"Control" of terrain - part 2 ("how to pull it off")

Part 1 here

Choice of forces

The control of the sea equivalent to ground forces' "control of terrain" can be done by surface warships and submarines while the control of the air equivalent to ground forces' "control of terrain" can be done with fighters. There's little reason to believe that dismounted forces have a monopoly on exercising control of terrain if so very different forces serve equivalent roles on different terrains.
In fact, it's rather terrain-specific, as is combat as well. The myth hat only infantry can hold and control terrain is rooted in economics rather than fact: Back in WW2 only infantry was affordable in the quantities required to be on guard, controlling and holding terrain. This led to infantry serving in that function even in desert terrain, though at times equipped with powerful anti-tank guns (or gun-howitzers) at platoon level.
The wars of Israel ('67 and '73) and the Iraqi attempt to defend with dug-in tanks in 1991 show that tanks can indeed be used to hold and control terrain. The Iraqi's lack of success in their example was a phenomenon universal to the conflict and not to be blamed on the tactic of static defence with hull down tanks.
A most static approach like this doesn't fully exploit the strengths of tanks, of course. You can do more with less using a more efficient tactic, and this too was done.
In late 1942 and early 1943 a single motorised division with weak reinforcement by AFVs defended a frontage of more than 100 km for weeks in the steppe terrain south of Stalingrad. As far as I know it did so by following not written doctrine, but principles of German land forces at the time: A motorised line of pickets that reported by radio, and serial (one after another, never parallel) engagements at shifting divisional Schwerpunkte to strike at intruders with success. Their weeks-long defensive mission there was probably the birth of modern low force density fully motorised mobile defences.We sure cannot follow the Afrikaarmee's example of establishing heavily armed infantry strongpoints with as a defensive front. We simply wouldn't have the infantry numbers until we mobilised for a year or so.

Meanwhile, there's no doubt that infantry is the first if not only choice to control terrain on infantry-friendly terrains. Nobody is going to control extended woodland terrain with a tank company anytime soon.

To sum it up; dismounted forces are the first choice for the control of terrain mission in infantry-friendly (short lines of sight or very soft ground) and mounted forces are first choice for the control of terrain mission in tank-friendly terrain.


"Control the terrain in this area" is an awfully standardised mission and even taking into consideration all those other military missions this allows only for a crude description.
It is conceivable that a much wider range of ambitions would make sense under certain circumstances. Let's assume there's an independent/ militia (light infantry) battalion in some hilly terrain with woodland on hilltops and often small rivers, lakes or settlements in the valleys in between. Typical Central and Southern German terrain, that is. The battalion has to cover a large area there, and no doubt its abilities in combat depend a lot on what effort the hostile forces project into this area. It could not "hold the ground" against a mechanised division, for example. Meanwhile, it could intercept and reduce armoured reconnaissance forces.
Let's conceive what different levels of ambition could be given as area missions to this battalion from a superior CO:
(1) Stay alive (a necessary prelude to further action 'behind enemy lines', such as within the Jagdkampf doctrine)
(2) Observe and report
(3) Observe, investigate and report
(4) Observe, investigate, report and conduct counter-reconnaissance (recce platoons of three light AFVs would be ambushed and hunted down)
(5) Observe, investigate, report and harass (harassment would include ambushes and raids against all hostile forces)
(6) All of the above plus destroy small forces (forward deployed aviation elements, forward supply dumps and forward area air defence missile units would be destroyed rather than only hurt)
(7) All of the above plus delaying actions (raising obstacles, forcing advance guards to deploy for combat then disengage, immobilising lead vehicles on narrow routes etc.)
(8) Defend (against any attacks)
(9) Yield no ground without permission (the typical Stalin and Hitler amateur CinC nonsense)
(10) Tolerate no hostile forces in the area (requiring offensive action against those already present)

"Control terrain" and "hold terrain" cover ambitions four to nine. More degrees of ambition can be made up any time, so I suppose it's clear now why I think the established mission types are crude and unspecific. moreover the typical indoctrination tells dismounting forces that they have a monopoly on holding terrain without bringing home how many different degrees of ambition are possible and may need to be used depending on the situation.

