Study on how irrelevant the NSA's mass surveillance really is for counterterrorism

I almost forgot to link to a study from a think tank in the U.S.:

"Do NSA's Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?"
Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Emily Schneider, and Bailey Cahall
New America Foundation, January 2014


This shouldn't be surprising. It happens quite  a lot that superficial approaches are being preferred over boring, hard work. A typical reaction to crime hot spots is to patrol a lot -and visibly- with uniformed police in the area.
Meanwhile, what really helps is simply more resources for criminal investigations and prosecution in the judiciary system instead of a superficial show of strength.

What's different with the intelligence services is that intelligence services have only the spectacular, superficial and ultimately quite useless methods on offer. Police leadership has both the superficial and the actually effective approaches on offer and tends to advocate the effective ones, but intelligence services have nothing really effective on offer, and end up promoting their ineffective approach out of bureaucratic self-interest. 
People who don't research diligently fall for the claims of the supposed counterterrorism experts and agree to funding their work - and then get largely blocked from observing if their money is well-spent by secrecy efforts (and depend on whistleblowers to learn on what methods their money is spent on at all).



Economic interdependence and war

It's long overdue to recommend Krugman's blog post "Globalization and Macroeconomics". These days experience a high tide for remarks about how very much connected certain counties are economically and how this affects the risk of war.

The sad truth is, the European countries were trading very much (despite tariffs) prior to 1914, and the Great War still happened.



[Blog] Quick info

I have repeatedly announced that I'll keep blogging activity moderate - and still keep having months with 20+ posts.

The average 2014 blog post isn't really comparable to the average one from 2009-2011, though:
This May only three blog posts were of the elaborate kind, and in April there were only two. March: two. The others are the product of 5-15 minutes effort only and rarely based on something I had thought about for a long time before.

So if you want to read elaborate, good quality texts, you better make use of the archive on the left. The labels should be especially handy.

It feels to me for the first time in years as if the backlog of topics to write about is shrinking, not growing. Most of the good stuff was already written about. Defence and Freedom is moving more towards recent topics (such as Ukraine nowadays) and "Fun"-tagged blog posts because I really don't make stuff up quicker than I write it. That is, stuff that I don't reserve for my still lingering book project and don't hold back to avoid misuse.



Some debates never end

Critics of [fast jets] in ground support say it's too fast, that a pilot zooming along at 600 m.p.h. or better can't spot ground targets quickly enough to do anything about them. And that at these speeds he can't hit anything he sees.

The A-10 debate is clearly not very original. It's apparently as old as are jets. It's curious how and why the debate was kept alive in but one country: All other countries can make do without a slow CAS aircraft, not considering it to be essential.

edit: The debate will at least end here. This hardware-centric fanboy topic is annoying me. I wrote my text on CAS long ago anyway.


Poll results on Germany's foreign policy preferences

"Frage 9: Bundespräsident Gauck und Außenminister Steinmeier haben kürzlich gefordert, dass Deutschland in Zukunft international mehr Verantwortung übernehmen soll. Was denken Sie: sollte sich Deutschland künftig bei internationalen Krisen stärker engagieren oder sollte sich Deutschland weiterhin eher zurückhalten?"

(Question 9: Federal president Gauck and foreign minister Steinmeier recently demanded that Germany shall assume more responsibility internationally in the future. What do you think: should Germany become more involved in international crises or should Germany continue to hold off?)

Deutschland sollte sich stärker engagieren /
Germany should become more involved

Deutschland sollte sich weiterhin eher zurückhalten /
Germany should continue to hold off

Link to source
(Translations are mine, the source is all-German.)

My interpretation is that Germans simply don't believe so much into the effectiveness of interventions and influence through foreign policy. The national experience is that prosperity can be achieved even under adverse conditions through productivity - especially in the manufacturing sector. That's a field of activity where popular support is no doubt great.

Countries which attempted to exert much influence in distant parts of the world have not exactly delivered stellar resumes for a more influence-emphasising foreign policy. The claims about great utility are mostly claims that certain scenarios were averted - which is by definition impossible to prove and thus an unfounded claim.
Just think about it: No doubt, there were many people willing to agree that the U.S.Army protects the peace in the world back in 2001. Not two thirds of the army - the army.
Fast forward to 2003, a substantial share of the U.S.Army is fixed in Iraq - and no war broke out elsewhere. Now that's evidence, and it doesn't support interventionism.

Likewise, there's little evidence that years of trying to exert diplomatic influence in the PR China in favour of human rights has achieved much. North Korea even built a nuke or two (or kind of) despite (or because of) intense pressure.

Moreover, Luxembourg - a tiny country - is known to be the richest one in Europe. The famously neutral Swiss are on their heels. The not exactly interventionist Scandinavians lead in regard to many quality of life and similar studies. So even IF a more ambitious and more assertive foreign policy did yield net benefits - you can evidently still do great without. Germany isn't facing unsolvable challenges itself either.

Now there's the inevitable backlash from people who believe in the 'free rider' argument concerning Europe. Well, all they have is their assertions, and they cannot prove them. What can be proved is that greater activity incurred substantial costs to some countries.

Finally, there's history and the scars it left. The assertive imperial era (pre-1914) foreign policy wasn't exactly successful, and mostly driven by demographics which had turned nationalistic (the socialists weren't nationalistic until the SPD agreed to fund the war in 1914). There's simply no myth or ideology about how important and useful an assertive German foreign policy in the world is. Other countries have such an ideology/mythology or an equivalent (such as France's links to former African colonies).

