Military punditry and think tanking


I was tempted to write a response to yet another navy fanboi pseudo-intellectual drivel that made the rounds on the internet, but I saw with great satisfaction that many comments already pointed out that playing fantasy navy with an imaginary doubled budget and magic asterisks is hardly impressive or worthwhile thought.

The time is overdue for a radical change (that totally won't come, so many terrible issues will persist).

The interested public should stop paying attention to the fanboyism and professional lobbyism / agitation (a.k.a. arms industry- or military-sponsored think thanks). I pushed this point for years, but it deserves repetition: The principal-agent model explains many woes. The colloquial equivalent that applies here of it is "It's hard to understand if your pay check depends on not understanding". There are so many people in the 'play' whose income or whose passion drives their opinions that most opinions are outright worthless because of such systemic bias.

Accordingly, ordinary punditry on military affairs uses a very restricted repertoire

  • always using status quo as starting point, which causes a path dependency bias*
  • uncritical acceptance of threat scenarios
  • pointing out new tech
  • criticizing popularly criticised failures (LCS, for example)
  • being smart AFTER the fact
  • usually one pet topic (obsession) per pundit

Very rarely do they make a case against the bureaucratic group self-interest of the armed bureaucracy

  • calls for less and smaller staffs, fewer flag rank officers, fewer privileges/prestige for flag rank officers
  • calls to disband established structures
  • rejection of pathos or delusional self-praise
  • calls for a smaller budget
  • pointing out that the emperor has no clothes**
  • calls for bloated establishment to be shrunk harshly (such as German military medical sector)
  • calls for old systems to be decommissioned (ships, aircraft, AFVs)
  • actual critique on specific named active duty flag officers***

Let's do this differently.

We should expect from pundits that they stand on the side of the public interest, not representing the armed services' interests or the arms industry's interests. Those who are fanboying or lobbying through the public are very easy to detect, so this is largely a failure of the interested public. It would be very easy to detect and reject the biased voices.

So why doesn't this happen?

I suppose the interested part of the public is usually fanboying or economically interested as well.

I see only one way out; attract more interest of the so far disinterested public. Dramatic events and scandals can help with this. Mainstream, not military-specialised reporters (and satirists) should take aim at serious deficits other than the procurement and material readiness scandals****.

This basically means the people in-the-know need to tip off those people with the platform to bring the issues to the general public effectively. All this should be done within legal limits, of course. The publicly known issues provide plenty material to work with.


 *: You cannot realistically create an all-new army or navy to merely solve some issues, but starting thoughts from a blank sheet instead of status quo makes it much easier to consider what's really optimal and to give up on old mistakes that get perpetuated by incremental change.

**: Example being the U.S.Army hyping lots of hardware programs with almost nobody pointing out that almost all such large system development projects get cancelled without any production run and the in-service equipment may even be way below international standards (example 155 mm L/39 artillery, even towed artillery and low rate of fire SPGs in the U.S.military). 

***: Politicians are fair game by comparison, but flag officers hardly ever get criticized despite them de facto making most of the big policy decisions.

****: Easily researched based on official info, easily communicated, easy outrage, and thus these issues are really low-hanging fruits. The non-specialised reporters rarely dive deeper into the issues than such low-hanging fruits.



  1. Regarding Germany, military topics can only be discussed in very small select circles. It's not a topic suitable for general small talk as it still carries a social penalty with a lot of people.
    And despite being somewhat interested, I certainly lack lots of information to voice a valid opinion on a lot of its fields. I'm more at home with stuff pre-gunpowder. So do you suggest I invest my limited time to dive deeply into military topics for what purpose?
    You could write a book that introduces the modern military and its problems to a general audience. Maybe it provides the groundwork to be able to voice an opinion in such a discussion. A board game or a computer game would also help to get the basics in an entertaining way. I take "Operation Petticoat" as an example of informing the public.

    1. It doesn't take much detailed knowledge to discuss whether we should focus on national/collective defence in Europe or play in stupid small wars. That's a necessary starting point discussion.

      Another thing that I would very much like to see is for the military to actually justify its big ticket programs in ways that convince the public. I very much doubt that the public could actually be convinced that the F125 is worth its costs. It would be possible to make the case for it without secret or intricate details if there was a good case for it (it's barely armed and thus lacking much of what could be super anyway).
      I would also want to have a proper explanation to the public why the fuck our medical branch constitutes more than 10% of the military personnel when military-employed people are in a very much above-average healthy demographic by their age.
      They could also explain why the army has only two artillery battalions when the army's own doctrine understands the huge importance of artillery and emphasises combined arms tactics. Meanwhile, we have hardly any mortars any more, either.