Low force density

As so often, strictly limited resources may lead to low force densities - such as a single mechanised brigade with a few hundred dismounts being on its own in a 50 x 50 km area. A Polish defensive posture against Belarus during a Baltic Defence scenario would likely see no more than three brigades covering the 250 x 150 km area in Poland's East (crucial for the security of the Polish capital of Warsaw), for example.

This is a difficult mission assuming no science fiction drone/robot army is available. An actual observation of much terrain with short lines of sight would be impractical. Pickets in settlements could keep main streets under surveillance, pickets elsewhere could keep roads and generally open terrain under surveillance. Hostiles that slipped through after detection would need to be either ignored (particularly if they are moving homewards) or search parties would be sent out to re-establish contact and shadow them till some quick reaction force/strike element or air attack eliminates this particular intrusion.

Meanwhile, some promising ways to deal with major intrusions (battalion battlegroups or bigger) would be
(1) delaying action with mounted forces and very much close air support
It's unlikely that enough CAS would be available, as the example of Khafji showed us that very much would indeed be necessary.
(2) delaying action with mounted forces and mounted counterattack
As mentioned in the 1942 example above, it's best to do this serially, dealing with one crisis after another instead of splitting up the reserves available for counterrattacks. This is a basic application of the Schwerpunkt idea in its German interpretation.
Delaying actions are necessary to buy the time for such a serial reaction to multiple major intrusions. The balance between massing reserves for Schwerpunkt actions and dispersing strength for delaying actions of the Schwerpunkt would need to be driven by this timing problem; 'enough for delaying, as much as possible for the reserves'. 

(3) Counteroffensive elsewhere, betting that the opposing forces commander aborts his own offensive in response (Belarus could afford losing Minsk less than NATO could afford temporarily losing Warsaw, of example). This is almost impossible due to political restrictions unless the warzone is actually not dear to the politicians and citizens at all (such as most of the Saudi Arabian desert terrain wouldn't have been important to Americans in 1990).

(1) and (2) include "control of terrain" missions, whereas in (3) this would merely be relevant at the beginning. Dealing with intrusions of superior forces demands that either the ambitions be limited (see above) or additional forces (CAS, ground forces reserves) be introduced to the area to deal with the threat.

This trivialises the "control the terrain" mission somewhat: The mission is impossible to accomplish against (yet unknown) superior opposing forces, and rather disingenuous against inferior opposing forces. "Go there, do what you want" would often times be as good a mission as "control the terrain". This assumes that "control the terrain" would actually be given as mission, and honestly, I doubt that its prominence in wartime (excluding wars of occupation) would come anywhere close to its prominence in field manuals. It's usually much more sensible to simply assign an area of operations to a subordinate force and tell its CO that an attacking OPFOR must not traverse this area in less than x hours. "Control of terrain" is more of an activity than suitable for a mission order. I mentioned its characterisation as a mission as curious in part 1 already.

Potential of air power

In theory you could control terrain with air power alone, given sufficient resources. This is going to be efficient in rare cases only. Patrol aircraft with the ability to engage and disable soft vehicles could have secured the Afrikarmee's Southern flank (Sahara desert) against the reconnaissance and raiding missions of the Long Range Desert Group, for example.

Air power adds the third dimension and thus typically has more terrain in field of view than observers on the ground. Only foliage and the roofs of buildings are (near-)perfect blocks to its line of sight. The potential to substitute for pickets and patrols is thus visible. Maybe in the long term small flying drones can saturate a warzone and report all present opposing forces (and civilians).
The strike part of denying terrain to the opposing forces can be met by air power as well, at least in principle. It gets impractical real quick in woodland and built-up areas, unless you assume an armada of small (lethal) flying drones again. They'd need to be able to navigate through woodland and buildings (including open doors or windows), though.


Civilians are typically ignored in the context of "control of terrain"-related writings, but I suppose a battalion CO tasked to control a 10 x 10 km terrain would badly disappoint his superior if another transiting force found all roads blocked by traffic jams, or even hostile police forces and ruling party officials organising civilian construction of obstacles and disabling of bridges et cetera - all while that terrain is "being controlled" by aforementioned battalion. "Control of terrain" will thus usually include a lot of what's known as "civ-mil relations" activities, and this will be one more drain on personnel and vehicle resources. This may be an overwhelming problem if the terrain to be controlled is a hostile power's city or even megacity.
The Russians only got Chechnya under control for good when they flooded it with more military and paramilitary troops than Chechnya had civilians prior to the wars. This style is not going to be an option is most cases.

