Narratives as sustainers of excessive military spending

Humans are lazy - physically and mentally. It used to be an evolutionary advantage, but it's not exactly helpful in today's complex societies which provide us with more than enough calorie supply.

One particular kind of mental laziness is that we don't question what we got used to - and humans can get used to almost anything.

There's a particular narrative about the USN that people got used to, and almost never question: The concept of forward deployment, of a rotation between repair in port/shipyard, transit, patrol in distant waters, transit, rinse and repeat.*
You can often read that such a cycle is normal - but it's a historical anomaly. Even the Royal Navy at its zenith from late 18th century till the 1930's had no such emphasis on patrol in distant waters (even disregarding that to the British Empire hardly any waters were distant). Frigates and later preferably old cruisers patrolled the empire's maritime lanes and their sailors doubled as auxiliary marines (even siege or field artillerymen) when the need arose on land. Their battlefleet was mostly and typically at home in peacetime (and during the age of sail usually not manned in peacetime). 

By contrast, the USN insists that the only way to operate for itself is to patrol in lots of very distant waters with carrier battlegroups and marine expeditionary groups. 
This weird modus operandi is of great consequence, for it drives the "need" for fleet size. One third in port, one third in transit, one third on station - that's the rule of thumb and of course there are somewhat more complicated calculations as well. What matters is that such a way to calculate the "needed" fleet size has no systemic link to what fleet size is actually needed to "win" a war at sea or to deter war. The PR China is not going to be deterred by one or two carriers cruising in range of its land-based assets; those would be sunk by a surprise strike as was the Force Z. To have those one or two carriers deployed that distant, close to Chinese forces, means less deterrence than to have them mothballed on the East Coast. So the rotation rule of thumb isn't even of use for determining the fleet size needed for deterrence.

Carrier air power is ridiculously expensive,
and easily substituted for by land-based air power within 1,500 km of friendly land bases
So the USN has an arbitrary modus operandi that drives its "requirements" for ship hull quantities (at least carriers, amphibious warfare ships and fleet escorts). This has become a dominant narrative that almost everyone is too lazy put into question.
This narrative has a built-in lever of factor three, which greatly helps those who want an ever bigger fleet. You want a single additional destroyer for a carrier group off China? That means you need 3 more active destroyers.

This isn't exclusive to the USN or the United States. Some people think that Germany needs mountain infantry because we have some mountains (more like a good view at mountains, really) - well, we don't need them (= regular infantry battalions instead would be better). Switzerland doesn't need to be deterred and there's little mountainous terrain in Eastern Europe (the Romanians can provide mountain infantry for the Carpathians themselves - they can afford it much more easily than mechanised forces). The Turks have mountains, but I'm not so sure they're still real allies and they have plenty infantry of their own.

Germany had a navy since its unification in 1871 with a short 10-year break after WW2. Everyone seems to be used to the narrative that a navy belongs to armed forces if a country isn't tiny and has ports. Well, no. A navy belongs into the armed forces only if it serves a purpose that's of greater value than its costs. No German navy has ever done so.

There are also highly positive exceptions: New Zealand -thousands of nautical miles away from the next country that could turn into a threat within a generation- disbanded its marginal combat aircraft fleet years ago. This badly hurt those New Zealanders who go by their guts in military affairs, but guess what? Nobody blockaded, bombed or invaded New Zealand so far, and there's no change to this in sight.

gone without replacement, nothing bad happened = evidence they were unnecessary

Narratives play a huge role in fortifying high military spending. Military spending-supportive narratives are very often found to be wrong once tested, though.
The U.S.Army got busy in Iraq and degraded in its conventional warfare capabilities by a focus on COIN - and not a single war broke out. Evidently, the U.S.Army of 2002 was much larger than necessary to keep peace in the 2000s.
New Zealand got rid of its combat aircraft and was neither blockaded nor bombed nor invaded - those combat aircraft were unnecessary for keeping the peace.
Greece largely crashed its military budget despite its stupid little Cold War with Turkey - and nothing happened.
Likewise, great increases in military spending such as under the GWB administration failed to make the world more peaceful or safer.

Our societies could advance much if we would muster the mental effort and diligence to question narratives that support a high allocation of resources. This goes beyond military spending, but I focused on it because of the theme of this blog.
The more we question narratives the more we will discover and exploit potentials for savings, the more resources become available for reallocation. This would make our societies 'vital' like societies with fast-growing economies; we could address unsolved challenges (energy, health issues) or prepare for the future by restructuring (such as by a reduction of public debt) or investing in more research, education or infrastructure.