    2. The national football team and corona are two debates of great public interest in Germany. In the US you can add the military among issues of public interest, although a lot of Americans don't consider it a topic for small talk, because the great interest in it is only by a fraction of the population.
      In all public debates, there's a small group that has an informed debate and a larger group that reacts to slogans distilled from the informed debate. A measure to improve the transmission from the informed debate to the general population, that wants it in a nutshell, is an expansion of the informed circle. This is an endeavour which you achieve thru your blog and possibly also thru your book. A larger group partaking in informed debates leads to more informed opinions trickling down to the general public.

      For Germany, this probably requires a lengthy clarification of ethics and practice of the use of armed forces into an agreeable worldview. It probably helps the reader accept your conclusions if you point out that you're not in favour of great power games. I might disagree for example and see Germany as an actor in an increasingly connected world, with distances shrinking due to the spread of new technology, for which your definition of defence might be too narrow. And this boils down to missions such as Somalia, Mali and Afghanistan. Are they ethically justified? From there your whole argument about the force structure develops, because it defines the needed capabilities. As long as there's unreconciled disagreement on ethics, it's hard to have a public debate on capabilities.

    3. KRT wrote:"I might disagree for example and see Germany as an actor in an increasingly connected world, with distances shrinking due to the spread of new technology, for which your definition of defence might be too narrow. And this boils down to missions such as Somalia, Mali and Afghanistan. Are they ethically justified?"

      Look, Afghanistan was stupid. Somalia does not require special ground forces, and Mali could be done by the French. One "elegant" solution is to present hard facts: Germany may simply focus on heavy ground units that are useless outside central Europe.

      Combine this with a clear communication in respect to energy transition (which has a higher strategic impact than the armed forces) and we have a useful strating point.


    4. Afghanistan might have been stupid, but Germans imagined it as ethical because of building schools and empowering women. I really see a problem with ethics on military use in Germany.

  2. I imagine there is a lot of closed loop communication in think tanks output. There needs to be an argument to support X-program, X-think tank comes up with an argument that satisfies no one, but does tick a box. X-program now has non governmental support and can continue.

    Some of this fair enough, greed, supidity, capitalism etc... However some of it will be for the avoidance of broadcasting (unavoidable?) weaknessses. The M109, what are they going to do? Its useless, but they know they arent going to get cash to replace them.

    Most of the noise is not for us. We're overhearing bureaucratic bullshit.

  3. Last Dingo:

    >>>I see only one way out; attract more interest of the so far disinterested public.>>>

    As stated by others: Not many things are of fewer interest for the majority of the people in germany. And if the social culture does not change it will not interest anyone in the future. The common german thinking about the military is: that i can and should be ignored or that it should been disbanded at all because everything that is military is evil.

    This Anti-Bellicism and Pacifism are so deeply ancered in the society that the military-industrial complex in germany has free hands to enrich himself on our taxes and the bundeswehr is in great parts only a way to distribute money from the taxpayers to the industry and their shareholders.

    Most military programs in germany has much more an economic background than an military background.

    You cannot change the desinterest in military affairs with this culture we have here in this federal republic.

    1. The German military expenses are about 600 €/capita, about 2,400 € per family of four. That's OUR money, spent on supposedly OUR interests. It's a big-enough budget to be worthy of and justify public attention.

      I strongly doubt that more than maybe 20% of Germany are really anti-military. There was even more than 40% support for participation in the ISAF mission.

      The problem is klack of attention but a cause is not a sufficient reason for why the cause should persist. Things change.

      Let's have a single satire TV show focusing on the military (and foreign policy) and things will be changed already. Somebody in-the-know would have to feed comedy writers the input, though.

    2. Last Dingo:

      The germans who are not "anti-military" (better say anti-Bundeswehrr) as you say have this state of mind especially because they know nothing about the military and are not interested in military affairs and do not understand anything about it. Moreover they are not not anti-military, only not anti-bundeswehr. Many germans i know find the bundeswehr ok, but are strictly anti-military.

      The same with isaf. Most germans asked about this theme who answered that they are for isaf had no clou at all about it. They thought isaf was only about building schools, giving freedom for women, girl-empowerment, and building building wells.

      They were for isaf but strictly against any serious military action. This i call Anti-Bellicism.

      And this Anti-bellicism and lack of knowledge about the military is the problem here. Many germans who are not against the bundeswehr are at the same time strictly against violence and use of force, even for self-defence.

      Never before and only in a few other countries (all western european tm) so few citizens would fight for the defence of their country even against an foreign invader. There are statistics and scientific studies about this phenomen. Only a majority would fight if germany would be invaded.

      The same with young germans: if i discuss with them the bundeswehr they find the bundeswehr ok (because it is so extrem anti-militaristic) but at the same time claim they would nether fight against anyone regardless of the circumstances and that all military violence is always wrong.

      So forget about it. They majority are sleepwalker who life in an phantasy world of one mankind and eternal love and peace.