The recent wars of occupation and even the invasion of Iraq in 2003 showed that civilians or combatants hiding among civilians can emerge and strike, vanishing afterwards. Such a very elusive opposition defies attempts "to maintain physical influence over a specified area to prevent its use by an enemy", of course. Even years of efforts may be insufficient to accomplish such a mission in face of such an opposition unless you wade deep into war crimes territory. This, too, should serve as a call for modesty in the ambitions. The definition as given by the U.S.Army is too ambitious, too absolute - and thus in many cases utterly impractical. It's equivalent to the radical most ambitious mission #10 mentioned earlier while hiding its extremist nature behind a seemingly not so aggressive wording.

 - - - - -

It shouldn't surprise that I looked at "control of terrain" through the same lens as at plenty other topics before; the role of dispersed forward forces in conventional warfare is my pet topic. I picked the topic of "control of terrain" for a reason.

I made my case that military theory and doctrine can become more advanced, more realistic and more detailed in the case of "control of terrain" in land warfare. The present state of the art is rather crude, and too much under influence of days long gone by, when plenty infantry was available on day one of a conflict. Limited resources require a high efficiency of their employment, and appropriate modesty in the ambition and in their missions.

related Defence and Freedom blog posts:
I'm not motivated for this list today, but no doubt all of them have the "Military theory" tag.



Link dump #2 2016

Daryl G. Press, 2001

"The  evidence  from  the  ground  campaign  shows  that  the  conventional  wisdom  about the  Gulf  War  is  wrong.  Although  air  power  played  an  important role  in  the  coalition’s  victory ,  its  role  has  been  exaggerated  and  misunderstood. I  make  two  primary  arguments  about  air  power  during  the  Gulf  War.  First,  air power  was  not  decisive;  it  did  not  neutralize  the  Iraqi  ground  forces.  At  the end  of  the  air  campaign,  Iraqi  ground  forces  could  still  maneuver ,  and  they  still had the C 3 I,  supplies,  numbers,  and  morale  to  Žfight. Second,  the  six-week  air  campaign  did  not  play  a  necessary ,  enabling  role that  made  the  ground  war  “  easy”   for  U.S.  forces.  Had  there  been  no  air  campaign,  U.S.  and  British  fatalities  in  the  ground  war  would  probably  have  been slightly  higher .  But  evidence  strongly  suggests  that  with  or  without  the  air campaign,  the  coalition’s  ground  attack  would  have  led  to  a  rout  of  historic proportions.  In  sum,  air  power  contributed  to  the  coalition’s  effort,  but  the  air campaign  was  neither  sufficient  nor  necessary  for  the  very  one-sided  victory"
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by Christian Grothoff & J.M. Porup

"Patrick Ball—a data scientist and the executive director at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group—who has previously given expert testimony before war crimes tribunals, described the NSA's methods as "ridiculously optimistic" and "completely bullshit." A flaw in how the NSA trains SKYNET's machine learning algorithm to analyse cellular metadata, Ball told Ars, makes the results scientifically unsound.Patrick Ball—a data scientist and the executive director at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group—who has previously given expert testimony before war crimes tribunals, described the NSA's methods as "ridiculously optimistic" and "completely bullshit." A flaw in how the NSA trains SKYNET's machine learning algorithm to analyse cellular metadata, Ball told Ars, makes the results scientifically unsound."
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about for military technology:

True. NATO air power procurement messed up big time, and received a harmless yet huge healing shock in 1990 when East Germany's air force joined NATO and told it about the R-73 (AA-11) missile, its helmet sight - and demonstrated this combo's performance with MiG-29s. Keep in mind the Sparrow missile of the Cold War was of rather little use. NATO likely did not have air superiority during the late 1980's at all because it had messed up the AIM-95 program in the 1970's (and gone the wrong way with ASRAAM).
The story was similar with IRST and EOTS, which were neglected after a few more or less successful types.

