for pointing something out once, but are often taken much more seriously. It's fine to understand the idea of the Pareto principle, but to take the Pareto chart seriously in business is bullshit, for example.*

Simplistic approaches may be fine for practical employment most of the time, but they're merely blinding you for the finer points and exceptions if you insist on them in theory. Anyone striving for understanding difficult problems and many exceptions to the rules needs to drop the ambition that everything needs to fit into simplistic frameworks.


*: Stupid people will apply the chart and fail to account for its exceptions, while smart people don't need the chart anyway.
The worst models and methods in businesses are the ones developed by big brand consultants. These people develop these models to have something simple enough that top management may understand it in a presentation, but nebulous and confusing enough that said management falls for the pretence that it takes experienced consultants to apply the crap. These models were invented to acquire clients for consultants, not for good management.


Money in German elections

The budgets of German parties for the ongoing federal election campaign are relatively modest; according to SpOn a few weeks ago;

SPD ~23 million €
(remaining right wing of former social democrats)

CDU ~20 million €
(conservative almost_no_reforms politicians)

Grüne ~  5.5 million €
(greens, previously claimed to be pacifists and against militarised foreign policy, then went to war ASAP in '99 and fell in love with ISAF. They also claim to be civil liberties lovers, but this seems to migrant and women topics only)

Die Linke ~4.5 million €
(former West and East German communists plus former left wing of social democrats)

FDP ~  4 million €
(self-proclaimed liberals; pro-employer and pro-rich party)

Piraten ~  0.4 million €
(young, information technology-affine party; concerned about surveillance, internet neutrality and copyright topics)

The CSU (Bavarian substitute for CDU, more right wing and used to governing Bavaria) spends 9.5 million €, but that's at the same time a state-level election campaign.

These sums are for all federal parliament districts, as the whole parliament (Bundestag) is up for election. It elects the Chancellor and thus indirectly his ministers - they are not up for a separate vote. Germany has a population of more than 80 million.

The budgets are very small compared to the importance of the election. It's true that parties dodge some donation restrictions by outsourcing much work to staffs of party-aligned political foundations which are not restricted the same way, but these do not intervene noticeably in election campaigns.

I think we can conclude that big money does not buy our government; whatever influence it has is more likely rooted in much more subtle means of influence (socialising, respect, power over information, 'helping' with drafting bills etc.).



I kind of dislike politicians' militarised gaming

An expected result:
My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -8.61

In short: Others shall be defeated quickly if they attack us,
but we should almost never attack others.



Musings about hard shells and soft interiors

Ancient tribal warfare resembled what we know of late North American natives' warfare: Lots of raiding (more for stealing than killing), every man a warrior if need be, reliable peace being the exception to the rule.

Gaul was largely like this when Caesar conquered it, albeit with a system of developed hierarchical loyalties resembling feudalism. The threat of raids and large scale warfare was constant, though. As a consequence, almost every boy learned to fight during his upbringing and settlements were not built with purely economical concerns in mind, but also with defence in mind: Towns and villages on hills with fortifications were normal (with moats substituting for a hill's protection in flat lands).

Iron age people didn't choose and set up such real estate
for settlements because of the picturesque scenery.
A generation after Gaul's conquest the final uprisings were defeated (a common chronology for Roman expansion save for Northwest Germany). The Pax Romana allowed for settlements to ditch their defence considerations, and paying tariffs and taxes replaced the general defence preparations. The economy developed favourably, towns grew without the area constraints imposed by fortifications.

Later on, the Germanic chieftains understood that the Roman Empire had a hard shell, but a soft interior: Raiding had not only become relatively less risky, but it also paid off more. Sooner or later internal struggles were bound to tip over this unstable situation. The raids forced defence preparations on the people of Gaul again; settlements in valleys were given up, fortified settlements on hills were recreated.* The economy plunged, thus the taxes and tariff revenues for the professional troops plunged and the Romans had combined the worst of two worlds.** This situation wasn't exactly sustainable either.