This was a 'bit much' interpretation for a mere two figures, of course.Register it as a comment on the greater topic of what Americans might call 'German isolationism'.


On overly impressed people's errors

Shortly after the First World War a Swissman (whose name I forgot) was most impressed by what he had heard about the trench war. He concluded that machineguns were the weapon of the future. He campaigned for an all-machinegunner Swiss militia, which would supposedly be invincible then.

This is a rather normal human behaviour: Recent, impressive experiences have often a disproportionate influence on one's thinking. It's similar to how some people seriously believe that it's an utter necessity to "Bomb Iran, now!" - shortly after a barrage of alarmist reports and commentary. Again and again, for 20 years - and in days such as today, they barely remember Iran's existence.

The events in the Ukraine impressed a lot of people as well. Putin somehow invented a new way of war or such (never mind that he basically did what a British political satire TV show explained in detail three decades ago). Then they go on to assert that Putin would employ the very same approach in another conflict as well. 
And that's stupid.

His approach isn't to employ troops without badges in an invasion -> *black box magic* -> win!
He's rather successfully doing what many aggressive governments have done in history and will keep doing; he exploited his freedom of action, stayed below the violent response threshold of the other great powers. His actions in the Ukraine were tailored to this country's domestic conditions.

Conflicts in which he wants to achieve more than possible without exceeding said threshold are likely to take the shape of a strategic coup de main with conventional forces. Conflicts with a low threshold and little ambition on Putin's side may see much less brazen moves than on the Crimea or in the Eastern Ukraine.

Now excuse me, I go visit some places in the intertubes where people embarrass themselves in a funny way by pretending that Putin would repeat the exact same scheme from the Ukraine elsewhere.

related: 2012-07 Niche exaggerations



[Blog] Defence and Freedom theses

Defence and freedom has an agenda, so much was admitted before:

(1) Promote peace
(2) Fight against the encroaching of authoritarian features in Western societies, especially Germany.
(3) Warn about mediocrity and complacency, an unsatisfactory state of affairs in regard to Western military forces armed bureaucracies.
(4)Share interesting or amusing stuff

Now I've become curious what  major theses I have published so far (most of them more than once). The list is quite long:


Western foreign policies are often hypocritical.

(Military) history is a useful resource for understanding the present and preparing (oneself) for the future.

A large non-compulsive organisation of army reserves should be established (and be kept separate from the standing army).

A true military victory in a conflict requires that the 'winners' are better off being 'winners' than they would have been without warfare. This, of course, means that almost no modern war is a good idea, as meeting this condition is exceedingly difficult and impossible to prove.

To introduce state surveillance capacities into a society (legally, training, hardware, tolerance) means to prepare for the establishment of dictatorship. A dictatorship establishing itself could immediately seize on these capabilities and enlarge them - the resistance to such a move would already have been torn down. Not smart.

Cooperation is much preferable in foreign policy over an all-too often avoidable and wasteful confrontation.

The economic backing of a state's military power is of great importance. This includes not only GDP, but also the presence of substantial industrial (and R&D) capacities such as shipyards, electronics industries and above all a mechanical engineering industry. The Western developed countries are strong in GDP, but partially hollowed-out in regard to key industries. Our arms industries are horribly inefficient because of rotten procurement bureaucracies.

I hate warmongers, obviously.

Great emphasis on concealment and camouflage in land warfare. The use of field fortifications and dispersion as means to mitigate opposing firepower has little potential left today. The avoidance of being spotted and tracked long enough for a destructive engagement is one of the keys to European battlefield success in the future. (This applies less to offensive actions, despite smoke.)

The political press is of great importance for democracy, and it lets us down.


Great importance of small ("mini", "micro" drones in land warfare) as opposed to the more fashionable medium altitude, high endurance surveillance and PGM strike drones.

I generally buy into the 'war is about breaking the will to resist' thing of von Clausewitz.

Alliances should be defensive and should be understood as a club that provides a service to its members, not to the rest of the world. An alliance member should need to expend less on defence than it should if neutral, and this is one of the benefits of being allied.

There was little modern warfare from the introduction of 'smokeless' powders in the 1880's till 1911, and almost none in Europe. This led to European armies being quite clueless in 1914 and learning lessons the hard way, first how to break through defensive lines and then how to exploit the breakthrough. We've had an even longer period of relative peace between 1946 and today in Europe, and it shows in obsolete, WW2-based doctrines even though they've been updated with fancy techno stuff.

Technology propagation follows quite often the same pattern: First applications which tolerate high weight, large volume and/or high costs, then progressively applications which require lightweight, smaller and cheaper equipment. Many innovations built into warships or combat aircraft can thus be expected to arrive in ground combat vehicles and even later also on infantrymen. Radios, INS, jammers, infrared sensors and satellite communications are examples.

Piracy should be dealt with on land, as Pompey did already. Patrolling and escorting is inefficient and stupid. The multinational naval effort in the Indian Oceana gainst a couple ragtag East African pirates is most inefficient as an anti-piracy effort and should rather be considered as a multinational naval get-together of naval forces which have to cruise for training anyway.