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An Oldie, worthy to be repeated:
Joe Keohane

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(though keep in mind the authors know but one side of their stories)
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one in German:

Sie ist sogar noch öder und einfallsloser, jedoch nicht ganz so modewortüberladen wie erwartet. Man merkt aber schon noch, wie extrem plattformlastig die Denkweise ist. Für einen kompletten Blogbeitrag ist da nicht genug auf den Knochen gewesen.



"Control" of terrain

It's an almost omnipresent statement (assumption?) in military (land warfare)  theory writings: Infantry can control terrain, other arms cannot really. Often times the need for much infantry gets supported -nay, asserted- with such statements.

What does "controlling" terrain mean at all? These statements are so very much commonplace that hardly anybody ever bothers to explain or define "control".

I finally looked it up, and the U.S.Army does indeed have a field manual specifically for defining terminology (FM 2-1), which among other meanings of the word "control" has one that fits to "controlling terrain":*

2. A tactical mission task that requires the commander to maintain physical influence over a specified area to prevent its use by an enemy.
That's curious, for three reasons:
(1) By definition this is about a mission, not an activity as "controlling terrain".
(2) It's extroverted, about denial to the enemy rather than worded as enabler to friendlies.
(3) To "prevent" is awfully ambitious and would require a buffer zone between the controlled area and suspected hostile forces' positions. Otherwise they could enter the area (even if this gets them killed), and thus "use" the area. Also, a single long range recon patrol in a city would according to this DOD definition contest "control" of the city irrespective of how many friendly troops are present. That's nonsense.

Thus here's how I interpreted "control of terrain" based on the hundreds of places where I've read this:

Forces may strive to control terrain in order to make this terrain hospitable to friendly forces and civilians and inhospitable to hostile forces. To control terrain also entails a high probability of detection of hostile incursions and denies the hostile forces and politicians direct influence on the civilian administration in the controlled territory.
The latter part was (obviously) meant to make this definition relevant to the whole so-called "spectrum of conflict", right down to occupation and other insurgency suppression activities.
I chose to wrote "hospitable" and "inhospitable" because this isn't so terribly absolute: The activities of few hostiles and some threats to friendlies would still be acceptable within my definition. No perfect perfect absence of hostiles or risks.

Part 2 is planned to be about how to pull it off.


*: Page 1-44, example link here.


"Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO's Eastern flank"

RAND published a study about the defence of the Baltic NATO members ...

David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson, RAND Corporation

... in which they essentially repeated what I thought and wrote about the issue for years.

2015-10 The EU should do something about Baltic security
2015-10 The Baltic Sea and Baltic Defence
2015-08 Strategic QRF
2015-04 Oh, really?
2013-05 Bündnisverteidigung / collective defence
2010-05 Defence policy thoughts for (very) small powers 
2010-03 The first (and only?) phase that counts

Their conclusion is slightly different, owing to their different position.

I'm an European, but they're Americans consulting (for pay) an American military bureaucracy that benefits from increased size, budget et cetera. Their conclusion is thus that a few additional U.S.Army brigades deployed in Eastern Europe are a fine answer, while my conclusion is that turning German army brigades into quick reaction forces that are REALLY quick would be the ideal solution. It seems we agree that the Polish army cannot provide the solution because it would in a Baltic defence scenario be largely busy protecting Warsaw against the East (Belarus) and North (Russian brigade(s) in Kaliningrad Oblast).

The obvious answers are thus in my opinion that we need to improve choice of roads in the narrow corridor between Warsaw and Vilnius, make German army brigades REAL fast-moving on road (even if this means the tank battalion follows a day or two later) and at least Lithuania should improve its ground forces (especially artillery, anti-armour and battlefield air defences).

The known poor readiness and low ambition about the rapidity of even a designated quick reaction battalion shows that the German army isn't even coming close to excelling at collective defence - possibly a consequence of two decades emphasis on nonsensical great power games deployments. RAND can be excused for looking at pre-positioned U.S.Army brigades based on this background, of course.



On Third World militaries (II)

Back in 2011 I wrote how a Third World country could set up armed forces / national policing forces without wasteful spending, with a low probability of a coup and with systemic bias against corruption of the lower ranks.