Luckily, we don't face any all-warrior culture today, so we're probably not going to be punished for omitting compulsory basic military training for everyone or for neglecting civil defence efforts. Today's only populations with a high degree of warrior culture are probably the Tutsi and Israelis. The Chechens gave it a try and found it to be a faulty approach.
Still, the trade-off between defence preparations and economic optimisation is interesting (to me). The example above goes well beyond a mere military spending issue. It's about whether or not an entire society is coined by discouraging aggression and warmaking capability.
Amazingly, the entire Western World navigated through the existential perma-crisis known as the Cold War without turning into all-militarised societies. The Soviets gave it a try, with allegedly up to a quarter of the economic activity of the Soviet Union being for the military strength (its economy was heavily subsidised by unfair trade with its satellite countries, though). They lost. This time the 'hard shell, soft interior' approach prevailed over the perma-war approach.
Maybe this economy-emphasising strategy is superior. The Romans defeated the Gauls, after all. No all-warrior culture lasted as long as the Roman hard shell/soft interior culture did (The East Roman empire shrank, but it survived till about 1,600 years after Rome de facto gave up the all-warrior approach.)

- - - - -

Now to another aspect (this should probably be two blog posts):
I mentioned the important differences between distributing new income and redistributing already distributed income before.
The economic growth which occurs when a society becomes unshackled from the distortions of defence preparations was easily distributed. Much of this was distributed away from defence; it did not feed the professional military establishment. A redistribution towards military efforts was hard, much harder than the initial distribution of the growth. The Romans experienced additional economic troubles because long-distance trade collapsed due to political instability and the insecurity of trade due to civil wars. It's most hard to redistribute/reallocate resources if the resource base is even shrinking. All interested parties will fight tooth and nails to keep their share of the pie, even as it's shrinking anyway.
Maybe it would have been wiser to maintain huge efforts in large construction projects, such as new roads, new Colosseums, pyramids et cetera. The resources allocated to such chronic public investment resources could have been transferred to military efforts in times of need and easily so.
The modern method to overcome the resistance to reallocation of resources / redistribution of income is different: We hand out bonds instead of increasing tax revenue extremely. The difference is probably a mere wartime illusion coupled with a very real post-war redistribution of income towards the pre-war wealthy, but it appears to be effective.


*: Some such reversions occurred only later, when tribal warfare returned in full force instead of earlier when raiding began anew.
**: A late medieval Chinese policy in face of Japanese raiders ("pirates") was even worse; the coastal regions were given up, settlements there were outlawed in order to deprive the raiders of targets.

P.S.: The errorists' success in provoking lots of defence precautions such as airport security etc. may be an analogy to raiding Germanic warbands in the late Roman empire, but I still don't think that they're going to reach a critical mass.


Too damn high



Tricky questions about Syria

There was apparently a use of Sarin gas in outskirts of Damascus, and the death toll among civilians mostly is claimed to be close to 1,500. All affected areas were either rebel areas or contested areas, and they were spaced enough to make a rogue false flag attack by a rebel group unlikely. It's likely that the Syrian government killed civilians with Sarin, albeit the figures are questionable.

Now let's assume there's going to be a second poison gas attack, this time 2,000 deaths, and all in loyalist quarters. Let's further assume we get to see some mobile phone camera videos on how the rebels did it with captured stocks.

Do the pro-war folks think this means 'the West' ought to bomb Syrian rebels then?
Or would they expose their hypocrisy / lies by not demanding such a strike against the culprit rebel group?

Let's say there's going to be a two-week bombing campaign to 'punish' (a.k.a. "bully") the Syrian regime for killing about 1,500 people with poison gas (or rather for being disrespectful).
A few days into the bombing spree rebel groups overrun some loyalist positions and besiege two enclaves of Christians. They assault and conquer one and massacre the population; 5,000. Then they move into position to assault the other one.

How would this make the 'punishment' campaign look like?
Would the bombing campaign leaders improvise some massacre-averting sorties against the besieging rebels à la Sarajevo?

Some people talk about a 1925 ban on poison gas and how ever since no employment of poison gas must be tolerated.

Do these very same people believe that the U.S. needs to ask Iran for pardon because it aided Iraq in the operational employment of poison gas against Iranian forces in the 1980's and shielded it against the UN at the time? Maybe they believe some finger pointing is overdue in the U.S. domestically before the country has a whole can claim to protect this generations-old ban? (Just kidding.)

