Opinions are worthless

There are four major content categories in my opinion; information, entertainment, opinion and scientific contributions.
I have never attempted to provide scientific contributions with this blog, and I have largely ignored news. It was always about some information and some opinion, and rather more of the latter. 

Now I'm a bit in a crisis as an author, for I have concluded a while ago that I'm at an age where I simply don't give a shit about the opinions of people any more. More about that later, but the immediate issue is that someone who doesn't give a shit about anyone's opinions any more maybe shouldn't write a blog that's more opinion than plain information. And the entertainment factor is limited to a few images in the link dump blog posts on each first Saturday of the month.

So why don't I give a shit about opinions any more? Well, there's a simple reason why opinions so often do clash: Humans are incredibly bad at forming conclusions/opinions. This isn't even about the availability of information, about experiences or about attention. Humans are outright terrible at the entire process of forming an opinion. It happened way too often that I write or say one thing, and the other person reads/hears something completely different. It's commonly "Trip to Jerusalem", just with two people and the result isn't funny. Most people can be confronted by a most solid fact and completely fail to appreciate or accept it. I've observed over and over again that people also fail at basic logic, such as theory of sets. Logical fallacies and psychological self-defence mechanisms reign supreme.

The opinions of individuals are crap, for individuals are crappy at forming an opinion. Our hope lies in the hopefully functioning decisionmaking of crowds and in getting lucky with picking the people for positions of great power [sarcastic laughter].

The concept that there are people whose opinions should be heard is bollocks. Information (facts) should be disseminated, but opinions? Why care? The opinions of individuals are but a detour between information and collective actions.

What a depressing thought; so much that's getting written or recorded is probably worse than even the most stupid forms of entertainment.

And the most depressing thing is that my opinion-forming is probably compromised by the same problems.

So sometime around Christmas time I'll take the time to re-think this. Maybe I'll shift my blogging style, maybe the subconsciousness will insist on doing things as usual. A switch to scientific discourse style would cause a horrible workload. I would suddenly be compelled to look up all that info and link to/quote it instead of simply recalling and using it.

S O 



Link dump December 2020



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[added later:]

Germany appears to have the American sickness now. Covid spiked, but we didn't succeed at pushing down the daily case figures for a month. That's a society failure mostly known from the U.S.. The usual sequence of events in OECD countries is that an exponential growth becomes visible after a week or two, people and government react, and the daily new cases figures crash to previous level within a few weeks. This time, they didn't in Germany - in stark contrast to Belgium, for example. Even Austria is making more progress (albeit on a worse level).

I don't think that we can blame the tiny but loudmouth moron faction that agitates in effect pro-pandemic. The real problem is in my opinion a lack of self-discipline (I'm no fanatic hand-washer any more, either) among the general population (and in my region especially the retail employees).

It's a pity, for the Christmas time family reunions and festivities would be much better and in many cases much more complete if we still had 1/30th the daily cases figures as we had during the summer.

The ponderous decentralized yet mostly consensual decisionmaking in federal Germany seemed to work acceptably well in this crisis until recently. Now we can be glad that the federal government monopolizes foreign policy and defence policy (thought eh states have kind of embassies to the EU).

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[German] https://twitter.com/HonkHase/status/1334171963451957251

[German] https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/geheimdienste-bundesnachrichtendienst-abhoeren-gesetzentwurf-1.5133098



The next breakthrough in land warfare

It seems as if just abut every army that's thinking about going against some first rate opposition is concerned with at least one of these two fears:
  • hostile air power will oppress you
  • hostile well-aimed quick reaction artillery fires will destroy you
It appears that there's almost no confidence or hope regarding hard kill defences against either.

These fears dominate how armies expect to fight against a first-rate opposition. Land forces would strive to be dispersed almost all the time and hiding almost as much. They may also stock up on carried supplies, expecting that supply lines would be terrorized if not completely shut down by air power.*
This apparent feeling of the reign of firepower may be broken by changes, of course. The 18th century ancien régime way of war in Europe was  stuck in using expensive professional troops with elaborate campaign logistics, and there were few army leaders able to overcome the fear of losing these difficult-to-replace troops, so campaigns were about marching, camping and relatively unbloody sieges (with garrisons usually surrendering right before the final assault).