This time I will present a possible configuration for a Republican Third World country that has more (but not much more) need for actual military forces capable of conventional warfare and wants to emphasize coup-proofing. Dictatorships and republics alike often produce very poor military forces in the Third World and even in Europe if they insist on proofing against a coup d'état. This is usually done by choosing senior officers based on loyalty first, with competence a distant second at best. This produces very sluggish and generally poorly trained military forces incapable of much mobile warfare and very brittle even in static deliberate defence (as seen once again when the Iraqi army was attacked by daesh, for example).

My central idea is to insist on competence (or potential for future competence of the officer) first, but to proof the government against a coup d'état with three critical measures:

(1) keep the army small
(2) keep the army garrisons far from the capital
(3) protect the capital with a coup-proofed militia

(1) limits how badly the country may be threatened; hence the "(but not much more) need for actual military forces" mentioned above.
(2) is both a function of actual distance and of deployability. You wouldn't want to set up a very road-mobile brigade with all-wheeled AFVs, but rather choose a mechanised brigade with tracked AFVs, with very few tank hauling trucks at the brigade's garrison
(3) is why this is for a republic only, and the coup-proofing of the militia could be achieved by keeping it demobilised most of the time and avoiding high level commands; a bunch of battalions under direct control of the politicians would be suitable.

An example would be Libya during the 1970's. The historical path included a small loyal yet hardly competent army, and an oversized air force (largely directed against Israel). There were no real threats of invasion by Tunisia, Algeria or Egypt though, so in addition to about 10,000 paramilitary forces for border/airport/harbour/maritime security and customs there could have been a mechanised brigade or division (with little infantry strength) garrisoned at Derna in the Northwest and a 30,000+ militia at the capital of Tripolis in the Northwest of the country. This would have been largely coup-proofed.
There would have been the seeds for a real navy (paramilitary coast guard), air force (border guard's border patrol aircraft) and large army (the mechanised brigade or division) for a 5-10 years expansion into a military powerhouse, but the annual expenses and the risk of a military coup d'état would have been small. Well, assuming there was a republic, which wasn't. So this is more of a geographic example. By the time the mechanised infantry-weak mechanised coup forces had arrived at Tripolis, the militia would have been mobilised and made combat-ready. This would have been a huge deterrent against a coup attempt.
This example also shows that this concept really only protects the top of the government at the capital - it would not protect against a secessionist movement supported by the army. That case could be warded against by introducing a small loyalty (minority or regional background) criterion for senior officer selection and promotion, though. You'd only need to mix the (whole) officer corps properly to prevent a desertion of the army to a secessionist cause.



Something positive, for a change

Hardly any wars in Europe since the end of WW2 in Europe; Greece, Croatia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Ukraine and Russia (1, 2) experienced war in Europe only* - over a period of 70 years. This is unparalleled since the invention of European-style states. Even the pre-WWI period wasn't as peaceful for as long.

War is more widely considered immoral and wrong than ever before 1918, and more aspects of it have been banned (with widespread -though not perfect- respect for the bans) than ever before.

The countries of the European Union enjoy security and peace (at home) with military expenses of merely about 1.65% GDP and with a population of roughly 510 million less than two million serve in the military at any time. The drain on the civilian society by the military has been for years smaller than ever during the previous 300 years at minimum.

Warfare and terrorism have a negligible influence on mortality in all of Europe today. Even the Ukraine has suffered only about 5,000 dead in a year of war, at a population of about 44 million (about 1.14 in 10,000 - less than the rate of deaths by genitourinary diseases in Germany, or example).

Refugees or war -such as the roughly 2.3 million displaced people from Donbas- generally receive sufficient support or have sufficient income wherever they have fled to.

Trade and travel in Europe are largely unimpeded by warfare.

Save for Belarus no country in Europe that remained largely unaffected by recent wars is being considered to be unfree.** We can be dissatisfied with certain government overreach, but overall we're still quite fine.
example; global freedom rating (c) Freedom House

Today wars and oppression are so extremely rare in Europe that they're the outliers, the deviations from the norm. We thus neglect paying attention to the boring yet enjoyable normal state of affairs; peace and freedom. Our newspapers and TV news don't have headlines like "Peace in Europe", but "War in the Ukraine", and it can lead us to pay excessive attention to the outliers.