*: Here's a possible alternative modus operandi or the surface fleet: Battle fleets based in Pearl Harbor, San Diego and Norfolk and prepared to cruise to anywhere at 18-23 kts on short notice with fast replenishment ship support. Training ships do annual voyages around the world (this helps recruitment drive). One ad hoc group doing exercises with European allies and another one with Asian/Australian ones. Occasionally one ship gets detached and sent off to participate in some peaceful maritime event of some friendly or neutral country.


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    1. firepower - use is mostly illegal in peacetime

      intelligence gathering - largely secret by nature, thus people are prone to imagine much but have almost no evidence of value or utility to speak of

      covert ops - same

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    3. So you can extrapolate. Fine. Go extrapolate the utility (measured in USD) of one CVBG cruising in the Mediterranean for a month.

      Because extrapolated or not, as long as you can't describe the utility or value of the activity you cannot see a justification for spending. You may "feel" it, but I can point at studies how much return on investment on additional public infrastructure spending could be expected. That's much more than a feeling or a hunch.

      (And spending does not mean that it's worth more than was spent. It doesn't matter if there's " a lot" of utility - it matters where's the point at which there's the biggest surplus of utility over costs.)

      Moreover, there's a funny thing about intelligence gathering: Almost everybody thinks that he or she doesn't know how much useful intel is being gathered because he or she has no access.
      Funny how that works to excuse almost any amount of spending with minimal requirement to show any fruits of the effort.

      It's also remarkable how people who had access to intel (such as the hawkish Ralph Peters) afterwards publicly claimed that it was little better and little more than OSINT.

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    5. In the end, to spend requires justification. To not spend does not require justification.

      Feelings are no justification unless the resource allocation is put up for a general vote. In that case everyone decides for himself/herself how to vote.

      I brought examples of experiments when decreased spending did not lead to war. It would be great progress if the majority of people were at least able to see the results of these experiments as what they are and what they mean.

  2. Spending moeny for the armed forces is not only about direct and measurable effects (militarily, politically, econimically etc), but in my opinion it is heavily underestimated how much they influence the culture, the social behaviour and the intangibles of war.

    This intangibles are of the outmost importance not only for the strength of an nation in every other aspect (culture, economics etc) but also for the military strength. So spending only what is necessary in pure logical reasons (what is at least necessary for deterrance etc) is not as beneficial from a social-cultural point of view for a society than spending as much as possible.

    There is a corelation between the military (culture), the military spending and the social/cultural strength of an society. Military strength results therefore not from a logical minimum that is demanded for deterrence, but from a warrior culture which could be produced by a much higher than necessary spending. True military strength does not result from the weapons, but from the culture of a nation.

    1. Yeah, feelings. People have feelings about other things as well; development aid, cancer research, arts- feelings are useless in the attempt to optimise resource allocation (budgeting).

      And frankly, no. That "warrior culture" thing is BS. The Finnish farmer, German milkman, Japanese schoolboy and English coal mine worker who were called up to fight in WW2 had no warrior culture.
      What they had was an organisation that knew how to turn civilians into soldiers, how to organise their efforts and how to pursue military goals through operational guidance to those efforts.

      It's amazing to see how good NCOs can turn almost any civilian into functional soldiers who make do with little to no luxuries in a few weeks. That experience should cure anyone of the B.S. idea of warrior ethos.

    2. The culture of the compulsory military service in that days resulted in a very different society as a whole and very different social culture from what is now predominant in the western tm world. So the civilians of that days were different from nowadays civilians in the western tm world.

      Japan you should moreover exclude here especially. A true warrior culture far over and above of the cultural consequences of what the compulsory military service
      in the western countries had was reality in japan before 1945.

      I can agree that good ncos can turn civilans into functional soldiers, but the disregarded "feelings" as you name them are of the outmost importance to have many such good ncos and for better civilians which then became not only functional soldiers, but better soldiers. The quality of the soldiers of an army overall depends not only on moeny, training, doctrine and so on, but comes also from the culture a society have. And this culture is deeply interlinked with the status of the military in a society and the moeney spend on this military and the resulting intangibles.