Let's assume the Assad regime decides it needs to retreat and secede itself. The Alawites proclaim an independent country in the coastal region where they have a solid majority. The remainder of loyalists - including refugees of other faiths - move there and can defend the region against the rebels which take over Damascus and proclaim victory.

Would the Western World treat this Alawite secession the same as the Kosovo secession or would it behave hypocritically?

Do you believe that the people who stand in front of cameras and proclaim their support for an attack on Syria learned about such scenarios and have deliberated about them?

The apparently planned attacks are meant to punish, but not to overthrow the regime (or so say the talking points). Anyone care to elaborate how bombing Syrians is helpful after Syrians were killed?

Syrians are suffering. Well, that's war (a lesson many people are apparently unable to keep in mind longer than a few years). Could the suffering be reduced instead of increased?
Some countries believe in doing so by accepting war refugees. Those countries which pretend to be oh-so concerned about atrocities in Syria - would they be ready to harbour a couple hundred thousand Muslim, brownish war refugees?

Or maybe someone did a calculation and presented it publicly, so we all know how many humanitarian goods and individual counter-gas sets could be shipped to Syria at the same cost as a bombing campaign?

- - - - -

By the way; here is another, apparently excellent, map of the larger region.


War profiteering and Syria

I have read the same suspicion many times in the last few days: It asserts that the military industrial (-congressional) complex (or plain "arms makers") want an attack on Syria (or similar attacks) because this will make them into war profiteers: They would make profit on it.

This is too simple if not primitive. I claim that the reality is more devious.

A few hundred combat aircraft flying two sorties per day for a week or two may expend a lot of ammunition, kerosene and need some spare parts as well, of course. The actual combat sorties would be a superior substitute for training missions, though. The kerosene and spare parts would substitute for about the same expenditures during training.

The munitions are a different matter, but even assuming the intensity mentioned above, the price of the ammunitions spent would merely account for a few billion Euros. The replacement would be dispersed over 2014-2020 approximately and would hardly create a noticeable spike in the combined military budgets of the participating military forces.

I don't think that the expenses of such a limited intervention are what a military-industrial complex is after.

Instead, it's more devious:
The real profits are not in waging war, but in preparing for it. The Western peacetime budgets usually dwarf the supplementary budgets for military operations nowadays.

What the military-industrial complex and its shills are really after is a perception:

The voters shall perceive the military as useful in foreign policy challenges. It shall perceive the forward-leaning, intervention-leaning stance as justified. The U.S.Navy's incredibly expensive cruising of very distant waters all the time instead of training in waters near North America can only be justified with a quicker availability for action, for example. It's not about defence. Same goes for the forward deployment of troops and combat aircraft on bases. It's all very expensive.
Entire military forces have been developed towards warfare far away from home, and this requires a recurring (false) justification by their use in such conflicts.
Just look at how carrier enthusiasts point at how naval air power participated in a string of wars. They use this as a justification for very expensive carrier fleets, but they never tell you how useless said wars were or how almost always land-based airpower could have done the job as well (and actually did it in parallel).

The military-industrial complex isn't seeking these unnecessary smallish conflicts because of the extra turnover from the war costs. It does so because these unnecessary smallish conflicts are widely (and I think erroneously) accepted as justifications for the bloated peacetime military budgets which sustain the bulk of the profits and all those officer billets.
Besides, I'm not even sure that the military-industrial complex is actively pushing for such small conflicts. It appears to have established a more indirect strategy in which plenty people work for its interests on their own, based on their warped perceptions of the world.



Effective oversight over bureaucracies

The "On Violence" blogging team has recently been aiming at the principal-agent problem of intelligence agency bureaucracies: They can basically do what they want and then lie to you because what they really do is a secret until someone turns into a whistleblower or something else goes wrong grossly. Likewise, they can claim unspecified successes without providing falsifiability.

related: 2013-08 Niskanen's bureaucrats

The problem is very widespread, and also applies to regular bureaucracies. Even regular bureaucracies in countries with not too watered-down freedom of information acts can still maintain an information gap between insiders and outsiders which plays about the same role as the official secrecy for intelligence agencies: It shields them from effective oversight.