The North Atlantic Treaty includes a mandate to be non-aggressive, but no mandate to spend much on the military. Many people who refer to it have this backwards. The bad allies are the interventionists, not the ones with below-average %GDP military spending.

High public debt (in %GDP) leads to a likely late entry into an arms race. This may be troublesome because intense, approximately two years long, arms races preceded both world wars and it might take one to prevent a third conventional world war.

Tripwire forces are a stupidity.

The cluster munitions ban and modern technologies have changed the rationales for artillery systems design as we know it. Yet there's not change of trends in artillery systems (towards smaller calibres).


Some Western armies neglect the 'combat' aspect of armoured reconnaissance too much. Armoured reconnaissance vehicle armaments which would struggle to defeat a cheap armoured car are a tell-tale symptom. The trend goes towards observation teams instead of recce teams in some countries (such as Germany), and this is enticed by improving sensors.

The nominal and real battlefield utility of hardware is very different. Nominal power can rarely be realised, and hidden values such as reliability or ease of employment are often underrated.

The utility of NATO isn't so much defence, as it more importantly prevents a costly rivalry and hostility between (continental) Europe and the U.S. over the many actual divergences in national interests.

There's too much chaos and not enough standardisation in army vehicles procurement. The hurried procurement of additional purpose-built protected vehicles only worsened this. To add a supposedly standardised procurement plan on top of the old inventory only contributed to the chaos. We have seen the horrible logistics problems caused by a chaotic vehicle inventory already when the Wehrmacht used hundred so different types of motor vehicles in WW2; even well-equipped divisions had about 30 different types of vehicles, with 30 different lists of spare parts. An entire army could make do with about fifteen today if it did a good job.

The very concept of an IFV is flawed; it provides too little infantry to the combined arms mix because the evolution of the vehicle as a weapon system in itself has taken prominence (this is where the superficial strength and the big money is to be found). I favour an HAPC for cooperation with tanks and a cheap APC (can be an armored medium truck) for infantry quantity.

The strategies (campaign plans) employed in Western military adventures tend to be primitive and brute. There is a crisis in Western strategic thinking, but it's not about a lack thereof; the output's quality is simply too primitive. It's all too often about employing what power is at hand rather than about establishing a connection between the goal and the means first.

Attention is a scarce resource. The more we allow ourselves to become distracted by bullshit affairs, the less we'll be able to master actual challenges.

Air power is overrated. It's going to be very busy in a conventional conflict and simply not going to be available to single platoons in trouble as it was during wars of occupation. Entire battalions could be in battle for hours in a intra-European conflict without getting air power support. Scarce close air support is only to be expected in support of the Schwerpunkt or at major crisis locations.

Rapid fire medium calibre guns (about 75-90 mm) and Mach 5+ kinetic energy penetrator AT missiles are underrated in ground warfare equipment development. We're still stuck with the less versatile conventional big quick firing guns (100-125 mm) and the less effective but more versatile shaped charge-equipped AT missiles (Mach 0.3-2).

Both interventionists and surveillance fanatics use the same strategy to wear down public resistance to their nonsense: "Salami tactics".

Independently manoeuvring units and even smaller elements offer much potential for future army doctrines, with the more traditional brigades or battalion battlegroups with their combined arms brute power being held back for major actions and as deterring 'force in being': Skirmishing on the operational level is an interesting scenario for the near future of land warfare.

Self organization is an interesting field for research. It's especially interesting in regard to identifying 'natural' leaders, who can lead even without artificial command authority imposed by regulations.


A military theory framework around the concept of repertoires, and how opposing forces seek to neutralise much of the other's repertoire instead of merely clashing against each other.

Repulsion as a function in the art of war: Short-range threat influence your movements, long-range threats don't for you cannot avoid getting into range. This is a factor which reduces the advantage of greater ranges.

Direct democracy. I like it for the big topics which have the attention of the citizenry in general. The smallish routine jobs are what's best delegated to professional politicians who get paid to care about this full-time.

Dangerous idiots. They make up several per cent of the adult population in every country, and it's a perpetual challenge for every society to keep them from having extraordinary power - for they will do much harm once they have it.

The role of the infantry branch is not 'to close with and destroy the enemy'. Its job is rather to do its job well in general in the (large) niche where it's better than mounted forces. 'To close with and destroy' is a tiny aspect of what infantry does, and often not advisable.


Military forces are essentially armed bureaucracies, and the common theories and insights about the motivation and workings of bureaucracies apply.

An unorthodox view on air power involving much more ground/ground precision (quasi-) ballistic missiles than is commonplace. Such missiles can substitute for much air/ground attack capability against static and semi-static targets. They don't meet the air forces' interest in as many combat aviation pilot tickets as possible, though.

Horizontal cooperation: Support assets integrated into manoeuvre units, supporting the own manoeuvre units and others. An alternative to centralising support assets on a higher level. It's an option; no nature's law imposes that only assets under control of a higher HQ can support multiple units of a given hierarchy level. It's not truly original, but it is unorthodox.

An entire draft for a German security policy (effectively defence policy), cast into a set of rules meant to stand the test of time.

Maxims. I hate maxims. Dumbed-down, simplistic rules. They are unnecessary if you're smart enough for the job and they're wrong in exceptions. So basically too dumb people will apply the maxim also when it's wrong and smart people have no benefit from accepting a maxim at all. Don't elevate too dumb people into positions of importance and you'll have no use for maxims any more, ever.