Then came the French Revolution, and a new model arose; outright conscription created levée en masse for many amateurish troops and the comforts of camps were ditched (including the tents for enlisted personnel!) for greater operational mobility. The tethering on supply depots was given up.
It's already obvious that the current model of all-professional armies is inefficient. It's like having an army of knights on horse and in plate armour, with each five non-combat servants for support. There was never such an army. Cheap infantry (including de facto levies or mercenaries) was always more numerous than the knights and often the support personnel was employed as combat troops as well. There were already dreams of all-mechanised armies in the 1930's (de Gaulle) and some laymen keep dreaming of formations in the field mounted entirely on tracked protected vehicles, but it always proved superior to have a spear: Iron, high quality and high cost spearhead, but most of the spear formed by much softer, less dense and cheaper wood. We eventually saw all horses ditched in fully motorised Western Allied land forces in Western and Southern Europe in 1943-1945 (at least in flatlands), but complete mechanisation was never attempted for cost and logistics reasons.
Now applying this simple insight, the optimal force structure would include much more motorised yet not armoured infantry and scouts (militia, conscripts, volunteers) than present European armies have. Moreover, we could do something that should be obvious, but might still be considered outside-the-box thinking: Hire poor and thus cheap troops from Africa, train them harshly, employ them as quantity infantry to control areas led by European officers and NCOs.
Quantity armies would largely defeat current conventional air power because the ability of air power to deal with a huge quantity of low value targets is poor.  The gold-plated combat aircraft of today are simply not built for this.

A breakthrough against the current paradigm is unlikely to happen during a single war. It would likely happen if we encounter a series of hot conflicts or if one major power gets serious, overcomes conservatism and embarks on a military revolution similar to the founding of Panzer divisions in the 1930's. The Russians (Soviets) did it once with Tukhachevsky's "Deep battle", but proceeded to sabotage the effort soon after.

The fear of air power and artillery firepower will most likely be overcome through some adjustments. The big question is whether we'll overcome it the normal human way or by moving on to autonomous drone armies.

*: There isn't really enough air power to do so except the relatively easy bridge-busting, but the needed civilian drivers might refuse to risk their lives.


Sun Tzu: the Art of War (VII): Maneuvering

I will use this easily accessible translation version
to comment on the Art of War, and I will pretend that Sun Tzu was indeed a historical person. 
Sun Tzu artist's impression from Qīnggōngdiàn Cánghuàběn
清宮殿藏畫本 / 清宫殿藏画本

VII. Maneuvering

1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign.
This is the primacy of politics over the military. It was violated numerous times, and very often there was no difference between being king or general.

2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.

3. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult. The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.

4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of deviation.
So this is what's commonly called "operational level of warfare", not "tactics" nowadays. Some people deny that there's any useful difference between both. The difference in tasks between a small unit leader and an army leader in the field (or military theatre commanding officer nowadays) is so great that there's almost no overlap or none at all. This supports the notion that somewhere in between is a good spot for drawing a line. During the world wars this dividing line was IMO just above corps command, whereas nowadays in Europe it would be just below it.
5. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous. 
Maneuvering always carries some risks and challenges that can be avoided by static inaction, but it also gets rid of some of the latter's problems. Some armies have attempted to replicate WW2-style rapid tank forces' actions - with very mixed bag results. You need different skill sets as an army for mobile warfare than for static warfare. 

6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores. 
There's a famous quote for this:

7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.
I have read more than just a bit too much about military history, but I don't remember a single such incident. Sure, insufficient scouting led to some armies marching into an ambush, but high marching speeds seem to usually have created more trouble to the enemy than to the rapidly-marching army. So I rate this as an extremely dubious claim by Sun Tzu.

8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its destination.
I doubt that any army ever had this kind of problem on a large scale. Even relatively disorganized armies had small units (clans, village communities) stick together during the march, for sure. Sun Tzu's paragraph does not fit at all into the picture of highly organised ancient Chinese armies that he's creating in the other parts.
There are some issues with rapid marching, of course. Yes, some vehicles break down and stay behind. Yes, some supplies may be left behind. Yes, some marching soldiers may fall ill or injure themselves. It may have become impossible to set up an orderly camp for the night if you extended the duration of a march during daytime. Most importantly, simple exhaustion may degrade the combat ability. 
But again; rapid marching is usually credited in military history with saving the day or causing huge trouble to the opposing forces. The only armies that I know to have fallen apart during rapid marches were armies that were aggressively pursued on a long withdrawal.

9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy, you will lose the leader of your first division, and only half your force will reach the goal.

10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds of your army will arrive.

11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.
This had become rather obsolete in the meantime. The Napoleonic army sure had a baggage train, but it revolutionized European land warfare by largely living off the land and using rather little amenities like tents. These were highly situational strengths, certainly weaknesses in Russia.
Modern land forces on the other hand have driven the support and supply dependency to insane levels, to be expected during effectively 75 years without existential hot conflict.

12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
Well, this certainly doesn't square well with the extreme durability of NATO, an alliance that persists regardless of circumstances. The designs of the allies kept changing, yet the mere thought of leaving NATO is widely being considered politically extreme if not irresponsible. So far it's difficult to support that disregarding the designs of the allies has incurred much harm. The errorism backlash to American 1990's policies in the Mid East was of marginal harm (the exaggerated allergic reaction to it was much more harmful, though).
13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.

14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.
Well, this is obviously outdated (and has been so for a while) in most areas due to modern cartography.

