Musings about why I dare to voice dissent (so regularly)

I wrote something along these lines before: It would be a phenomenal achievement if I was 51% of the time correct whenever I criticize and bring forward a very unconventional proposal. Even 20% would be quite a feat and make the blog a super worthwhile read.

Why do I dare to publicly dissent on topics where I am (and have been for a long time at least) an outsider, without (much) confidential info at hand?

I can hardly ever point to a comprehensive operational research, wargame or other conventional means of justifying conclusions on military matters. I cannot claim to have superior yet secret information. 

Why do I dare to dissent?

My justification is about parallels and systemic issues.
They show at least that I could be correct.

Military history shows that military insiders (professional experts) are wrong much of the time, and even in disagreement (which by logic means not all of them can be correct).  Many wars have been fought with every single party entering the war with wrong ideas, and we even know of armed bureaucracies drawing wrong conclusions from years-long wars they participated in. 
The fallibility of the insider experts and the armed bureaucracy's leadership can be considered proven by overwhelming indirect evidence historical analogies if nothing else.
Outsiders on the other hand have occasionally proved to have superior insights. Jan Gotlib Bloch was a spectacular example; he got early 20th century warfare between industrialised nations more right than some European armies a year into the actual First World War (then "Great War").

Systemic issues:
I am using established theories to argue that systemic bias leads the armed bureaucracies astray from the optimum. Examples are:
  • Niskanen's budget-optimising bureaucrat
  • principal-agent problem
  • path dependencies
These three actually quite simple ideas are extremely versatile, pervasive, powerful. You can apply them almost everywhere. Sadly, the real world phenomena described by these models lead to inefficiencies everywhere.

And then there's my experience that most officers are actually not terribly bright, not really creative (especially not the senior ranks), usually terribly impaired by group think, some of them aren't all that much interested in or passionate about their job and most of all, they are rarely very knowledgeable on military affairs beyond what they were taught or experienced themselves.
I estimate no more than 50...100 German active duty officers exceed my military history knowledge*, and probably none of them also exceeds my military technology knowledge* or my foreign army doctrine knowledge*. I may be utterly wrong about this, but how likely is it that anyone who actually exceeds me on both counts is also extremely effective at shaping the structure and doctrine of the Heer or Luftwaffe?
There are people who are better-suited to blog about the issues I am covering, but I don't see them doing it.

It's imaginable that I am about correct in a worthwhile amount of blog posts.
So that's why I dare to dissent.



*: A subjective statement, for we don't know how to quantify and thus compare such knowledge. I suppose my point is still understandable.


  1. What I enjoy most about your arguments is that you argue on the basis of logic as applied to the historical and currently observable universe rather than on the basis of attempting to justify the current institutional and cultural stance on whatever topic. It is really refreshing.

  2. Annual allotments of capital (in every sense) do not readily allow for revolutions to be undertaken. Therefore, even if revolution is all that can affect change, it is an impossibility.

    Easy to spot from the outside, can't change it from inside. There are people within the structure that will agree with some of your prescriptions and may even advocate for them, all while recognising they would never be adopted.

    Isn't this always the case? Interstitial periods are periods of managed decline. Feels like even external of geopolitical and military affairs the entire western world is demonstrating that. At some point, from external or internal, the revolution will be sparked off, ascented to. Afterwards all can be readdressed, crones kicked out and reformers empowered.

    Would 'good governance' be different. Certainly. Aint going to happen doode. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. No gold gained from being early.

    1. I don't advocate reform from inside.
      I advocate that the political leadership doesn't enter the inside, but stay above and harshly enforces that the bureaucracy serves national interest rather than self-interest.
      This requires a different kind of politician. This can be transferred to other departments; the fish rots from the head, and we need to change what kind of head we give it. This isn't about changing parties (though I particularly dislike the CDU), but about expectations.
      Just about every major party in Germany could muster a suitable minister of defence IMO if the job would be interpreted the way I do and the person selected accordingly. Only the extreme right and extreme left would have great difficulties finding one due to their ideological burdens.

    2. I know I have a tendency to condense my points somewhat (bad habit from a prior life), but even accounting for that I'm not sure we speak the same language.

      Ho hum.

    3. The "can't change it from inside" triggered the reply.

      What followed in your comment was just general 'drain the swamp'-ish talk. I was aiming at HOW to change course.

  3. SO, i can understand your frustration with this issue but I doubt the second part of your post is true. I work in construction, another field with huge systemic issues. Lack of knowledge and understanding about these issues is not the problem. We learned about them more than 20 years ago in Uni. They are openly talked about at work. And experts speak about them publicly somewhat regularly.

    The thing is: "business as usual" works well enough for pretty much all involved. And even if some shady and sloppy practices get publicized people don't care all that much as long as things work themselves out in a somewhat timely manner.

    Rocking the boat when you encounter a potential flaw isn't rewarded even if your bosses agree with your assessment.

    German military spending makes up roughly 2,5% of all government spending and following the debates about security issues in the media gives me the impression that people don't really care. As long as the German government does a decent job at avoiding causalities and scandals with their deployments people will probably stay content.

    Well, maybe if the german military armaments industries don't get their cut things could get ugly for the people in charge.

    1. I strongly doubt that my opinion about the uselessness of a surface navy is shared much in the navy.
      I also doubt hat my opinion about the importance of surface-launched land attack missiles and our overemphasis on combat aircraft is anywhere near majority opinion in the Luftwaffe.
      The army officer corps may agree much with me, but then again, I met enough officers who didn't even want to entertain the thought.