Multinational corps make some sense to help out small military forces maintain corps-level experience - in peacetime. Multinational units are nonsense in wartime because of cohesion and friction issues (the Légion étrangère makes up for this by enforcing one language and creating a strong esprit de corps).

Low force density. Modern intra-European conflict can be expected to have low force densities in an early stage, and a quick decision should be sought (to avoid the greater damage of protracted conflict). Military theory should thus pay much (more) attention to the scenario intra-European conflict with a low forces/area ratio. This applies to the loss of the former functions of a front line, too.

Pursuit of unfair advantages: The art of war should seek decision without battle because this means to seek decision prior to battle. A decision in battle means to enter an open-ended, bloody fight. That's inferior to having 'won' in advance. Intelligent opponents will avoid a battle that's a sure defeat, so seeking a decision prior to battle equals seeking decision without battle. This is in part about skirmishing again.


The true test of a military is the crisis situation. Decades of beating on grossly inferior opponents may have blunted our sight for weak spots in unit cohesion, robustness of hardware and morale, preparation for understrength actions and more.

Elusiveness is not only a concept for guerrillas: It's also an imperative in land warfare against capable opposition.

General scepticism about the cost efficiency of navies, army aviation (most helos) and also air force combat aviation (partially mentioned since 2009 at the latest).

Deconfliction is exaggerated: Often times it's important to take a small risk to alleviate greater risks.

Interventionists and proponents of more military spending/capability aren't responding to defence needs, but to innate psychological need for the feeling of superiority.


Submarines are overrated due to self-serving claims of the not so silent 'silent service'. Submarines are effective without a great combined arms team as is required with surface fleets and air strikes when facing a capable opponent. This makes subs a natural choice for the 'underdog' navy in the conflict, but the benefits of additional subs are declining quickly. The first few force caution on the enemy, additional ones merely add destruction - but they add little further alteration of behaviour.

Low signature propellant could change the feasibility and practicability of weapons, especially kinetic energy missiles and recoilless weapons which as concepts suffered greatly from their large tell-tale signatures.

Much application of non-military theories on military and defence policy topics. I obviously insist that this is helpful.


The U.S. Army and USMC are incompetent in combat vehicle development and procurement. The army developed the flawed Abrams/Bradley and the unnecessarily expensive MLRS/Apache/Blackhawk during a period of relatively tight budgets and hasn't succeeded at getting any new combat AFV into service since then. The USMC fails since 1973 in its attempts to replace the AAV-7 and its aviation projects were horrible as well. No new generation of purposeful combat AFVs and army aviation can be expected from the USA (in the near future).

That's a rather long list of theses.
I know milblogs which basically had one thesis; "smaller is sexy", for example. Or three: "F-35 bad, F-22 good and everyone but me and my friends is stupid!".

The lists makes it look like the years had a very different productivity, but the introduction of a thesis isn't everything. Many of these theses were presented in greater depth only later.The list certainly is not flawless either.

And yes, I was too lazy to add plenty links to this list. Feel free to explore the archive by yourself.


edit: Slightly altered choice of words, typos corrected.


[Fun] with election posters

... successful in Europe.

The usual question when I post things as this is to wonder what's the connection to "Defence and Freedom".

Well, the NSA is known to violate well-established basic rights of Germans and the ruling coalition and cabinet led by Mrs. Merkel do squat about it. They could (at least close NSA facilities and expel NSA personnel and surplus embassy personnel), but they don't even try. In fact, they didn't bother to even raise their voice until it became public knowledge that the NSA had even intercepted Merkel's phone calls from a party-owned mobile phone.

So this is totally a topic about the defence of freedom against an external threat. It's appalling that this threat nominally is an ally. Then again, maybe we are allied because the whole 'threat' thing might become excessive otherwise.


P.S.: I've noticed how certain milbloggers only "discover" important topics once they're in the headlines, obvious to everyone not living in a cave. I did actually write about this surveillance issue almost five years ago already.


Force densities and gaps - example Ukraine

It took a while, but I finally grasped that the Ukraine case is a wonderful real-world anecdote to support my (much) earlier point about low force densities in modern ground warfare.

My point is that the distance between predominantly combat-seeking manoeuvre formations (such as a mechanised battalion battlegroup) would be very large in modern, European-style insanity warfare.
I already mentioned at the link that even the Cold War setup was 26 divisions spread over about 1,000 km frontage (Central Europe). It's become much less since.
A decade ago or so even flag rank officers mused publicly about what it means to expect 100 km or more of gaps between two manoeuvre brigades. The Ukraine invasion scenario features this:

This graphic made the rounds a few weeks ago:
(c) Dmitry Tymchuk
A more detailed one followed recently:
AFAIK (c) Washington Post, based on RUSI info

The border in the Northeast and east of the Ukraine has a length of about 600-700 km*. The assembled forces of supposedly 80,000-92,000 men** are roughly the equivalent of eight to ten Western-style brigades. Now assume that at least in some places brigades would bunch up and you do indeed end up with gaps of about 100 km width.

This is very much the scenario I was discussing in 2012; a conflict without lengthy previous mobilisation or even arms racing.