15. In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed. 
I do strongly doubt that the modern knowledge of ancient Chinese dialects suffices to justify the choice of such an uncommon word. This Sun Tzu sentence appears to be devalued by an overly fancy translation.

16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by circumstances. 
This sounds completely trivial, but let me tell you about why it isn't:
There was or is in English some talk about the difference between "recon pull" and "command push". The "3GW" crowd preferred the former. I'm not aware of any analogue discussion in German.
The "recon pull" approach requires to first learn about the situation, then decide how to act (repeating this in a cycle over and over) while the "command push" approach emphasises that you may make a plan and then carry it out even without much information or in spite of information about major changes of the situation.
Sun Tzu appears to side with "recon pull".
"Command push" was used much in military history, and often delivered success. Battle plans and marching orders were often drawn up the night before, and the order of battle on the battlefield often times dictated what the army could do during battle and what not. The Battle of Leuctra is a famous example. This approach was often successful or simply the only possible one given the poor communication technologies and poor mobility of dismounted infantry. Nowadays and with small forces in general the "recon pull" approach appears to be preferable most of the time.

17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest.

18. In raiding and plundering be like fire, is immovability like a mountain.

19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided amongst your men; when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the benefit of the soldiery.
Well, these advices are pretty much instigations to war crimes nowadays, but they worked more or less well for ages. The Roman Empire eventually ran out of farmland to hand over to retiring legionaries and even gave desolate regions rather to barbaric tribes (foederatii) than to retiring soldiers later on, so the approach appears to have become unsatisfactory somehow.
A share of the war booty during the sacking of cities belonged to the warriors, mercenaries, even 18th century soldiers. Captured ships became prizes for the capturing captain and his crew. This was in part motivating, but also very often a hindrance or detrimental to discipline.
21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move. 
The real question is "how much?".
Sun Tzu is of absolutely no help here.

22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation. Such is the art of maneuvering.

23. The Book of Army Management says: On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags. 
I strongly suppose that "barbarian" people also had useful signals, even if we have written documentations almost only from sophisticated empires.

24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.

25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it impossible either for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone. This is the art of handling large masses of men.

26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.
It's weird to see Sun Tzu write about nighttime combat, as there are almost no battle reports about ancient battles happening at night. Maybe the similar sophistication of the warring states' armies is the explanation. Roman and early Byzantine armies may have enjoyed an organizational advantage over most opposing forces that would have been devalued by the problems of night combat, leading to them avoiding night battles other than camp defence and maintaining a siege against a sally. The absence of such an asymmetry in ancient pre-imperial China may have made night combat less disadvantageous.
27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.

28. Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on returning to camp.

29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods.
This would be a more useful advice if he also told the general how to convince the enemy to wait with battle while your army simply sleeps a bit longer.

30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining self-possession. 
I had to look that word up. It means loud noises, especially by disorderly groups. Again, I doubt that the translator can fully justify using such a rather rarely-used word.
Many historical tactics were about provoking and then exploiting a break in the order (and thus readiness) of the opposing force. Sun Tzu seems to rather give an advice towards a dangerously passive behaviour.
31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of husbanding one's strength.

32. To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array:--this is the art of studying circumstances.

33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill. 
This is not really the modern way any more. The most dangerous defences are rear slope defences rather than forward slope defences. The reason for this is that whatever you can see on a battlefield you can shoot at, and what you can shoot at will likely be destroyed. To be seen are rarely and as fleetingly as possible is nowadays much more important than whether you can add a fraction of gravity to the force of your spear.
from U.S.Army FM 3-97

34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen.

35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
This has largely fallen out of use in large encirclements since 1870 (Battle of Sedan), and a complete and impenetrable encirclement was already attempted at the Battle of Leipzig (1813).
I say the rule of thumb is that attempted decisive and large-scale battles should not leave an escape route, even if it's under fires (see the disappointing operation at Falaise 1944). Meanwhile, if the mission is to quickly eliminate a battalion-sized pocket, go ahead and entice to a breakout attempt where you want it to happen.
37. Such is the art of warfare. 
This chapter may create the impression of being super smart to a casual reader, and a cherrypicker will find something for his use.
It's nevertheless largely falling apart when looked at with military history knowledge and thoroughly. There are some good fragments, but a modern concise writing about the art of manoeuvering land forces would be as much better as the addition of 2,500 years of experiences on multiple continents suggests it should be. There's little reason to respect ancient scholars as authorities on modern land warfare wisdoms.


Link dump November 2020

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The case is settled; Armenia has to withdraw, period.
AFTERWARDS, the right to self-determination of the local Armenian majorities in Azerbaijan should be the hot topic, leading to a referendum and a peaceful redrawing of borders and a bilateral treaty reaffirming minority protections and agreeing on easy border crossings.

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An African-perspective satire

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A reminder that humans are humans, and act according to circumstances. Colonialism's evils were not all that much about race, after all.