*: Not counting Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia because normally the Caucasus mountains are considered the frontier of Europe. I also excepted WW2 remnant skirmishes and insurgencies (anti-Stalinist resistance during the 40's and early 50's) and terrorism such as in Northern Ireland. A small insurgency in Macedonia and elsewhere and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia weren't counted as wars either. For a list with many smaller conflicts, see here.
**: Albeit Hungary and Belarus aren't on a good trajectory with their domestic policies.


Syria - the political and strategic level

The war in Syria reminds me a lot of the Spanish Civil War, with its huge role of foreign adventurers, the clash of international ideologies, the largely static nature, the role of local militias and finally the intervention of foreign powers with air power and limited ground forces.

The biggest difference is that this time there's no two orderly factions, but depending on how you count up to six factions. I gave up writing a summary of this, so let's skip to what constrains the policies.

The Western powers would like to see Iraq back to status quo ante, the Assad regime removed and the salafist extremists (particularly daesh) eliminated.
This set of extremist war goals is almost certainly too ambitious in context of an extremely weak hand. The Western-aligned FSA forces are the weakest or 2nd weakest faction on the ground, despite what Western support arrived so far. Western war goals are thus not pushing to a quick end of the Syrian ordeal.

Russian and the old regime prefer a return in Syria to status quo ante, with Assad emphasizing his own power and Putin emphasizing Syria's role as a Russian base if not proxy in the region. This set of war goals is quite ambitious as well, but I perceived a willingness to accept some power-sharing deal with other factions (Kurds, FSA), so it's not as extremist as the Western one.

The Shi'ites - partially overlapping with both previously mentioned factions - want to protect the Shi'ite minority in Syria from Sunni domination and want to maintain the Shi'ite domination of Sunnis in Iraq. The latter appears to be feasibly militarily under the condition of continued Western air support, and the Shi'ite minority regions in Syria appear to be quite safe in light of the Sunni-dominated factions' inability to advance any more. I suppose the Shi'ite goals don't quite let Iraq calm down for good, but at least in Syria they are likely destined to achieve their goal (at least for the regions with large Shi'ite populations or even local majorities).

The Kurds still want to establish autonomy first, with Kurdish independence later. They have largely achieved the necessary successes in warfare and are likely going to achieve some more, but the 2nd, long term, goal is blocked by Turkey. They cannot deal with Turkey with violence, and the current Turkish government appears to be both utterly uncooperative with Kurds and fortifying its power with a move towards autocratic governance. The preliminary goal of autonomy isn't a real obstacle to peace, though.

Daesh's war goals are bonkers and they showed almost as much talent in acquiring additional enemies during wartime than the nazis, so let's ignore these losers' policies and outlook.

Finally, there's Turkey, which is the most influential foreign power in Syria due to its geography but doesn't use this much yet. It was apparently an enabler doe daesh's rise, is now (after having good relations before the Arab Spring) an opponent of the Assad regime, a NATO member (thus supposed to be pro-Western by default) and in an almost hysterical opposition to Kurds (because recognising them as a nation would attack the foundations of the idea of a Turkish nation and cost the state of Turkey much territory).

I suppose daesh will be pushed back from Iraqi territory without any further changes of course by any faction; the Kurds, Iraqi government and Iraqi Shi'ite militias appear to be powerful enough to accomplish this with Western air support. This will reduce the war to Syria within the next two years, turning Iraq into a pro-Assad foreign power in the conflict. The Kurds will likely be able to realise an autonomy in Northeast Syria, tolerated by the Assad regime just as the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq is tolerated by the majority Shi'ite Iraqi government. A Turkish intervention against this enlargement of autonomous Kurdistan is unlikely.

Daesh will be cut off from reinforcements by Kurdish advances along the Turkish border, and will be doomed save for an unlikely Turkish intervention against the Kurds.

