One of the saddest things in life

... is to see a friend join  a bureaucracy and turn from a person who meant to improve the world into a person who is defending processes that are in the way of improving the world.

I had an orientation week when I began university studies. A senior student led the orientation group and assured us that after a certain amount of studying in the field, we would adopt the way of thinking that characterizes the field. I considered the notion repulsive.

Years later, I agreed. It had changed me, it had changed how I approached issues and questions, what tools and methods I used to find solutions. It was kind of the point of doing the studies, for frankly, I forgot much if not most of the content (details) of the studying within weeks after the tests. The lasting effect wasn't about memorizing details.

Organisations and professions can suck you in, absorb you, assimilate you - and turn you into one of them. It's scary, but it depends whether it's a good thing or not. An organisation that's on the wrong track will pull those who enter it onto the wrong track. An organisation that's on a good track may make very good use of such an assimilation power.

The challenge remains to guide an organisation onto a good track (such as serving the country, not itself) before it guides YOU onto its status quo track. 

This suggests that the secret ingredient of reform may lie in keeping enough of a distance to it. A superhuman ability to resist such assimilation was hardly ever observed.

I wrote a lot about how secretaries of defence should guide the armed bureaucracy onto the path of pursuing the national interest instead of self-interest. Such ministers usually turn into champions of the armed bureaucracy's self-interest within a few weeks.

Maybe a different interaction with a lot more spacing may do the trick. We might tweak the responsibilities, tasks and authorities of the office in order to ensure that a minister of defence is considered by others (and by himself/herself) as first and foremost the nation's first critic of the armed services, not as their organisational leader. Failures and embarrassments of the armed services should not be blamed on the minister if the minister criticised them and punished the underperforming part of the bureaucracy and its chain of command. The minister should not identify as part of the armed services community, but as its worst nightmare - a nightmare that keeps it honest and pursuant of national interest rather than self-interest.
Think of it as leadership by sanctioning failure.

disregard the smile
Maybe you readers would consider it excessive, but I think the uniform dress code should include a "pink ballerina skirt" that the minister could add to the obligatory officers uniform of any part of the armed services for any duration on short notice.

I have a hunch that internal red tape could be overcome real quick if we had that.

We should move to a political culture where we would chastise a minister of defence for NOT 'upgrading' the officer dress code like that if the armed service mismanaged procurement, displayed poor readiness, wasted personnel strength on pointless activities, allowed deterioration of skills, or resisted some novelty for too long. 
That kind of political culture might be just enough to ensure that such failures would simply not happen and the skirt would remain a theoretical possibility.

Meanwhile, every minister of defence in the real world of today would consider it an embarrassment to himself or herself if officers were photographed with pink ballerina skirts over their trousers. There's no good reason for it, but that's how we roll. In the end, the fish stinks from the head, and this head is our political culture; it's in what we expect from the civilian leadership. The rot begins at a very fundamental level. Most people appear to think that a minister of defence should work for the armed services rather than for the country.



  1. It requires a hell of a lot of work to keep bureaucracies of scale going. There is constant renewal going on, even if it isn't noticable to outsiders.

    This comes as a shock to revolutionaries who enter organisations with a dream. Its hard enough keeping the ship afloat and pointing in roughly the right direction, let alone engage in massive change whilst maintaining all current and short term future demands.

    (was going to blah, blah, blah. cut it short)
    Most cynics are dissapointed romantics. Those cynics then for fair or foul reasons, make it their job to infect incoming revolutionaries with their cynicism.

    Peyps was Peyps not because he had sufficient knowledge, intelligence and organisational skill. Peyps was Peyps because of the power that was afforded him by those above and outside of the organisation he was sent in to reform. There may be ways to accomplish the same from within, but I think that method has proven to be more effective.

  2. The main problem is imo a lack of real power at the decisive points as oure state structure, the constitutional state and the buerocracy for itself delimit the power to much to the point that you simply cannot do what must be done. The reason is in germany especially also the overall political structure and construction of the state.

    In an army in which everyone is more an gouverment offical than an soldier, and in the higher ranks more an politican than an warrior, it is impossible to change anything as this would need power and an different mindset from your underlings.

    Anything you do will result in legal proceedings, intrigues and backstabbing acts against you to the point you could not reach even minor changes. Your suggestions would end in an intrigue against you from the high officers which would then end your career.

    Therefore: First of all you would need to built up able, loyal followers with a complete different mindset and complete different culture. But to built this up the time you have as an secretary of defence is not sufficient, as such people are scare in the todays german armed forces, mainly in the low ranking officer corps and it would need more time to built up such an corps of innovators.

    The other possibility would be to disband the whole military service at all and to build up a complete new one. But this solution (which was succesful in history in other similiar cases) needs much more moeney and the population and the other politicans will not allow it for several reasons. The overall resistance would be to high.

    For this reasons and our current culture any reform of our military is therefore impossible.