      Succes in Warfare is much more than logic, reason, maths, and functional human material. To be only functional is especially unsufficient today and the negative results of that (pseudo) professional thinking can be viewed now in many of the western tm armies.

      Because this correlation is lost today, the german milkman of today is a miserable soldier in comparison to the milkman of ww2.

      The result is the todays bundeswehr which is not able to fight any serious battle and not because of the lack of equipment but because the human material is so insufficient because of their cultural hindrances.

    3. Nonsense, the Japanese had no warrior culture prior to 1945. Their officer corps may have had, the rest was merely indoctrinated semi-religiously. In the end, this was worth little against superior management and factory design skills.

      I give you that the Bundeswehr is much less effective than it should be with the given budget. That's because of decades of poor civilian leadership and a combination of too bureaucratic and too conservative top brass. It's not culture; it's people getting held back by ill-led organisation from doing what they actually want to do. The bureaucracy suffocates ambition and does not allocate the necessary resources, so the people caught in that bureaucracy are forced into mediocrity and tolerating equipment and quality shortfalls.

      That's almost entirely about leadership, not culture. You're focusing on a symptom.

    4. For the culture of the japanese in this time i strongly recommend to read:

      Edward Drea: In the Service of the Emperor

      You wrote that Japan shows how few an warrior culture has brought and that the japanese lost to better factory design skills: i want to grab this point especilly up because it shows the exact opposite: if you look at the ressources and the industrial capacity of japan etc and the bad, outdated and insufficient equipment the imperial japanese army had, it is amazing how much they achieved with it. It shows clearly what incredible fighting power lies in the intangibles, how far one can come with an warrior culture and how much could be achieved by an nation with both: superior industry and a high martial spirit.

      Culture is not the symptom, it is the true cause. The bad leadership, the buerocrats, the effiminate weak social culture, the indoctrination of even the children against violence etc, they are all symptoms of the culture, not the other way round.

  3. Correlation does not imply causation.

    With respect, a far better use of blog space would be to explain how peacetime military forces can be minimalized *if* a nation can efficiently mobilize its population in time of crisis.

    It should be clear that if pre-WWII German armed forces, were able to expand from approximately 15,000 men to a mobilized force of roughly ten million men of troops that generally out-performed other nations, the need for large standing military units should be greatly reduced.

    Ironically, navies and air forces are much less suited for rapid expansion due to the time required to equip them.


    1. The expansion was from 100,000 overtrained to nine million very mixed quality troops and it took more than six years and Austrian troops were absorbed.

      We need forces to deter as of now and we need to deter 2-year arms races by convincing that even as the disadvantaged defending party we would be so good in such an arms race that the aggressor couldn't improve the odds in his favour by arms-racing.
      There's no special need for preparations for a longer arms race IMO, as the forces needed to deter as of now are in the 500k-1M range, easily enough base for a slow expansion.
      We just don't need 1.5M troops in European NATO (or EU) or any permanent increases of spending. There's much room for improvement regarding the efficiency of spending.

    2. A thesis: One way to replace spending on troops would be especially to strenghten the martial culture and to replace spending (equipment) with a warrior culture which would enhance the fighting power and costs not so much instead.

    3. I doubt you got my point. Effectiveness in combat doesn't come from warrior culture. It comes from organisation and diligent preparation for combat.

      The best infantryman for the defence is a family man age 30 who won't give up.
      The best infantryman for the assault is a hate-indoctrinated 20 year old boy who's going to accept risks (act irrationally).
      Warrior culture is bollocks. Artillery does up to 90% of the killing - and you could "man" an artillery battalion with 40 year old women with pink nails. They will kill plenty as long as factories and obese 50 y.o. truck drivers supply them. It's the organisation and preparation that matters, not the "culture".

      There's this nonsense notion of a political faction that I do not belong to; it's about complaints that the youth are too feeble, the morals too rotten, behaviour "degenerated"/"entartet" ... this notion was proved wrong again and again. And in regard to war too many people do not seem to understand the temporary transformation that happens when you become a soldier or when a nation is under attack. Suddenly, the whole motivation system gets an update. A country with poll results like 'less than 20% would fight for their country if under attack' would suddenly go to total war if need be. But you need to have intact institutions, you need to have patriotism - the real one; the feeling that the whole nation is one, not factions.
      The way to deter and prepare to defend effectively is not through permanently increased military spending (we have plenty) and it's not about nurturing some warrior culture.
      It's about having a fit military organisation, diligently prepare and about pushing back against those who want to split the nation.