It's not enough to keep the ~100 km gap under surveillance with a picket line. A picket line - especially if established by the not very combat-oriented modern armoured recce forces - may call in artillery fires on passers-by, but lacks the power to engage directly. 100 km gaps de facto exclude the use of unguided artillery fires on the middle of this gap. Helicopters cannot engage properly in face of capable battlefield air defences. Fixed wing air power is likely busy with air superiority, deep strike, main effort support or crisis management jobs. Even the A-10 fanbois got to admit that A-10's would likely be allocated to main effort support or crisis management rather than guarding the target-poor gaps.
So these gaps would not be defensible immediately. Hostile forces could push through suddenly. Mobile warfare ensues.

A corps commander doesn't need a mere picket line of observers, but rather area-covering (or at the very least bottleneck-covering) surveillance efforts - and preferably substantial delaying action capabilities in these gaps.
This is an area of military theory in which substantial improvements are possible over existing doctrines. This could be a golden age for armoured recce / cavalry - if only it develops along a wise route.


*: Border lengths depends on how you do the measuring - it's about 600 to 700 km if you simplify it into three lines. 
**: It's ridiculous to call this a 'massing of forces' as so many "journalists" did since the troops are dispersed over a very large region.


A stampede of stupid ideas

Politicians who didn't spend much time trying to understand war are getting attention for 'creative' ideas about how to protect the Baltic countries against Russians.

Yay, an excuse to bash!

First the easy one:
Supposedly, to bolster the air policing would help just in case Putin sends troops into the Baltic states by aircraft. (I expect a suggestion to deploy Patriot missile batteries there to pop up in the next few days.)

Now let's think about the scenario. An Il-76 aircraft with about 200 Russians on board takes about 5-15 minutes to enter NATO air space and make a touchdown on an airfield or grass field.
Air policing in the conventional sense (5 minute alert readiness, then interception with afterburner) could simply not react in time if the Il-76 followed a civilian airliner flight plan over Russian airspace. To notice that something is fishy (and not just one of the hundreds de-sensitizing mock approaches of the previous weeks) would take minutes alone. Even one air policing flight per Baltic capital wouldn't suffice.

Besides - and this applies to missile batteries as well - who is willing to shoot at an aircraft like that, with a few minutes for decision-making? Think about this at night - visual identification would be unavailable or only available close-up.

Here's a less obvious, but more promising approach: Have a few rapid reaction force battalion battlegroups which can engage a handful of Speznaz on the ground within a few hours anywhere in the Baltics (= about what they need anyway, just at a more paranoid readiness), and prepare the national police forces to serve as first responders for critical reports  about invaders (= for free).
Second, prepare all airfields to block a runway within a few minutes. This may be as inexpensive as an additional drill for the airport's firefighters (= for free).

Another stupid suggestion:
A permanent deployment of multinational (NATO) forces in the Baltic countries.

This triggered two allergies of mine: "multinational"* and "tripwires".

(That's a great thing about having blogged for seven years; sometimes you only need to add links instead of writing hundreds of words.)

Again, a deployment of tripwire forces is the most obvious, most superficial option - and in my opinion also very, very stupid. The "multinational" is the icing on the cake.
Facing off Russians is not the same as having the mightiest alliance ever staging a get-together with detachments form many air forces for a live fire exercise over beat-up of Yugoslavia.
We did those things jointly to foster friendship, test interoperability, share experiences, and because of a badly misguided attempt to justify NATO. The multinational formations (corps, brigade) are symbolic, for know-how exchange, interoperability and stuff.
Any effort to face off Russia is in a different league.

I won't claim that the Russians would attack a multinational NATO corps in the Baltics, but such a concentration of stupidity would certainly not be a cost-effective way of protecting the alliance.

I expect more stupid suggestions in the weeks to come.

Maybe you consider my suggestion from 2010 (before it was cool to be worried about the Baltic countries) as stupid:

Time would be a critical component of any (...) invasion plan. They would need to create a strong signal that discourages invasion planners by indicating that a quick invasion is too difficult.
The speed of an invasion could (...) be hampered by small and large landscape-shaping and infrastructure projects. The terrain can be shaped to be more of a problem to an invader (although trees grow slowly, for example) and the road network could be modified to be more easily blocked along possible invasion routes.

Intra-alliance politics could also be important. NATO could invest in much better road connections between the Baltic states and Poland (to enable a quicker reinforcement and thus cut the invader's time table even more).
The richer, bigger allies could also subsidise Baltic armies in order to create army strengths way beyond the capability of the small countries themselves. That's certainly cheaper than forward deployment of allied brigades.

NATO defence planning for the Baltic countries did not commence until 2009, and was made public by Cablegate in December 2010:

Germany 'was not particularly eager' to see such NATO contingency plans, but on the other hand the GWB administration considered the Baltics to be a mere UN General Assembly vote and auxiliary troops pool ...


*: A multinational Baltic corps capable of partial operation with only one Baltic government's authorization might make sense, though. Most Baltic troops can be expected to use Russian for multinational communication, so at least the language issues would be avoided. There's little to be gained by it, though.

P.S.: I wonder what they will come up with against the threat of a hovercraft-borne invasion from a frozen Baltic Sea. A hovercraft (there are two) could legally move up and down only three nautical miles off the coast. Maybe they propose a multinational NATO coastal artillery corps?


Global shipbuilding industries


I still believe that a strong shipbuilding industry is essential for long-term naval strength (aside from land-based and submarine abilities in naval warfare). Thus an update on earlier blog posts about the global shipbuilding industry:
(c) RBA
  (That "Rest of the world" is overwhelmingly not the United States).