My guess is thus that this will reduce the conflict sooner or later to a clash between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions. Daesh may be eliminated before or after these two factions come to an agreement and it's likely not substantial which faction gets to gulp more of daesh territory if an agreement comes second.
The key question will remain the survival of the Assad regime. Russia is trusting only this regime to maintain Russia's privileged role in the country, and is thus unlikely to ever give it up (though Assad himself may be replaced by some other regime politician to save the West's face). The West is still stuck in its extremist views on war and war goals, and unlikely to give up its disproportionate demands any time soon. Maybe their Syrian proxy (the FSA) will under pressure of continued defeats in battle, though. The probably impending fall of Aleppo may produce a moment of willingness to accept a compromise.
The Western readiness to compromise on the Assad regime's survival may change after Obama is out of office, of course: The Western public is more focused on daesh than on the regime, so eliminating daesh as a territory-controlling faction may end up being enough and face-saving enough. 

Assuming a power-sharing agreement under Assad as president, Western politicians could deflect all criticism concerning the survival of Assad by pointing at damage done to daesh. I suppose the vast majority of voters would be fine with this.


P.S.: It's interesting that the Western powers do not really protect the FSA, or harm regime forces directly: Any attempt to do so would be either opposed by or compensated for by Russian intervention. Meanwhile, the Russians do bomb the Western-aligned FSA at will. Putin obviously is more brazen and aggressive than the West, even in indirect confrontation with the West. The Turkish interference (the Su-24 shootdown affair etc.) may have served as a warning shot to draw a line, limiting Russian aggressiveness.
Furthermore, Russia has the advantage of intervening in support of the internationally recognised government (thus no aggression), whereas Western intervention against the same would be an aggression.


Some comment exchange and the bigger picture


Someone commented on a naval-themed blog

Kim Jong-un is really a "chip off the old block (Kim Jong-il's)" who, no doubt, warned him to maintain the longstanding course that appears and occasionally behaves "insanely". Otherwise, DPRK's leader would lose the respect of his equally belligerant and behaviorally unbalanced allies. Then, North Korea's reputation as one of the world's most problematic states would deny its only claim to fame, and its populace might eventually revolt.
Regardless, Insanity should grant no leader, whether or not a signatory a pass from violating the world's strategic arms limitations,. He will have to be confronted if he actually commits an "insane" act of war. Why postpone the confrontation until he actually has thermonuclear weapons?

My answer was

Some serious analysis with a non-bullshit mind actually reveals that North Korea's behaviour since 1990 makes almost perfect sense from a regime survival point of view.
Backing by the USSR and PRC have become unreliable if not irrelevant as protection against South Korea and the USA. The conventional forces would not survive a conventional campaign either (even NK light infantry was badly devalued by night sight advances).
Thus North Korea emphasised
- ballistic missiles, understood as scary to Westerners since the Scud show of 1991
- a few nukes, the ultimate deterrent and scare device
- conventional artillery in range of Seoul. Incapable of surviving for long, but still scary to Seoul and South Korea
- creating and polishing an erratic madman image, inherited by successive dynastic leaders
There are of course people who are superficial enough to fall for this show and actually believe all the stuff. And other people who may or may not be true believers whip up fear with fearmongering about North Korea in order to funnel more money to the military that's not important regarding NK because South Korea itself has much more military power than necessary to defeat and occupy North Korea, and doing it alone is their only chance of keeping the PRC out if there's a Korean War II sometime. A U.S. participation would be about the dumbest thing imaginable in the region, for it would draw the PRC into that conflict. AGAIN.

Remember the "axis of evil" nonsense? Such primitive fearmongering devices are being used to enable (and promote) aggressive policies and resource re-allocation in support of these confrontational foreign policies. There are industries, bureaucracies and other groups (often even foreign countries) who benefit from such but the nation as a whole hardly ever does. Top the nation, expenses in support of confrontational foreign policy are government consumption that yields no public goods, essentially no benefits. Repairing bridges, cleaning up poisoned areas, investing in research and paying down public debt would be much better alternatives.
There are essentially no benefits from confrontational foreign policy. it's entertaining for stupid people in some ways, but entertainment can be had much cheaper, without thousands getting killed, disabled or disfigured.