      The Americans are no superpower. They are too divided. Whites, blacks, hispanics and others - the politics of aversion, of pitting factions against factions, are what weakens them. Now they've got a moron president as a consequence of such politics, and a moron can't handle power to the benefit of the nation.

    4. Warrior culture and Martial spirit are not about infantry combat or infantry or close combat. They are also about artillery, tanks, the air-force etc

      You spoke about the act of killing (and to endure killing) and that is the core here. An society (and army) which mans artillery with 40 year old women with pink nails does this (can only do this) out of an specific setting of culture / social cultural traits. The same society will for the same cultural reasons have not an sufficient organisation, will not have the newest, best artillery (to stay with the ari), will not have enough artillery, will not have enough ammunitions and will not have the will to kill masses with the artillery or endure the killing of the counters of the enemy.

      Good organisation and preperation need a warrior culture, otherwise they will not be sufficient, that is my point here.

      We both identify the buerokrats as the main enemy of military efficiency and fighting power. But there did this buerocrats come from? You claim from bad civilian leadership but why is that leadership bad ? Because they regard the military, and moreover a martial spirit as something bad.

      The first enemy of an warrior is explicitly the buerocrat. Therefore in an army with an warrior culture at least in the officer and nco corps buerocracy would not arise, but fighting power, efficiency and the will to be ready to fight a real war.

      I also wonder heavily from which data you will proof your wild assumptions that every nation if it will come under attack will and can go to fight for the sake of the nation or even can go to total war. To the opposite: the history shows again and again that this will not happen if the martial spirit is to much degenerated.

      Actually (2014) only around 16 % of the german male adults would fight in an war to defend their country, and not 20% as you claim. The 20% are the average in whole europe (still better than germany).

      I doubt heavily your thesis, that the motivation will get an update that will be sufficient to win the coming war. There will be of cause a kind of update, but what is it good for if then instead of 16 % (or today perhaps even less) then 35 % would fight. The society and the army would still collapse under the enemy attack.

      Moreover the slow and years long build up for an war is a thing of the past. IMO the next war will come so fast, not much time will be available to get the society and the army ready. To few time to get enough fighting spirit to endure the losses of life and property. Therefore we will loose because in the end war is not an case of logic, organisation, and so on, but a clash of wills in which the higher will can punch extremy about his weight.

      A fit military organisation, goog preperation and cohesion of the society can only come from the culture and the only enemy to the said things is exact this: the culture.

      Therefore an other culture is necessary to achieve your goals, especially your goal of an efficient military organisation.

      The buerocrats and the weakness of the german armed forces are an result not from bad civilian leadership, but from the decline of the martial spirit and the decline of the military culture in the armed forces as in the civilian society. It is an question of Chicken and Egg. The things you too regard as bad result from the culture. Therefore they are only symptoms of an deeper lying cause.

      Fighting power results from many different things, but all this things result in the end from the question of the social culture, the military culture and the martial spirit of an society.

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    6. i can agree that the term is now blasted in the english speaking world, but my point is not about this term as it is used especially in the usforces, but about social cultur and military culture. For your indeed very good example of people who do voluntary clean up:

      This is exactly what i mean, a culture of ideally merits, of self-sacrifice and the absolute will to do everything - this is exactly what i meant with the intangibles. And this intangibles are of the outmost importance in warfare as warfare is in the end a clash of the will of the people as an whole in which one side try to break the will of the other side. So an society with a high percentage of people dooing voluntary clean up of garbage and a high cohesion has an advantage in warfare.

      One cannot fix the problems of the military if you not first fix the culture, because the culture is the main reason why something works or does not work. So the military weakness and he bureaucracy are symptoms, not the cause. The cultural defects are in truth the deeper lying cause of the said bureaucracy and the rigid mindset and the incompetence in leadership and warfare of to much of the western tm miitaries.

      We need instead a culture of high idealism, of ideally merits, which dislikes materialism and the personal profit and instead will fight to the death against foreign invaders and enemies not for moeny or a study or other material reasons but for their beliefs, for honour and for their warrior ethos. This would give such a society a high advantage in the intangibles of warfare and in combination with our technology and our industry would make our armies extremly strong and superior.