A most simple code...


Which number could correctly follow next in this extremely simple pattern?
065864 or 471867 ?

The answer is written here in yellow. Highlight to make it readable:

for every line has one more enclosed space
in the number than the previous one.

This was based on a math riddle which I read long ago.
It reminds me powerfully of the downside of having learnt to think in patterns, the downside of having education and of having learnt the tools of several trades. Economists learn to approach problems with a set of figurative "tools". Engineers have an altogether different tool set. Lawyers again are completely different. Physicists are different as well. So are programmers. And soldiers.

I learnt multiple tool sets in my life and took a glance at others. That gives me a somewhat powerful 'meta-tool set' for trying to understand the world and for trying to figure out solutions to problems (especially when more than one answer is required).
I suppose a software from 2040 would be able to discern which tool sets I was making use of while writing this blog. I know them and I can tell the influences show. (I suppose software could also determine quite well which books I've read, even many of those which I never referenced.)

It's also a burden. I wasn't able to solve the math riddle originally, though it was claimed that children could solve it within minutes. Education and experience had shut that ability off, likely forever.

Different backgrounds can quite explain different conclusions in many cases. Two disagreeing Nobel laureates from one and the same social science are often predictable in their conclusions about a problem once you've looked at their area of speciality within their science.
Different branches of the military lead quite predictably to different tool sets and different conclusions, too.
I suppose it's useful to remember how oneself is limited in the ability to make comprehensive judgements based on one's background. 

If in doubt, remember the riddle...



NATO's alleged non-expansion promises

A rumour says that NATO, the United States, the Western Great Powers or the European Union promised to Gorbachev / the Soviet Union and thus its successor state Russia that the Western alliance would not expand eastward beyond East Germany - sometime back in about 1990.

Individuals - even a foreign minister, head of government or head of state - cannot impose such a restriction on his own country in a democracy. This requires a treaty - signed and ratified.

The Russian (or pro-Russian) side argues that the West broke promises, but spoken promises are meaningless in foreign policy, and Russia knows this. They had ample time to cast these promises into a treaty and thus make them part of a deal.

There are sources indicating that during the course of negotiations the German and American foreign ministers said that NATO wouldn't expand beyond East Germany. Yet where's a binding treaty?*

I looked into the original document (scan thereof) of the 4+2 Treaty (English text page 13), and there's nothing in this regard in there. The restrictions only apply to military forces in East Germany. The assertions about Western promises centre on this one treaty, though.

Moreover, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were still largely intact in 1990. The European Union didn't exist yet; there were European communities instead. The whole idea of NATO or EU expanding beyond the Oder river was still unrealistic back in 1990 (save for maybe parts of Yugoslavia, as it was entering civil war).

Russia has no claim to NATO staying out of Eastern Europe (and NATO did no wrong legally by expanding) unless they produce a signed and ratified treaty with that exact promise.

The promise may be a myth in regard to International Law, but it's an effective myth.** It's shaping opinions in East and West and I suppose that's in part so because Russia was the underdog for years and even Westerners are sympathetic to its plight.
This omits that the eastward expansion of NATO is only a problem if one looks at Russia and NATO as rivals, instead of as partners. Cold War habits and great power attitudes have won in East and West over the many attempts to build a cooperative relationship.
This resembles slightly (not necessarily meaningfully) the failed Franco-German reconciliation efforts of the late 20's which failed in light of French interest in keeping the reparations flowing and German change of government away from socialists to conservatives.


*: And I suppose we know even signed, ratified and thus binding treaties are being violated at times, and Russia itself is no exception.
**: I think I have mentioned it, possibly even assumed it to be correct, in some earlier blog post. 

edit 2015:  I changed the bold part because I learned that other forms of agreements carry much weight as well. The Russians did so far not point at any such published or at least documented agreement, though.

edit 2015-12: FM about the same topic.


A Western bargaining strategy concerning Putin

My personal stance is that allying with the Ukraine or other forms of intense meddling there are not really beneficial to my country and thus no defence policy.Our national security would rather be degraded by getting involved closely rather than staying away.

This is a quite egoistic view, of course: The view of a state as a club providing services to its members. It's not about the state as an entity that's providing welfare to foreign countries.

This doesn't mean economic aid is wrong, though: It's in part economic policy, and in part there's a 'feel good factor' provided to the club members as a state service to them.

There's also a way how supporting the Ukraine intensely may provide a 'feel good factor' to the citizens/club members large enough to justify the effort (short of war):
Experimental psychologists have found out long ago that most humans are not plain egoists. Most of us -I presume some very right wing folks rather not- are willing to sacrifice something in order to punish someone who has been unfair to a third person.
We have this pattern of behaviour apparently because it helps to build and maintain a community (a clan, a tribe). A bunch of 100% egoists has a much lesser case for building a community - and that's evolutionary inferior apparently. The few per cent egoists are basically free riders on the others' efforts to keep the community functional.

So we've got these instincts, and no doubt many of us are now wooing for the Ukrainians and interested in helping them. Yes, even though there's no substantial benefit for ourselves in sight.
Economists call this a preference, and it's perfectly legitimate for a state (government) to try to meet the citizens' preferences. That's even what a state is all about.

So basically there is a justifiable case for supporting the Ukraine with substantial effort. Now how to do it?