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It's no link and not worth a weekly blog post, but I still want to bring one point across:
The public discussion of military affairs appears to be a spiral. Old and long-answered questions arise over and over again, old and long-rejected or long-disproved ideas arise over and over again.
This happens (IMO) much, much less regularly in science fields. The military theory and military hardware writing and publications are obviously insufficient to create a community memory that keeps the community from revisiting old bad ideas (and asking old, long-answered questions) over and over again.
Science solves this with the institution of the senior professor. Senior professors are rarely of any use to propel science forward any more. They are rather a roadblock to that effort. But they do often hold impressive knowledge about old discussions, old questions, old answers, old literature. Junior researchers can easily go to them if they have an idea and get a quick check if something of that kind was tried before.
I understand that the (in most countries very limited) military school systems could in theory have such knowledge, but they have no or almost no such decades-long serving teachers. Moreover, such institutions do nothing for public debates and are badly restricted regarding multinational discourse.

This looks like a system built to ensure everlasting amateurism.
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Archaeologists have found enough fragments of a legionary armour at a dig site related to the  so-called 'Battle of the Teutoburg Forest' (destruction of Varus' three legions). It appears to be a predecessor (and less comprehensive version) of the so-called 'lorica segmentata' (which was more comprehensive).

source: Roland Warzecha, Rebekka Kuiter 
(Much more fragments were found than the one in the picture, we can have confidence in the reconstruction.)

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The Australian SAS appears to have a MUCH bigger discipline problem than the KSK.
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That's right, put the crazies back into their caves of stupidity. They shall not dare to come back into sunlight.
Also, Americans take note: This is how much (IMO most) of the world thinks about you.

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Part of why I don't care all that much about Russian natural gas is that it's going to be of much lesser relevance in 20 years anyway. The last two winters were so mild that I got money back (that I had paid as regular heating bill) due to almost no need for heating (natural gas is the energy carrier of choice for heating urban homes in Germany).

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This is utterly common, and easily predictable. Authorities L O V E to discredit resistance and protest, against them or their actions. The claim that resistance and protests are violent is a most simple way of discrediting such opposition. Moreover, a horde of useful idiots will always jump on this and keep supporting the authorities regardless of their ethical merits - and regardless of how actually violent the authorities' response was.
Any adult who is thinking for himself/herself about politics should be aware of this. To fall for such predictable and unimaginative propaganda is embarrassing.

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Sun Tzu: the Art of War (VI): Weak Points and Strong

I will use this easily accessible translation version
to comment on the Art of War, and I will pretend that Sun Tzu was indeed a historical person. 
Sun Tzu artist's impression from Qīnggōngdiàn Cánghuàběn
清宮殿藏畫本 / 清宫殿藏画本

VI. Weak Points and Strong

1. Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted. 

Pre-19th century battles were often about two armies having (fortified) camps a few kilometres apart, then on some day moving onto a field between them, forming their battle order and commencing battle. Modern battles are vastly different unless you consider battles initiated during a trench war.

Sun Tzu's recipe for the advantage of fresher troops is mostly incompatible with achieving surprise, save for the option of an ambush (example Battle at Lake Trasimene).

2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him. 

This is a bit funny, as Carl von Clausewitz considered the purpose of war to be to force our will on the opposing faction. He thought about this on the strategic level, whereas Sun Tzu mentions it as a means (rather than an end) in tactics.

3. By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near. 

This can easily be underestimated. I wrote about the low-profile feature of the effect of repulsive firepower a decade ago. Most of the effect of firepower is about what does NOT happen in battle.

4. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he can force him to move.

5. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected. 

It is difficult to identify any points that one would absolutely have to defend in a NATO defensive war. Warsaw maybe. Or a point at which an army would complete an encirclement. Then again, it's doubtful whether there are really enough troops to encircle even only a brigade in the ways known from 1870-1945 (though encirclements were often leaky in 1941-1944 already).

6. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.

The need for providing 360° security is indeed slowing very much unless the leader decides to be audacious. Small intelligence leads, noises heard, deception, reports of skirmishes - many things can signal a flank threat that could destroy a brigade on the march. Every single such threat would have to be secured against, which takes time and resources. IIRC Ferdinand Foch had a great example for this in his "Principles of War" book. An entire corps had insufficient scouts and thus arrived too late to a battle, as lots of perceived flank threats slowed it down.

An alternative is to march in such small manoeuvre elements that they do not need to be secured themselves. This may work fine for combat and reconnaissance troops, but it might suffice to manoeuvre as a battalion battlegroup (less than 1,000 personnel and ~100 motor vehicles). To move in small elements may largely free them from the need to have security elements forward and on the flanks and greatly increase tactical mobility. Another possibility to achieve this is to approximate full area surveillance. Having observation teams with effective radio links almost everywhere in the area of operations would free a manoeuvre force from the need for security elements.

7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked. 