What was the benefit to the West from the Iraq War, for example? Point at it, I dare you. Iraq was no threat at all, and anybody not too stupid to look at a globe or map knew that. Particularly with all that "WMD" stuff being easily visible lies (seriously, most of it was debunked before the war already, showing that the liars were liars!) and Iraq's conventional military having received hardly any repairs, spares or upgrades after 1990 and having suffered the loss of the huge majority of its heavy weapons and combat aircraft during 1991. Well, that and the successful disarmament regarding ballistic missiles and stuff through the inspections till 1996.
So there was absolutely nothing to be gained for Western nations by attacking Iraq, but a few warmongers, a few industries and in a strange way the subsequently funds-flooded armed bureaucracies did benefit at the expense of all others.

The fearmongering and confrontational attitude are hurting the infected nations. It's wasteful activity, self-harming and even more harmful to others, with no net benefit for any country.

Foreign leaders are perceived as caricatures, foreign countries are being perceived as comic story-like empires of evil instead of as countries, and the aversions and idiocy spills over into domestic affairs, with discrimination against people from the vilified regions or countries or even only their majority religions.

Defence policy should be about deterrence and defence for the own nation and if applicable, alliance.
Security policy may be about a bit more, but whatever "more" is being added on top of actual defence policy should be subjected to a cost/benefit test, with the burden of proof being on those who want to spend more on it. Those benefits should be identified rationally, not by hysterical idiots, irrational military fanbois or paid political shills. 

For example, German troops were in a mission to Congo for peacekeeping during elections there. Most Germans didn't even notice, and I'm sure that almost no German whatsoever had any benefit (save for those who received extra pay) from this operation. This isn't even an example about confrontational foreign policy, but it suffers from the same defect: No justification. Congo is the business of the African Union, not ours.



Self-serving insider 'analysis'

I'm probably sounding like an old man for writing this, but I've seen some patterns emerge in my lifetime, and I don't like some of them. 

One of those - found in places as diverse as regional development, environmental protection, political parties and navies - is this one:

Someone with huge emotional investment in a specific area (and usually with a great pay check dependence on it now or prior to retirement) writes an analysis or study on a subject. The result is - quelle surprise! - in favour of some modest changes, but never in favour or large spending cuts or reduction of powers and most rarely in favour of radical change.
In a navy example, such an analysis may typically call for some additional strategic review, some modest organisational shuffling, or maybe for building more ships of this kind and less of the other without any budget cut.

Such writings often contain a seemingly logical chain of conclusions such as some uncontroversial statement 'a', because of 'a' the conclusion is 'b' and because of 'b' the conclusion is 'c'.
These are almost invariably incorrect. The author is usually ignoring an unlimited quantities of alternative conclusions, but pretending that no idea that's harmful to the 'club' interests (such as less hulls for a navy less money for regional development or less strict regulations in environmental protection) would ever be a reasonable conclusion from 'a' or 'b'. Quite often such pieces keep going on for several pages after making such a gross logic error, which makes almost the entire content unfounded in reasoning while the author actually tries to make it look like extremely well-founded.

Typical of such closed systems is that their utter disrespect for the outside world's definitions.  "Evaluation", "efficiency", "affordable", "effective", "sustainable", "innovation" and "excellence" are typical examples for words that tend to have weird and surprising meanings inside such 'clubs'.

Another constant of this pattern is that with perfect predictability like-minded people will cheer the author and his peace for great thinking, great clarity, great daring for speaking the truth and the like.

Finally, everyone who dares to call out that the emperor wears no clothes will be shunned as some lowlife and incompetent, usually complete with ad hominem, strawman attack and appeal to (self-defined) authority. In internet discussions this is as harmless as stupid replies or downvoting, but I saw entire professional groups been excluded from the 'club'. I saw economists eliminated from entire political advisory, bureaucracy, publishing and punditocracy communities for the terrible sin of pointing out that some activities are terribly wasteful and their governmental evaluations (illegally) rigged from the start.

Such 'clubs' create their own version of reality, their own universe of mythology in which they live and their preferred rules apply only.
I wouldn't mind this as entertainment for the club members, of course. Why would anybody criticize trekkies or Lord of the Rings fans for enjoying their fantasy worlds, after all?
It is a huge problem if these clubs maintain their fantasy world not with their own money but with taxpayer money though. And that's why I mentioned navies as one of the examples.