Parliaments are traditionally charged with oversight, but their majority usually supports the head of government (though not in all constitutions) or members of parliament are members of parties under whose rule bad practices were begun (see the current difficulties of the German SPD to criticise the currently ruling coalition for what was begun while it was member of a ruling coalition itself). Members of parliament are furthermore very busy and cannot devote much time for overseeing an intelligence service. The top bureaucrats can invest more time into fooling the members of parliament than they can invest into digging up failures. Current parliamentary oversight regimes include briefings and hearings for the oversight committee, and committee members may be unable to disclose scandals they learn about because the scandal is still classified.

He knew they did it because of briefings, that's why he asked the question.
He knew the answer was a lie, but he was legally bound to still shut up.
This kind of oversight regime is a joke.

The parliamentary oversight over intelligence agencies is clearly unsatisfactory.

How could it be done better (if effective, lawful governance was the objective)?

You need to strip the bureaucrats naked, take away their ability to hide undesirable activities without impairing their ability to do their actual job.

I suppose the only effective cure is to have a trustworthy mole.

We need a people's tribune* kind of guy who has total access to everything, including the right to follow anyone in such an agency into any meeting and read all his/her correspondence. Someone from whom such an agency cannot hide anything. To establish such privileges is the first challenge.

The second challenge would be to make and keep this someone loyal to the people, not to the bureaucracy. This takes a special kind of person, and said person should neither be a former bureaucrat nor politically aligned with the a party which rules or ruled in the last about 20 years (a  concern for countries with true multi-party systems). You need someone with a very consistent, predictable, strong character and enough smarts and diligence. Direct election for this office would be preferable.

The third challenge would be that this someone needs to be authorised to declassify anything if it
- justifies a suspicion of it being illegal
- justifies a suspicion of it being grossly wasteful
- is contrary to public statements of the bureaucracy or its contractors
- is contrary to public statements of the current or earlier administrations
This declassification would have a one-month waiting period, so the intelligence bureaucrats could provide for the safety of their sources. The people's tribune could nevertheless immediately announce that something is going to be declassified on a specific topic at a specific date, so the public discussion could wait with a conclusion for the declassified info.

The voters can be trusted to elect trustworthy persons for this office. Trustworthy persons who do not do more harm than good (which critics of the idea would inevitably claim).

(You may disagree on that, but I have an opinion about people who systematically** distrust the electorate to choose wisely and prefer for this reason a less direct democratic process: They're hostile to democracy's very foundation and thus dangerous. Well, that's my opinion.)

I think we should look into this people's tribune model for oversight over all government activities.


*: Roman plebeian tribunes were outsiders to the patricians-run government, but empowered and tasked to represent the plebeians' interests in face of the principal-agent problems which were rampant in the Roman Republic.
**: As opposed to acknowledge anecdotal evidence of exceptions. The fallibility of crowds is self-evident. A preference for an authoritarian (not democratically legitimated) approach is what I reject. A 'tribune'  appointed by parliament would too often be unsatisfactory because the person would too often be in camp with the administration.

edit: related http://boingboing.net/2013/09/04/tsa-is-officially-allowed-to-l.html

News media and war

I have a suspicion that news media has a set of contradictory and quite antisocial incentive patterns when it comes to war.

Prior to a war, when warmongers push for war the news (or infotainment) media treats their warmongering as most welcome story material; much to report, much to speculate, much to discuss, possibility of using images which attract the audience's eyes and all this is especially welcome during slow news periods.

(Notice how she assumes he gets pressure from constituents
IN FAVOUR of going to war, not assuming the opposite - only days
after a poll showed 75+% opposition to an intervention!?)
Later, when the war actually happens and is still fresh, there's a lot of war porn to show - again easy fodder for fixed time slot and fixed paper page count infotainment media. Stories, graphics, even video become available easily. Worst that could happen to the infotainment media at this point is if the military is serious about its job and doesn't mistake it for a PR stunt, thus doesn't provide easy fodder and opportunities for infotainment.
Later on, other topics regain prominence, and reporters stuck in the war zone resort to emphasising suffering, cruelties et cetera. Civilian casualties (which probably wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been the stupid war) and killed (not so much wounded) troops become centrepieces of their reporting. The result or this and the quite probable frustration with the disappointing course of the war (an ages-old problem with wars - at most one party can win) take a toll. The reporting about war becomes more negative, many reporters begin to sound like doves - at least the one in the theatre of war.
Many infotainment media people (who claim to be news media people) have the perverse incentive to first (help to) push for war, and later on when there's war they tend to push against it. This is -if I'm at least somewhat correct- a systemic deficiency for which we should find a cure better sooner than later. 
  S O
edit 2015: One video is a dead link by now. .