Almost no position (or fortress) could really be held against determined attack. Hochosterwitz comes to mind, or those weird Spanish cannon ball-gulping forts. Field fortifications were usually weak. Even some of the most elaborate ones of the World Wars were eventually overcome.

8. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.

9. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands.

10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy. 

Pursuit was up to the 19th century mostly about pursuit by cavalry. Cavalry is quicker than infantry, so an infantry army cannot escape it. The Chinese of Sun Tzu's time did use chariots instead of cavalry, and chariots are not all that great for pursuit because the withdrawing enemy can usually avoid chariot-friendly terrain.

An infantry army can escape a pursuing infantry army, but this may entail the loss of some broken-down vehicles and escape is likely more about obstacles and a delaying rearguard or about exploiting a choice of routes that a pursuer cannot guess than it was about actually marching quicker.

So I suppose he badly missed the point here. His statement is trivially true, but of little practical utility.

11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.

12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.

13. By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy's must be divided.

This looks rather meaningless, as staying "invisible" usually requires counterreconnaissance ambushes and patrols, which of course run counter to concentration of forces. The Americans obsessed about counterreconnaissance for a while prior to 2003 based on their NTC training experiences, but there is little military history evidence that reconnaissance or scouting can really be prohibited. The Western Allies' ability to impede German aerial reconnaissance in 1944/45 comes probably the closest.

14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's few.

15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits. 

Quantitative military history research has actually revealed a weak to non-existing correlation between numerical superiority in battle and "victory" in battle. I suppose that army leaders denied battle if they expected defeat, thus offered battle in situations of numerical inferiority rather if they have other superiorities.

16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few. 

This is the tactical view, whereas Carl von Clausewitz took an opposing, strategic view. CvC meant the battle to be decisive. The defeated party had to suffer great losses, so targeting few enemies at once would seem indecisive towards winning the war. Sun Tzu took the tactical view and emphasised winning the battle (or skirmish). CvC's recipe for this was largely about assembling an overwhelming force.

17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

The last sentence fits to the 18th century saying attributed to Frederick II. the Great: He who defends everything, defends nothing. This may be somewhat obsolete at least in some niches, though. Area air defences may actually prove superior to short range air defences, and artillery fires affect such a radius now that artillery concentrations are more about fires missions than about deployment orders. Moreover, some low force density paradigms such as guerilla warfare strive seem to have no use for this maxim.

18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us. 

That's known as battlefield shaping operations. You improve the odds of tactical success in advance of the actual clash of major forces. This is badly hindered by casualty aversion, as many battlefield shaping ops require to expose few troops to great danger. Modern Western ground forces may be very lacking in this area.

19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight. 

This implies the well-known maxim "march divided and fight united".

20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred LI apart, and even the nearest are separated by several LI! 

(A Li was about 416 m at the time. Effective archery range was about half that.)

21. Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.

22. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.

23. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

24. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

25. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.

26. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics-that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.

27. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. 

Suvorov actually succeeded in 60+ battles without being a very versatile tactician. The real question isn't whether you have done it before or whether the opponent expects it, but whether your opponent has devised a countermeasure and is able to implement it. This is nowadays extremely important and troublesome in regard to high tech weaponry. Many "high tech" weapons and munitions may be utter failures due to existing countermeasures - without us knowing for certain, as we haven't used them in anger against capable opposition yet.

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. 

Robert Leonhard hammered this into his readers as "all warfare is adversarial". This is an important distinction to many other human endeavours. It's also putting into question the wisdom of trusting old, long-published treatises about the art of war!

32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.

34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing.




Cyprus security

.Cyprus is a EU member, but not a NATO member - and its Northern part is de facto occupied by Turkey.

The International Law position on the whole occupation is rather clear-cut; Turkey is about as much an illegal occupier of Cyprus as Israel in the West Bank and Iraq in Kuwait 1990/91.

List of United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning Cyprus

Meanwhile, there's the people's right to self-determination, and a case can be made that the Turkish-speaking Northern Cypriots have a right to secede. This gets complicated by the history of ethnic cleansing, which is always illegitimate.

Its non-occupied population is speaking Greek, and despite cultural differences with Greece there is a possibility that Cyprus could be drawn into a stupid Greek-Turkey hot conflict. An invasion of the unoccupied part of Cyprus by Turkey should draw the EU into war with Turkey.

Lisbon (EU) Treaty:

7. If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

Commitments and cooperation in this area shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation.

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The UN peacekeeping mission on Cyprus gets extended every six months, but it only has about 1,000 personnel and they're more eyes than guns. They are relevant for deterrence, but also irrelevant for defence.

The British forces on the island are a bit more substantial and their bases occupy an irritatingly large share of the country, but they do only contribute two infantry battalions to the defence, which pales in comparison to the ten thousands of Turkish troops on the island.

The Greek forces in Cyprus are just the same; about 1,000 personnel strong, more a deterrence mission than a defence capability.

