Pemanent minorities

There is an issue with democracies that I touched upon a few times: 



The peaceful transition of power after a change of majority in an election (or even only after different parties forming a different coalition) is at the core of any democracy. The existence of permanent majorities and permanent minorities turns this feature moot.

A minority that's so very separated from the majority that it can never form a coalition with parts of a present majority in order to become part of a future majority has little reason to consider democracy's majority rule concept anything but permanent oppression.

This happens a lot in areas with strong tribal or sectarian divisions such as Africa or the Mid East. 

The most elegant solution is to achieve assimilation by the majority, but there are some tribes that maintained their separation for thousands of years (Samaritans, for example), and other minorities are so visibly different from the majority (Chinese-origin mountain people in Thailand, Whites in South Africa et cetera) that there's little hope of present minority and present majority feeling as one anytime soon short of extraterrestrials landing on earth with hostile intent.

The Western countries typically have ideological divisions rather than religious or ethnic ones, so I was very surprised to find an example of such a permanent minority problem undermining the perception of democracy's legitimacy in a (supposedly) Western country:


My first reaction was to think of those wannabe separatists as immature crybabies who should learn that as an adult you can't always have your way. Then I realized that they believe that others will always have their way over them.

There's no doubt that the rural people there would be just fine permanently dominating the urban people, as can be observed in more rural American states without the cityfolk turning into separatist crybabies, but this doesn't change that this is a very, very dangerous undermining of democracy's legitimacy.

A deviation from plain majority vote towards a constitution with proportional governance (some offices reserved for rural people, de facto veto powers for both factions) might help, but this is a different case from religious or ethnic separations. Religious divisions in a proportional governance would arrive at a minimum consensus on religion-affected topics and ethnic divisions would arrive at a proportional allocation of resources or no gifts to either group as policy. The rural/urban divide in the U.S. is rather a divide between people who live in fear&hate fantasyland and social democrats. Almost nothing can get done if both had veto powers over the other all the time. Government would be paralyzed, on autopilot, completely incapable of rising to any challenge.

So ideological divisions may be able to become so bad that they create even worse dysfunctionality than ethnic or religious divisions, with subsequent worse delegitimization of a republic. 
The worst about this is that a common external enemy is a simple fix to cover up internal divisions. Wars might be risked or even waged to fight the national disunity. This worked a couple times in history (at least for short periods), and failed spectacularly in others (see Austria-Hungary).


Kant's categorical imperatve and defence policy

A simple (not flawless) way of checking whether one's policy is ethical is to apply the categorical imperative; would the outcome be a good one if everyone behaved like this?

I have repeatedly argued on this blog (and elsewhere) that small powers should not create or maintain well-rounded miniature military forces, as such armed forces are near-useless for deterrence and defence. Or did you hear any good of the deterrence and defence values of the armed forces of Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania during the Second World War? The only small power that resisted a great power successfully was Finland, and it did only so for a short time under uniquely favourable circumstances.

Likewise, I argued repeatedly that even some of the bigger NATO members such as Germany should orient their armed forces towards a specific threat scenario, complementing their alliance rather with contributions tailored to their situation rather than well-rounded armed forces in ignorance of any threat scenario. Germany could disband its navy with absolutely no harm to its or its allies' security, for example.

Moreover, military budgets should be set in the context of the military overspending of allies (that is, one should spend less due to others overspending rather than to emulate their silliness).

This doesn't seem to be an ethical course of action at first look and certain not very deep thinkers mis-use the word "freeriding" a lot even in the current real world situation.

To think so requires a static look at the world. My advice would change if the overspending by allies would end, for example. To devise a budget in context of allied budgeting may just as well lead to an increase of own spending when allied overspending ends.

A deterioration of air power or sea power or the primary threat scenario becoming unrealistic would lead to different conclusions, a different optimum, a different advice.

So what really drives my thinking about force structures is not a simplistic preference for less, but an appreciation of real world circumstances; the size of threats, the capabilities of allies, the own economic and fiscal capabilities and the own geographical position.


I do assert that much of the advice regarding more military spending, more warships, more combat aircraft, more tanks, more brigades is not driven by an appreciation of threat capabilities, allied capabilities and geography. Most calls for "more" rather seem to be driven by money interests, officer self-interests or very much subjective power fantasies. This ranges from millionaire CEOs and lobbyists to flag ranks who put their service before their country to simple fanbois.



Navies' obsession with peacetime hull quantities


Navies tend to seek to have many (and powerful = prestigious) warship hulls in peacetime. The more ships there are, the more jobs for junior officers, the more jobs for senior officers. The bigger the navy and the more central it is to the country's policies and self-image, the more prestige do the naval officers enjoy.