Small Wars and the most missing metric

Only years after the Western involvement in the Afghan conflict began did the public discussion amongst experts pick up on the topic of metrics. Suddenly, many experts were seriously discussing how to measure the situation and its changes: How to measure success and failure? Much attention was paid to avoid Vietnam-era body counts. The body counting was largely left to journalists and NGOs, which began counting civilian bodies, especially so in the context of the unintentionally high profile drone strikes.

Neither attention nor resources were allocated to the one most important metric of all: Benefits.

How much benefit – such as public security – was being and is being created by the multinational engagement in Afghanistan? How much benefit is being generated by “small wars” in general?

It is hard to quantify (in cash terms) the costs: Material costs, personnel pay, opportunity costs of those people not working in productive jobs, retirement costs, long-term medical care for veterans, capital costs (public debt interest paid on the expenditures) minus the reflux of taxes from domestic expenditures. We could also judge the human suffering of the Western people involved, even though that's not a popular activity.
It is difficult to evaluate the costs of small wars, but it has been attempted. The concluded engagement in Iraq did apparently cost one to three trillion U.S. Dollars.

How much benefit has been generated with these expenses (and for whom)?

We need to determine for policy reasons and to explain to the public what benefit came from such an allocation of national treasure and will.

How much benefit (or utility) has been and will be generated by the Western coalition in Afghanistan? Does it at least come close to the costs? Does it at the very least come close to the costs, which are not sunk costs yet?

How can politicians decide that continuing the mission is worthwhile if they most likely do not know and likely cannot properly estimate the costs or the benefits?

All they can do is to follow their feelings. This is hardly a satisfactory state of affairs, and reflects badly on our very sophisticated societies. Our leaders send men abroad to kill, maim and destroy (amongst many other activities) and all they can possibly come up as justification are their feelings and public relations “spin”.

This is the unsatisfactory situation during a war, but what’s it like in advance to it? Let us assume we had methods to accurately determine the future costs and benefits of the Afghanistan involvement and were thus able to make a correct, rational decision about whether to continue with it or to stop. This would still be a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In order to justify the launch of such a mission we would need to have a really good idea about the costs and benefits in advance of the mission. Without having such a really good, reliable if not totally accurate, estimate our political leadership could still make major mistakes based on its feelings only. Our sophisticated societies should be able to do better.

Maybe a look into history can at least discern a pattern of evidently profitable “small wars” and those politicians could justify their decision with the (foolish) assumption that the next or current conflict would follow the pattern?

It is possible to find “small wars” abroad which were concluded "successfully", but it is very hard to argue that they actually had a good cost-benefit ratio for the committing country as a whole. More often only a few participants such as shareholders and CEO of the United Fruit Company, the oil business and defence contractors rightly deserve the label “war profiteers”. I would add occasionally those gambling politicians.
Citizens in the uniformed communities tend to follow a can-do attitude; to say "no" is rarely a good answer to an order. Soldiers need to deploy once assigned a mission by their civilian overlords (unless they can get pregnant in time).

Civilians, including retired soldiers and reservists, do not need to hone such a professional attitude and pattern of thought all the time.

Much thought has been focused on how to fight “small wars” better. The "defence" communities have paid very little attention whether small wars are a good idea.

Most of us have an opinion on this, but those opinions are not voiced as vocally as the feverish attempts to change or circumvent the fundamental problems of occupation missions.

The discussion about war or not war should not be left exclusively to people who can easily be smeared as 'hippies' or 'potheads'. In the event of a crisis, it's the generals and backbench defence politicians who need to advise the less specialised heads of governments and members of parliaments about the costs and benefits of warfare: Even so if this includes stating outright that no rational point can be made about a particular hypothetical mission being advantageous for one's country as a whole.