Cyprus lacks the economic and personnel potential to defend itself in case of a Turkish aggression. 

Defence budget about 355 million USD in 2020 

Military personnel according to "IISS Military Balance 2020": 15,000 active, 50,000 reserves, 750 paramilitary

Cyprus' military would likely be able to defend against the Turkish troops already on the island, but incapable of defending against a major reinforced attack by Turkey.

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The populations of the EU countries hardly know about Article 42 and some of those who know about it dispute that it is of any consequence. This goes beyond just people from formerly neutral countries (Sweden, Austria). There is thus no motivation to reinforce Cyprus' defence with ten thousands of deployed foreign troops (not really a nice thing to have for Cyprus anyway) nor to subsidise it into a militarised Israel-like state that could defend itself. Both  could provoke a preventive invasion by Turkey anyway.

The geography gives Turkey all the air power advantages, so any help to Cyprus against Turkey would 

  • require excessive resources (carrier fleets),
  • be indecisive or
  • have to include strikes on Turkey itself (air power on the ground, warships in ports).

- - - - -

So far the approach was to have multiple "tripwires", to not dispute the Turkish occupation by force and to generally let the problem linger on for want of a promising solution strategy.

My personal stance on such cold conflicts is simple. Illegal occupations shall not be tolerated for the sake of peace and protection of sovereign countries. Every single country that illegally occupies another country or part thereof should be subjected to decisive, strangling economic sanctions that escalate to the point at which the country cannot import anything but medical supplies and food any more, and cannot export anything but what's needed to pay for these imports. This includes a total shutdown of communication. UN missions should help with the enforcement. Any country found to violate these sanctions should be subjected to the same set of escalating sanctions as long as it's not believed to comply.

- - - - -

The title was and is "Cyprus security", but the security woes of Cyprus looks very much unsolvable by non-excessive military efforts. Countries like Cyprus would best be served by decisively enforced International Law, not by more guns.

The West / NATO has a history of looking the other way when some of its own commit offences or turn into dictatorships (such as the Greek junta 1967-1974, which exposed NATO as not being about freedom at all). It's thus a problem for -rather than an impartial champion of- the rule of International Law. This endangers and harms the sovereignty of many small countries, and Cyprus - a EU member(!!!) is one of those who suffer the most.

The practicality problem to my approach: UNSC veto powers, the birth defect of the United Nations





Sun Tzu: the Art of War (V): Energy

I will use this easily accessible translation version
to comment on the Art of War, and I will pretend that Sun Tzu was indeed a historical person. 
Sun Tzu artist's impression from Qīnggōngdiàn Cánghuàběn
清宮殿藏畫本 / 清宫殿藏画本

(Early warning: This chapter of The Art of War features a lot of what a modern reader might consider blathering rather than poetry. I suspect that this writing style was used in part to make the whole work reading befitting higher and further education for high-ranking men and their children.)

V. Energy

1. Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.

It may seem so to someone who does not know organization and learns its very basics, but there are indeed huge differences. The share of time that certain leadership activities require changes a lot. A leader of ten men is much occupied with discipline, training and individual issues such as subordinates getting drunk or being troublemakers. A general is rather concerned with administrative issues, politics, campaign planning, logistics, mentoring promising junior officers, appointing officers to leadership positions, intelligence reports. It's similar in businesses; the higher up in the hierarchy, the more the profile of the job changes.

2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.

This was clearly false even in the time of Sun Tzu. An army of 30,000 men or so would spread out farther than the eyesight of a general would reach effectively. His control of the battle could be extended by messenger riders and signalling, but it would clearly not be the same to receive a short report as to see the event yourself.

Sun Tzu was most likely trying to convey the usefulness of signs and signals, so this is yet another paragraph that has to be read figuratively rather than literally. 

3. To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the enemy's attack and remain unshaken-- this is effected by maneuvers direct and indirect.

4. That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg--this is effected by the science of weak points and strong.

5. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. 

All this talk of direct and indirect is practically an invitation to modern Westerners to make up all kinds of pseudo-spiritual nonsense and interpret Sun Tzu's The Art of War wildly to their own taste. I'm convinced it's better to resist such blathering. 

6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. 

His idea of music is badly obsolete (although pop music comes eerily close with the four chords), but the talk about variations reminds me of the arguments in favour of a span of control of four rather than three. The triangular organisation with three manoeuvre elements under one unified command offers few options for arranging the elements for battle;

two left wing + one right wing,

one left wing + two right wing,

one left wing + one centre + one right wing,

left wing + right wing + reserve and

vanguard + left wing + right wing.

A span of control of four adds many more options ("combinations"), including an oblique order with an overwhelming concentration of three elements on one wing.

Sun Tzu was rather writing about combinations of stratagems, though.

8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. 