The typical reflexive reactions were already published:
* Proposal to help train the militias
* Proposal to supply weapons
* Sanctions against Russia
* Sanctions against Russia's plutocrats and political elite
* Annoying interference by OSCE and UN

This is the usual stuff, and doesn't require much of a strategy.

There is potential for a strategy, though: Putin's position isn't nearly as good as one might think under the impression of recent events. And that's where my intro about how to get around my long-held position matters:

Rational or not, Putin is not going to like having NATO or EU at Moscow's doorsteps.

Here's a graphic from my 2009-11 text "Strategic depth - always valuable?":

I'm sure Putin wouldn't agree with me on what I wrote back then, so the reasoning from that text isn't relevant here. The longest arrow shows the distance between Moscow and NATO during the Cold War, the two medium length ones show the distance today and the shortest one shows how it would be if the Ukraine joined NATO.

He's not going to like that, so he's going to prevent it. He cannot do so by splitting up the Ukraine:
Russian as mother tongue according to 2001 census, (c)Tovel
Very little of the Ukraine that's most close to Moscow is speaking Russian. He might cut away that small part up there, but that would gain only two or three hours worth of an armoured brigade's advance. Moscow would still be most unpleasantly close to NATO. Russia is simply not accustomed to this.
Putin might cut off some more parts of the Ukraine - especially in the East. This would only drive up the share of ethnic Ukrainians in the remainder of the country and would furthermore make them feel most vulnerable and opposed to Russia. The predictable outcome would be an application to join the NATO.

Putin may or may not have anticipated his success so far, but now he's in a most tricky situation. he's kind of near his culminating point. The farther he goes, the more the whole thing might blow up in his face. He cannot annex or control the whole Ukraine, after all. He lacks the troops and the domestic stability for this.

And this is where the West has an extremely powerful bargaining chip:
We should accept that the vast majority of Crimeans want to be part of Russia, and a Russo-Ukrainian border treaty moving some areas (the dark ones near the border in the map above) to Russia. But then Putin's in trouble: There would be a lingering threat of the Ukraine joining NATO (and the EU, which takes longer). He might get lucky and some European government might choose to block an application, but he cannot on his own effort keep NATO's great powers from entering an alliance with the Ukraine. The USA and a couple Balkan NATO members (for robust lines of communication) would already suffice to turn the Ukraine into a firmly Western country.
About 500 km from Moscow.
That's at the doorstep by Russian standards.

The bargaining chip is even renewable: It's usable again and again for blackmailing as long as you don't consume it by realising the threat.

What could be achieved with this bargaining chip?
A settlement on the new, almost satisfactory Ukrainian borders, Russian 'peacekeeper' withdrawal from Transnistria, withdrawal from Abchasia and South Ossetia?
A lot.

But that would be a strategic approach to the problem, may run counter to some instincts and it wouldn't benefit the MIC or please the 'hawks'. One would also need to explain it to every new head of government in involved countries to sustain the threat.

- - - - -

By the way; Luttwak offered an alternative to reflexive sanctions: Increase Russia's brain drain by attracting well-educated professionals as immigrants. That's decidedly unsexy for 'hawks' as well.
The United States and Germany would be in top starting positions to execute this alternative strategy. It would be an anti-Russia and very long-term action, though. humans get used to almost everything, and the creeping normality of lack of talent in a country would probably not influence policies much.



Shock vs. fires - the ancient choice

There's an ancient debate about shock attack vs. fire attack. Many descriptions of 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and yes, also 20th century generals* include remarks about how the person preferred shock over fires. The choice of words varies, of course. A typical way to describe it is to mention a preference for cold steel (bayonet assault).

The choice (and in part trade-off) appears to be very, very old. Still, the seeming historical continuity of the debate can deceive. Here's an earlier Defence and Freedom text describing a similar problem:

The choice is between closing with the enemy and staying at a distance (preferring stand-off fires).
To go close to short range (melee) combat tends to promise decisive results because troops cannot survive close to hostiles for long and usually need to fight it out quickly.
To stay at a distance is subjectively less risky, and tends to deliver results more slowly. It's also more expensive materially (ammunition mostly - blackpowder and especially its salpetre was very expensive and scarce).

The choice may be ancient, but the conclusions depend on the state of the forces (and their technology).
Russian troops weren't exactly the most sophisticated during the 18th century, butwell capable of shock attacks. Suvorov won dozens of battles by exploiting this and is one of the historical generals known for a preference for 'cold steel'. Other armies preferred to impress with firepower, such as the Prussians.

The balance between shock and fires was a tricky one during the 17th and 18th centuries, and a mere look at the weapons cannot explain the issue. I'll give it a try with what I (believe to) know:

Battle of Poltava, 1709, painted 1726
The musket was a firearm of very, very disappointing performance in almost every regard. This didn't even matter much given the poor training and the smoke of the blackpowder, though. The musket began to be useful at about 200 m, and getting the first salvo off was important. You wouldn't want to fire the first salvo at a too long distance due to the poor accuracy, though. Then again many soldiers didn't (and don't) really want to hit anyone anyway.
The second salvo was already very inaccurate and hasty even if it was fired at shorter ranges simply because the smoke usually obscured the enemy. Then again, you couldn't really aim much with the almost straight buttstocks (those looked better on the parade-ground) and no real sights anyway.
The physical effect of musket fires was thus quite unsatisfactory and gave rise to an interest in melee combat which we don't have any more because of much better firearms.
The psychological effect of firearms and their effects was considerable, though - especially if one line just felt that the other line was firing salvoes at a faster rate.