The principal-agent problem clearly leads to navy officers wishing for more naval expenditures than optimal for the nation's overall best interests.

There is a particular obsession of navies (and their fanbois*) with peacetime warship hull quantities. The U.S. navy outright obsesses over made-up hull quantity requirements that are supposedly necessary. Those quantities haven't been met in decades (if ever), but neither the U.S. nor its allies were blockaded, bombed or invaded by another country. There's also an anecdote about a German inspector of the navy (highest-ranking naval officer) who publicly regretted that he couldn't commission a single new ship during his time leading the German navy. The fact that Germany wasn't blockaded, bombed or invaded and commissioning an additional ship was thus proved to be nothing but a waste of resources didn't seem to have crossed his mind.

The obsession with peacetime warship quantities goes on despite the obvious fact that air power rules the surface of the seas. The U.S. Navy itself spent more money on buying aircraft than on buying warships a few years back, but the obsession was still about ship hulls, not about aircraft fuselages or naval aircraft fuselages. Land-based aviation can wipe out surface fleets at much lesser costs than any warship or submarine fleet could, and naval aviation is clearly technically disadvantaged to already dispersed land-based aviation (land-based aviation has more capable support aircraft, potential access to OTH radar data, isn't burdened by tailhooks or strengthening for stressful landings).

The overemphasis on warships leads to a neglect of other items that could be of great importance, similar to how Western air forces neglect ballistic missiles of the Iskander-ish class and air defences. 

Another analogy is modern armies neglecting preparations for dealing with prisoners of war (too few infantrymen or other temporarily detachable troops to handle them).

I'm writing about ships that can meet the traditional cruiser role of enforcing a distant naval blockade. Submarines have marginal target inspection abilities. They can try to enforce a naval blockade close to hostile ports, but a American-Sino war might see ships slipping through Indonesian and Philippine waters. What asset would inspect, identify and possibly board or (more risky in case of error) sink them? Traditionally, this would have been the job of cruisers. The USN has no high endurance frigate fleet for the job, and cannot spare its destroyers.

A simple answer could be auxiliary cruisers equipped with a relatively simple medium helicopter for boarding actions and another medium helicopter for sinking of ships. Those helicopters would also need to have decent thermal cameras, but that's not much of a cost driver nowadays if you are willing to improvise instead of gold-plating.

It would be very easy to modify a small container ship for auxiliary cruiser tasks, including armament with 106 mm recoilless guns and ManPADS. You would need containers for electricity generators, kerosene supply, helicopter hangar, helipad, extra galley, extra mess, bunks, a control centre, radio, washing rooms/showers, munitions storage, food (cold) storage, a medical container, containers for POWs/detainees, tools+maintenance machinery+spare parts, extra firefighting capability. 

In short; you'd want to have the containers developed, prototyped, tested and improved before a hot conflict.

About the same kind of auxiliary cruiser might also be effective in use by an underdog navy, but I lack the means and knowledge to determine whether modern satellite ocean surveillance including satellite AIS snooping might suffice to make the tasks of a merchant raider too hazardous if opposing forces have land-based air power or other assets in range to strike at it.

I have not seen any navy building up such a capability even though the East Africa piracy thing would have been a perfect excuse to get it funded. This is but one of many reasons why I doubt that Western navies are serious about deterring major war or being able to win major wars. The interventionist Western countries developed their navies into bullying/land attack forces with parallel and separate nuclear strike submarines. Even the U.S: navy, which had reason to pay attention much attention to PR China for well over two decades, is not all that serious about these parts of its job.


*: Many of which appear to believe that parroting calls for more warships mixed with calls for minor changes especially regarding long-obvious failure programs turns them into impressive thinkers.



Link dump May 2021






A large navy should occasionally have experimental ships, but the article's emphasis on the XQ-58 is ill-advised. Such drones have little ability to penetrate defended airspace on their own, little ability to find and identify semi-stationary or mobile land targets, and its payload is really small. Furthermore, outranging those land-based anti-ship missiles by a bit only puts targets close to some strips of coastline in range. An air war against China would either be about attacks on its sea and air power or in a more ambitious scenario a campaign against its electrical power network (particularly powerplant turbines) might also be worthwhile. This requires much deeper strikes. The vastly better alternative would be to focus on a distant naval blockade and defence of Japan/Taiwan, of course.

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This is very similar to Germany in the 1880-1914 and 1920-1932 period and also very similar to modern sub-Saharan African politics.