Badly outdated as well. Black and white are no colours, and colours are a continuous range. The colours available to mankind were terribly limited well into the 19th century because colours were made almost exclusively with dye plants, which offered few colours. Blue used to be very common and cheap in Europe (and thus rarely worn by rich people) because some blue colour plant was so easily available in Europe. Purple was super-rare. So Sun Tzu talking of five primary colours may actually refer to five most-used dye plants.

9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

Acrid isn't taste, it's mere pain. Literally. Scientifically. "Hot" spices trigger the pain receptors, seriously. Which brings me to an important point: Sun Tzu was clueless on all scientific advances ever made. We should keep this in mind. Sun Tzu cannot have been trained to think like Westerners are trained to think by schooling. The scientific principle was unknown to him. There was no cultural division between things that we would consider affairs of science and things that we would consider belonging to poetry. That's not sloppiness, it's fuzziness by ignorance.

10. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack--the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

11. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle--you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?

12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course.

13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision. 

Suvorov would have liked this.

15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.

16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.

17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

18. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.

19. Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.

20. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.

21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.

22. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.

23. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy.


Future road logistics

The army resupply effort was dominated by rail transport from the 1860's till the end of the Second World War in Europe. Rail lines had to be maintained, train traffic be planned and the value delivered was a quick delivery of large quantities of personnel and material over long distances. Transportation beyond the rail heads (forwardmost unloading point) was much more troublesome. Horse carts were very inefficient and could properly extend the supply routes as a rule of thumb by only 250 km.* Canals were rarely usable. Transportation by motor vehicle was first used at grand scale in 1914 by the French and proved able to extend the reach at huge cost (wear and tear of the motor vehicles, fuel consumption) first in North African campaigns and later in a most impressive display from Normandy to the advancing front in 1944.

Rail traffic proved to be much more susceptible to disruptions by opposing forces efforts (mostly air attack on the infrastructure, but also on the trains themselves). Today's electrified rail lines with automated (electricity-dependent) track switches are probably even more vulnerable, and bridges can probably easily be busted by precision missiles in the first ten minutes to two hours of conflict. Rail bridges are very difficult to replace in wartime.

Limburg railyard after bombing, December 1944

The military lorry inventories of the Cold War were probably not up the the task of supplying enough fuel and artillery munitions (all else matters little) over hundreds of km at the required rates. Civilian lorries are now undoubtedly required to sustain the French army during high intensity warfare in Poland, for example. We already saw the vulnerability of such a supply line extension in Afghanistan, dozens of lorries were torched by hostile forces in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) on several occasions.

Still, the state of the art is to have most supplies moved by civilian lorries over hundreds to thousands of km to some (makeshift) depot where dedicated military lorries with combatant drivers, camouflage paintjob and better off-road abilities can pick the supplies up and try to deliver them to drop-off points close to manoeuvre forces.

Technological advances in the field of civilian lorries are posing huge question marks:

A) "platooning"

It's still in the testing phase, but lorries can connect by short-range radio communications (and in theory also by coded light signals) to move as one, both in acceleration and deceleration. This enables driving with extremely little spacing without crashes if the environment is suitable for this platooning mode. The wind shadow effect is the primary motivator for this; all but the forwardmost lorry have much-reduced fuel consumption. The road capacity (in supply mass or volume multiplied by distance divided by time) is increased by platooning, but that's not much of a motivation in the civilian world.

This technology might be used by army logistics to increase the throughput of roads (such as through the Suwalki gap), but you really only need to have it increased if you have very few roads you can use for logistics. This in turn means that the opposing forces have a rather easy time disrupting the supply line, as they only need to mess with one or very few roads and lanes.

Doctrines for military road convoys that I saw called for a spacing of 50...100 m between vehicles. This was needed to avoid crashes (especially with overworked, tired drivers), but also to limit the effect that dumb munitions air strikes and artillery have on convoys. (Traditional military road convoys may still involuntarily bunch up at crossroads, bottlenecks or obstacles.)

Platooning may thus be impractical (too risky) in real world warfare, regardless of whether civilian lorry technology gets optimised for it.

B) Autonomous lorries

Lorry drivers are poorly paid in Europe because labour laws restricting how much drivers from poor countries may drive in rich countries without moving to the rich country are not being enforced properly. The people in rich countries know that autonomous vehicles may be available soon and few of them still get a lorry driving license. The regulations regarding resting times further add to the attractiveness of the concept of an autonomous lorry.

Autonomous cars are actually much more advanced already than almost all of the public appears to know. Tens of millions of km were driven in fully autonomous mode by test cars already, and the distance between two necessary human interventions is in the ten thousands of km for the technology leader. The issue that holds the technology back appears to be the need for further testing and the desire to cheapen the necessary sensor equipment.

Autonomous vehicles could be used to move supplies, but there are question marks about this;

- how do they cope with a myriad of hostile efforts (software and physical) to disrupt the flow?

- how does the cargo get unloaded?