      So it is not about chest pounding, but about a silent and reluctant, but deeply enrooted conviction and culture.

    7. You need the components of patriotism that Germany has (solidarity, doing things together to solve a crisis/problem) and a vilification of the enemies by propaganda.
      Materialism is no problem, idealism sin't crucial and fanatism/self-sacrifice is rather a momentary blackout of reasoning than a cultural thing.

  4. How much is the title of "the undisputed military superpower" worth?

    It grants supremacy in global diplomacy. Economic, political, trade, monetary, intellegence. That supremacy allows that nation god like powers. It gets to set the agenda, it gets to set comodity prices, it gets to openly spy on other nations, it gets to engage in predatory economic practices, it gets to control the most powerful currency in the world.

    They are the sole military superpower, what are you going to do to them? How can we fight them? We cant, can we? So we shouldnt even try. Just roll over and give them what they want.

    That is what it buys. Most of the time anyway.

    The guff about the 'we need x ships circling the globe or we're nothing' is beside the point. The US wants to maintain a comically large fleet. They want that fleet to be so large that it cant be argued that they arent superior.

    The 'reason' for that is an excuse. They would rather the ships just sat in harbour, allows a lesser spend on personel and a greater spend on materiel. Problems with that; public wouldnt allow it, enemies would doubt the tactical effectiveness of the force.

    Paper tiger is how old of a phrase?

    1. The U.S. couldn't get rid of Castro for five decades, it couldn't overthrow the Mullahs for three decades and counting, the U.S. is far from god-like powers. And its spending bill is ungodly, too.

      A navy that's together, doing complex exercises almost all the time instead of parcelling out its forces into smaller packages than there would be in wartime would be far from paper tiger. The forward deployment of the navy and the small wars of army and marines are weakening their conventional high end warfare capabilities.

    2. I cant really see what a sea war between China and the US would look like.

      I would assume it wouldnt involve protecting an ARG during landings on Chinese soil. So, sea control? A 'blockade' at the 1st, 2nd island chain. Protection of approaches for standoff launching platforms, air and sea. Central point, area dominance requiring dispersed forces.

      As I said though, I have no idea how to agree terms to discuss this.

      God like powers are bound by the rules of reality, entropy and murphys law. I think we've discussed this before. My point is that being a superpower is proffitable. All of the european powers profited from their empires, from their military, diplomatic and intelligence superiority over the other continents. They still benefit from that past profitability and the costs they imposed on their opponents at that time. Opium wars, et al.

      Trump has an unguarded understanding of this. He says what is supposed to be publically unsaid. His world cup threats, his press conference with the Nigerian prime minister, "take the oil" etc...

      Castro wasnt for want of trying (1000 assassination attempts?) and wasnt a 'whole of government effort' after JFK. It also didnt significantly cost them economically or militarily.

      Iran is Iran. Their policy choices created it. Their mistake definitely didnt have anything to do with too much, too little, or poor quality equipment.

      Current scuttlebut is interesting, the idiocy of the PNAC brigade. Why, oh why did they go for Iraq and not Iran?

      Answer, because even though the had control over the direction of the sole superpower, god like, they were idiots.

      Paper tiger is a holistic phrase, it refers to effect, to output. The reason the tiger is paper is because of internal, perhaps complicated, unseen, constraints and weaknesses. They can be philosphical, political, cultural or concerned with quality or quantity of available forces. It doesnt matter which of these is in play. All that matters is when called, when confronted the paper tiger can not deliver. Can not perform.

      So 'I' win.

      Apologies for the length of my response.

    3. It's tricky whether the colonies gave real net advantages to the colonial powers' homelands.
      The vast majority of thsoe who stayed in the homeland did likely not have a net benefit.

    4. If Europe hadnt weakened China, Africa, SE Asia how would the world be different? The polite way to put it would be that there would be more competition. If that was isolated, which isnt realistic at all, but for sake of argument. There would be more total strength in the world, which would dilute current (and past) European influence over global politics.

      The fall of the East was mistaken for the rise of the West.

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    6. Interesting you mentioned ethics. I didnt. Is that virtue signalling or white guilt? Maybe both?

      Your spiel on opium seems confused. Try this, I suggest China would benefit by flooding the US with massive quantities of cheap opiods. $100 AR15 clones as well, try and get that ban on Chinese weapons overturned.

      Your second paragraph, I know where that philosophy comes from. Im not a fan.