The bayonet matured to a form which allowed
loading and firing with bayonet fixed.
The argument for shock attacks didn't rest on an excellent weapon either. The bayonet was -even when matured as a technology- a very poor melee weapon. A dung fork was a better melee weapon than a musket with a bayonet. 1,000 BC spears were better melee weapons than a musket with a bayonet. Almost everything but a knife was better for melee combat than a musket with bayonet fixed. Maybe even a knife.
The raison d'être for the bayonet was really to deter and if necessary stab horsemen (or horses) - it wasn't much worse than pikes in this job.
Swords and sabres were added to musketeers/fusiliers during peacetime on several occasions because they seemed to be a good idea. They were ditched during wartime on several occasions.
 There was almost no melee combat during age of musket battles apparently!

Yet, few soldiers [meant: infantrymen] actually fought each other with cold steel. At Austerlitz, the Russian Guards made a classic 300-yard charge, but were exhausted after breaking through the first French line and driven back by fire. Generally, it was the threat of the bayonet, and not the actual clash that decided an issue. After studying the casualties suffered by units in a number of hand to hand combats, Surgeon General Larrey of the Grand Army found only five bayonet wounds and concluded that the effect of the weapon was primarily psychological. And one of Wellington's senior medical officers, George J. Guthrie, asserted that formed regiments 'charging with the bayonet never meet and struggle hand to hand and foot on foot; and this for the best possible reason, that one side turns and runs away as soon as the other comes close enough to do mischief.'
 "The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon",
G.E.Rothenberg, 1979, p.69

There's also a nice quote from the other end of the blackpowder era, from when Tercios with a combination of pikemen and arquebusiers dominated West European battlefields. The author back then in the late 16th or early 17th century stated that one shouldn't kill pikemen if avoidable, for they hardly ever kill anyone themselves who didn't charge against them on horseback. The pike was later replaced by the bayonet and the expert swordsmen known from early Tercios had already disappeared from late Tercios. Regrettably, I didn't rediscover the exact quote.

a typical formation from the early age of muskets
Even battles with plenty successful "shock attacks" had little infantry-on-infantry melee combat. This is one of the least intuitive and most unbelievable observations of 17th and 18th century authors about battles in the age of muskets.

One closed order infantry formation was sent to attack another, they shot at each other, the attackers keeps advancing after salvoes again and again - and then one line formation broke. The men simply fled. This may have been the attacker or the defender, but actual melee combat with men stabbing each other with bayonets or using sabres was very uncommon during battles.** Sometimes the defenders did a counter-charge to break the already cracked morale of the decimated (by fire) attacking formation, but the result was still that one party would break and flee, and there would usually be no melee combat on grand scale.

This observation explains why the very poor bayonet was sufficient as the only melee weapon, and how quickly closing with the enemy while under fire wasn't only the more decisive tactic, but at times even the less bloody one. It sure saved blackpowder and lead and allowed less sophisticated forces to prevail. Superior discipline was the best approach to avoid being the one whose formation breaks and disintegrates. It helped to soften up the enemy more with quicker salvoes and made the men more steady in face of impressive salvoes and seemingly irresistibly approaching forces.
This explains why the line infantry forces of the 17th and especially the 18th century were drilled incessantly and why discipline had become the focus for almost all infantry units in Europe.

It all kind of makes sense, but only in the context of the period's technology (particularly the drawbacks of blackpowder) and if one pays much attention to morale and discipline.

And this is why the old times' debates about shock attack vs. fires attack is utterly irrelevant today. It's seemingly a timeless, persisting debate about a seeming constant in warfare - but the answers need be found anew again and again as the nature and technology of warfare change.

Bonus part:
Only to show how tricky the military trade is at times: It still made sense to train the infantry in bayonet combat, and then preferably to pitch them against recruits in mock combat in order to instil great confidence in them. Confidence in the own bayonet combat skills made it less likely that the own formation would break first.

Even more tricky: Non-commissioned officers carried long polearms (spontoons) which are usually called obsolete even at their time by book authors. Those were pointless anachronisms, right?
Again, no - it's tricky. Those long poles were used to push and keep the line infantrymen into formation. They were held horizontally and crosswise for this. A fusilier who wavered and made a step back would be pushed back into line again with the spontoon. Spontoons were rather decorated tools than weapons.
Again; it's about morale and discipline, not about the (low) inherent quality of the 'weapon' itself.***


*: There wasn't much of a choice prior to the arrival of firearms because arrows were quite easily stopped with shields or most armours.
**: This appears to have been true since the early 17th century, when early firearms had become more important than pikes.
***: You may find similar thoughts in my 2009 text on flamethrowers.  The morale and discipline aspect of warfare is easily lost to later generations.

P.S.: About modern bayonets: I suppose knife bayonets make sense, for you end up having a rifle and a knife anyway, and there's almost no compromise necessary to enable knife bayonet usage. The only real benefit is in handling prisoners of war or in deterring civilians, though.

edit: The Weapons and Warfare blog has more:


A quote


Its true.
You could have peace by surrendering immediately. Whoever fights a war does it for something different than "peace". The idea that one could fight a war to end war looks British in origin to me; I've seen next to nothing alike in German sources, for example.