- how do they cope if the mobile internet is down, but destinations or no-go areas need to be updated?

Autonomous lorries may be dominant in the long-range transportation business by 2030, so what changes are necessary to military logistics concepts? Will the armed forces draw all their necessary civilian logistical support from the remaining manned lorry inventories? Will those lorries be suitable for the military supplies and their loading and unloading processes?

C) Electric lorries


Electrical (battery-powered) lorries seem poised to take over the short range delivery business, such as supplying wares to supermarkets. They would probably also take over the long-distance haul business due to their energetic efficiency if the mandated resting hours regime was remaining as a major determinant. There's less reason to expect their dominance in long-distance transportation with autonomous vehicles. Ammonia or hydrogen may instead be used as range extenders, or we stick to diesel and diesel analogies (bio diesel, hydrocarbon synthetic fuels). Battery technology progress may change this, but keep in mind that Europe is fragmented into dozens of countries and many long-distance hauling lorries would have to be able to be used in almost any of these. It's probably going to take a while till the businesses will fully trust battery power even if it is more profitable on long distances as long as things go well.

Let's assume that battery-powered short-range lorries take over the regional supply sector. Those vehicles might very well have a huge Venn diagram overlap with the remaining non-autonomous vehicles. I suspect this because it's difficult to arrange for loading and unloading without a driver if the lorry has to be used with great many business partners. A lorry used to transport goods from one factory to another on the same route every day could easily have the loading and unloading jobs externalised. A factory that supplies goods to hundreds of stores would rather stick to having a driver, and possibly a parasitic forklift on the back of the lorry.

A round trip from a German supply depot to Northeast Poland and back would be about 2,000 km, half of which with heavy cargo and potentially with electrical power grid failing in Poland. Battery-powered lorries are most unlikely to be suitable for this well into the 2030's if not forever. This applies even if the long distance hauling business does get dominated by battery-powered lorries.

Diesel-fuelled lorries meanwhile could simply add a couple barrels of extra fuel or be refuelled with simple equipment (even with hand pumps or by gravity) even during their unloading process.

So the whole electric lorry inventory might be utterly unusable for military logistics purposes for want of battery-powered range, and this might be the majority of 7.5 ton and heavier lorries and semi-trailer tractors by 2035.

Civilian logistics are bound to change again during the 2020's, and army logistics dependent on civilian road transportation capacities may need to adapt.



*: More about such logistics; book recommendation



Link drop October 2020


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edit 5 Oct 2020:


 I don't yet get how incompetence can trickle down (top-down) in organizations this quickly.

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I told you; chainmail is making a comeback in fashion.

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Delusional dreams of Ottoman greatness will probably be no more relevant to real world outcomes than the "Wakanda" hokum. Still, soft power does count a lot. Even dictators need to listen closely to what their people think to sustain power.
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The airlines are crashing economically and ditch many aircraft that could technically still fly for years in the high intensity airline business (which is decades worth of military flying).
Maybe I have just missed it because I don't frequent aviation journal websites much any more, but shouldn't we see armed forces buying cheap former airline aircraft for support functions?
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I suppose that the public reaction got it wrong (as far as I could tell).
It wasn't really about troops and veterans in particular.
Krugman contrasted the "losers" thing with the lying moron's preference for certainly defeated Confederate generals, for example. He got the meaning of the word entirely wrong.

The lying moron thinks that life is about ripping others off in a competition for money, power, fame and pussy. Those who achieve this are "winners", whose who find themselves being exploited are "suckers", and thus "losers".

The lying moron's only economic policy idea aside from ballooning the deficit (=fiscal stimulus) was to rip other nations off (more). As if that could help much given the relative size of the U.S. economy.

The lying moron kind of admired (and envied) generals for their power (over people's lives) and authority. They're "winners" not because of battlefield success, but because of success in the intra-society quest for power. Later on, he insulted and denigrated them once he was in direct contact and thus compared himself to them, feeling the urge to feel superior - which required pushing them down on the achievement ladder.

And Confederate generals? Those were men who had money, fame, power, presumably access to pussy - and their power was ultimate. They OWNED people (and could rape female pussies at will), how much more power could you possibly have? His kind of guys. "Winners". 

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No, that's three Corinthians.
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It is all-too common for people to dislike something, conclude that it is harmful, proclaim it's harmful and then circle back and point at the harm as supportive of their negative opinion about the something.
Reality does often get into the way of this, and that's when cognitive dissonance simply shuts the eyes and a bubble with like-minded idiots is formed.

Imaginary crime waves supposedly caused by minorities in cities or foreign countries are but one example for this. The reality is that we saw throughout the Western World a trend of waning crime rates. This may be owed in part to demographic changes, and in part to better environmental protection (lead and some substances are under suspicion of increasing crime levels.)

I've repeatedly seen people dismiss entire nations as failures and incapable based on nothing but their own racism. This is no intelligent way of appraising a nation's capabilities at all.