      Policy-wise we don't need a fix for the BMVg specifically. What I write about Niskanen's Bureaucrat and principal-agent problem was indeed taught at university decades ago already. It's overdue we apply the insights - in the whole cabinet.

      Ministers need to sternly set the course of the bureaucracy away from its pursuit of self-interest. All resistance to this has to destroy the careers of the responsible bureaucrats and ideally also lead to humiliation of the bureaucracy as a whole in order to deter thoroughly.

  4. Most of the officers I could get to know better were very good in terms of (military) knowledge and their other (social, technical, military-technical) skills. They also assured me that most of the officers they know are at this level or better. So why are the soldiers (officiers) "mistaken" so often about warfare, why are the armed forces in such a desolate state and why are armies developing so negatively when the officers are able and have the necessary knowledge ?

    In my opinion, the main reason for this is the social culture in society as well as within the military itself and the true nature of humans. The effects of these prevent any improvement, no matter how good an officer may be, but moreover, the same social and cultural characteristics mean that, above all else, the officers do not want to correct the undesirable developments, even if they know them. Most of the officers are aware of the many problems you see here and they have more of an idea of ​​what is going wrong than you. And yet they don't want to change anything because they don't care! Because they are not concerned with the matter at the moment, but only with themselves, their careers, their promotion, their advancement, the following well-paid jobs in the industry after their military career, etc.

    The personal selfish goals far outweigh the matter itself. And primarily because of this inability, not because the officers would be unable per se, but because the majority of them have a completely different purpose. The goal is completely different and in relation to their real goals (which they cannot claim openly of cause) everything that is necessary for this is done very well. And that runs counter to military efficiency and effectiveness.

    What you often don't understand is how selfish and self-contained the majority of military leaders are. Your basic idealism probably fails because the majority of soldiers not only do not think in an idealistic way, on the contrary, they feel, think and act extremely self-centered and exclusively I-related.

    My reproach against you is therefore one of the naivety regarding the true human nature which prevails in a majority of people.

    As the majority of people are not what it would be necessary for your ideas to be, your ideas fail because of this discrepancy between your view of man and the true nature they have.

    1. Sorry, but you didn't pay attention. I kept ranting that the armed bureaucracy pursues self-interest rather than national interest. You are not in disagreement.

      Search this page for the word "interest".

    2. I am not in disagreement about that (self interest) but only about your claim that officers are not bright, do not know as much as you about military history and are not able etc. They are to the opposite most times very able. Also i disagree that the insiders do not know or do not recognice the problems. Instead they do not care about this problems as this are not their problems.

      Also the weight is imo a little bit different between us. You claim that the self interest of the organisation is the primary factor and i think that the pure self interest of the individuals is even more the problem here. That i want to show in my answer. That the main reason for the systematic problems and the institiuonal corruption in the armed forces is mainly the result of purley individual self interest and the individual interests of a corrupt clique of senior officers.

  5. For exactly the same reason, the political leadership from outside will never change anything unless absolutely extremely important reasons occur and usually not even then.

    Because the political leadership that you represent as a possible problem solver is subject to the same problem, the priority of completely different selfish goals over all others.

    1. Hence my emphasis on that we need to insist on a different kind of politician. Politicians who don't see offices as a combination of party booty and playground, but as a job to sternly force a bureaucracy on the path of pursuit of national interest.

      Such people exist, but the usual ways how politicians work their way to the top weed them out. We need to increase our expectations, not resign.

    2. No matter how we raise our expectations, nothing will change the status quo at all, since political parties are organized in the same way as the armed bureaucracy, are subject to the same errors and mechanisms, and it is therefore impossible to install other politicians.

      This is not due to the fact that such better politicians are screened out on the way up. Here too, the system pursues completely different objectives than the well-being of the people and this results in completley different kind of politicans.

      It is this discrepancy between the real goals of those responsible and what would be necessary for your goals that prevents any solution here.

      Furthermore, politicians don't have as much power as you assume here within bureaucratic grown organizations . Let’s say you’re Defense Secretary. You would achieve nothing but that a majority of the officials, senior officers, lobbyists, etc. will intrigue you out of office.

      No elected politician can achieve something real within the rules of law as they are in this country if the structures do not want it themselves - and they do not want it because they have completely different goals.

      Just trying to kick a high-ranking official out leads to never ending administrative court proceedings and massive resistance from everyone else against you because you are questioning the goals of the majority.

      That is why our rigid bureaucratized pseudo-democracy no longer works. It lacks the ability to change, therefore the failure of our state and our state structures.

      Only the mass of the "wealth" accumulated in better times and its sluggishness creates the illusion of the ability to act, which in truth has long been lost.

  6. With regard to the Bundeswehr, in my opinion you would have to dissolve it completely and build a completely new army from the drawing board if you ever wanted to have a functioning army in Germany again. The Bundeswehr is rotten, degenerate and corrupt to the core. Institutional corruption in Germany is not yet properly understood by the Germans as a major problem of the BRD, and yet it is currently destroying the whole country in a sustainable manner.

    In my opinion, a reform of the Bundeswehr is more difficult than a revolution in the form of a fresh start.

    And even if: What is still missing then are the necessary politicians, the necessary changes to the law, the necessary industry, etc.