    3. Well, we already put on the record that we have huge differences on this before.
      It does in fact not matter whether most or almost all Germans see themselves as potential fighters.
      We need one army corps, that's a couple ten thousand people willing to fight and a couple ten thousand willing to support them on campaign. 90% ready to go within 24 hrs at all times. Everyone else only needs to pay taxes. And the demand for fighters may drop even farther with mass-produced autonomous killer drones, if they arrive in the 2030's.

      The shortcoming is that the civilian side does not intervene in our military when it's doing useless and supremely stupid things like neither arty nor mortars in combat brigades, F125, K130, MEADS story, obsession about large drones (akin to the Grob aircraft BS saga long ago), just in time spare parts logistics, allocation of thousands of personnel on "cyber", ridiculously inflated medical service, HLH, air mechanization scam, getting rid of army air defences except a handful of ridiculous Wiesel toys, rank inflation, ridiculous CAPTOR development and fielding slowness, abolishing LR scouts ...
      Those things were not caused by the very few politicians in the BMVg or the Bundestag defence commmittee. Senior officers were responsible for almost all of this and more BS.

    4. Last Dingo:

      I agree with you, that the senior officers are truly responsible for the many bad developments and that the main fault is theirs - and that they give their fault to politicans or the beschaffungsamt etc

      But i think you do not see here the dependence of the politicians on the anti-bellicist civilian oppinion. It does not matter if you have 10.000 professionals soldiers with splendig equipment, if the politicans do not allow them to fight. And they do not allow this because of the anti-bellicist opinion of the civilians who do not want to know anything about military affairs.

      Even thinking about serious warfare is consideres evil by an majority. They think the bundeswehr is not for fighting but for rescuing humans etc and that is the reason why they are not anti-bundeswehr. As stated by an student: the bundeswehr exist to save lives of other humans.

      The taxpayers would not vote for an party which would develope an serious military. Therefore it is useless to have an splendid army corps with only efficient and effective equipment, because the politicans are dependand on the civilian opinion and this civilian opinion activly resists any serious military effort.

      Talk with germans for example about mass produced killer drones, they will resist this heavily. But they will never resist useless and stupid things because this things are not stupid to them.

      For example they claim, that the F-125 would be perfect to rescue refugees.

      The lack of knowledge results directly from this anti-bellicist social culture which is overwhelming in germany today.

    5. Yeah, well, I think that's nonsense. A polling question about whether it's the task of the Bundeswehr to defend NATO if Russia attacks a NATO member would easily score well over 80 "yes".
      Meanwhile, a question about whether the Bundeswehr should participate in small wars like in Afghanistan would get 60+% "no".

    6. I do not tolerate lying. A comment was deleted.


  4. "Afghanistan might have been stupid, but Germans imagined it as ethical because of building schools and empowering women. I really see a problem with ethics on military use in Germany."

    I you had checked the requirements of a occupational force for Afghansitan (with successful operations as bar) you would have come to very high numbers which were not available, therefore, I opposed Afghanistan, called it stupid.

    It is for me important to check the feasibility of an operation first, then we can talk about ethics. To start something ethic and screw up, only means you do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Not useful.

    BTW: Even France is now sceptical in respect to her Africa strategy.


    1. I'm not arguing against your opinion, i think you misunderstand the point I make. It's what many Germans imagine the military is for to do.
      Kosovo was about repairing roads and collecting the garbage, Afghanistan about schools and women's rights. This is the starting point of justification in public discussion. Now you get an organisation tailored according to these requirements in the public discourse.

    2. The efforts to get more infantry companies were fine, but there's no point in having useless "war"ships and excessive medical branch while we have no army air defence to speak of, hardly any tank battalions or artillery.

    3. Is the large medical branch making a significant contribution to the COVID relief now that we need them?

    4. That doesn't matter to me. COVID has been a big issue for 11 months. We should have hired waiters and haircutters and such to support the county-level health administration and later the vaccination centres long ago.
      The basic training and further job experience of all non-officers of the medical branch is almost entirely irrelevant to the COVID countermeasures. The quantity of medical doctors in it that were deployed for COVID countermeasures outside of the military is near-irrelevant is negligible compared to the civilian medical doctor workforce.

      Such non-core missions could at most justify less than 5% of the expenses for the military capability and spending on civilian capabilities directy makes more sense. The same applies to heavylift helicopters and flood disaster response. We better invest what we need to spend for flood disaster prevention and the civilian THW disaster response organisation.

      Others may disagree, but I consider such side jobs as fake justifications. There are lots of such fake justifications in armed forces. An example is the reconnaissance and scouting value of submarines; their recce and scouting benefits almost no-one but themselves. It's not a benefit in itself.
      Such fake justifications are widely used to fool people into support for forces that cannot justify their expenses without cheating.