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Chet Richards on “Who Still Reads Boyd?”

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Dr. Chet Richards had an excellent blog post on the continuing relevance of Colonel John Boyd’s strategic concepts:

Who still reads Boyd?

Apparently the Russians. In “The Moscow School of hard knocks: Key pillars of Russian strategy,” 17 Jan 2017,  CNA analyst and former NDU program manager Michael Kofman
offers vivid illustrations of ideas that Boyd developed in his various papers and presentations (all available on our Articles page).  He doesn’t cite Boyd, but you’ll recognize the concepts.

I have no idea of how Kofman came across these ideas — Boyd has nine pages of sources at the end of Patterns of Conflict, so he isn’t claiming that he thought most of them up. Regardless of how Kofman discovered them, he establishes that they certainly do work, but unfortunately not for us.

For example, when describing Russia’s overall approach to strategy, he notes that

Russia’s leadership is pursuing an emergent strategy common to business practice and the preferred path of startups, but not appreciated in the field of security studies. The hallmarks of this approach are fail fast, fail cheap, and adjust. It is principally Darwinian, prizing adaptation over a structured strategy.

This should leap out at anyone even casually familiar with Boyd since Patterns of Conflict cites the theory of evolution by natural selection as one of its two foundations (war is the other).

Boyd’s whole approach to strategy was emergent. This is clear not only from how he uses strategy but in how he defines the term, at the end of Strategic Game:

A mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.

In other words, there is an overall objective — it’s not just random actions, even very rapid actions, for action’s sake — and the pattern emerges as our “efforts” interact with the “unfolding and often unforeseen world.” You see a similar philosophy in Kofman’s description of the Russian approach:

This is confusing to follow when Russia’s goals are set, and yet operational objectives change as they run through cycles of adaptation. It is also a method whereby success begets success and failure is indecisive, simply spawning a new approach.

Compare to Patterns 132: “Establish focus of main effort together with other effort and pursue directions that permit many happenings, offer many branches, and threaten alternative objectives. Move along paths of least resistance (to reinforce and exploit success).”

Why take such an approach? Right after his definition of strategy, Boyd suggests an answer:

Read the rest here

A couple or so couples

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — gathering these things the way an obsessed squirrel gathers nuts ]
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I’d say there’s nothing more thought-provocative than running across an unexpected parallelism or opposition — and the closer the parallel the better. Once thought has been provoked, though that’s just the starting point — it needs to run its course with the appropriate caution and rigor. Here, then, are some parallelisms I’ve run into recently, for your provocation.

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The Dilletante’s Winterings, Michael McFaul’s easy, broken parallel:

Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, has a blog on the site of Ekho Moskvy, the independent radio station based in Moscow. Commenting on the appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council, he wrote:

It’s the equivalent of Putin appointing Alexander Dugin to the [Russian] Security Council and telling generals Bortnikov [head of the FSB] and Gerasimov [head of the general staff] to only attend when they are needed.

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Craig Whiteside (2016) The Islamic State and the Return of RevolutionaryWarfare, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 27:5, 743-776, DOI: 10.1080/09592318.2016.1208287:

This paper starts by comparing the Islamic State to the Vietnamese communists in a revolutionary warfare framework..

I didn’t find a single-sentence assertion of this parallelism, not am I expert in revolutionary warfare — but manynof our readers here on Zenpundit are, so I’ll leave the critical appraisal of this proposition to you-all..

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Defense One, So, American Mass Shooters and Islamic Terrorists Do Have Something in Common:

Like radical Islamic groups, white supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups offer people (especially men) who feel isolated and disempowered a chance to feel important and welcome. It’s the same psychological phenomenon, different culture war. And thus the KKK gains new recruits along with ISIL.

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And for good measure… not, you understand, that I understand it —

Metod Saniga, Algebraic Geometry: a Tool for Resolving the Enigma of Time?

An illustrative example of such a temporal dimension is provided by a specific linear, single-parametric set (so-called pencil) of conics in the projective plane. This set of conics is found to nicely reproduce the experienced arrow of time when the projective plane is affinized; it simply suffices to postulate that each proper conic of the pencil stands for a single temporal event, and relate three distinct kinds of (proper) affine conic, viz. a hyperbola, a parabola and an ellipse, with the three different kinds of temporal event, viz. the past, present and future, respectively..

Time, as St Augustine noted, makes sense — until you try to figure out what sense it makes.

New Article up at Divergent Options

Monday, January 16th, 2017

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

I have a piece up at Divergent Options, a new national security site that aims to provoke thought regarding foreign policy with a concise template that distills the essence of foreign policy problems and provides but does not recommend options. As DO describes it:

What We Do:  In 1,000 words or less, Divergent Options provides unbiased, dispassionate, candid articles that describe a national security situation, present multiple options to address the situation, and articulate the risk and gain of each option.  Please note that while we assess a national security situation and provide options, we never recommend a specific option.

Who We Communicate To:  Our intended audience is National Security Practitioners worldwide.  We keep our articles short and to the point because we know that Practitioners have a limited amount of time and are likely reading our content on a digital device during a commute, a lunch break, or in-between meetings

My post is an effort to reconnect Syrian policy, widely regarded as a disaster by most foreign policy pundits, back to a coherent grand strategy.

Syria Options: U.S. Grand Strategy 

[…]

Background:  Aleppo has fallen and with it the last shreds of credibility of President Obama’s policy on Syria.  None of Obama’s policy goals for Syria since the Arab Spring revolt were achieved.  In Syria, the Assad regime has crushed western-backed opposition fighters with direct Russian and Iranian military ground support; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controls swaths of Syrian territory[1] and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey has conspired with Iran and Russia to exclude the U.S. and UN[2] from Syrian settlement talks.

Significance:  While Syria itself is of little strategic value to the U.S. beyond secondary implications for Israeli security, the utter failure of the Obama administration has brought U.S. diplomatic prestige to a nadir reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis or the fall of Saigon.  Worse, defeat in Syria occurred in a broader context of successful Russian aggression in Ukraine, uncontested Russian meddling in an U.S. presidential election, and perceptions of U.S. strategic concessions to Tehran in the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA[3]).  Should the next administration want to accomplish more than Obama, it is vital that they  1) address Syria within the context of increased Russian-U.S. competition and 2) seize the initiative in restoring the influence of U.S. leadership with substantive and symbolic policy changes in regard to Syria and Russia.

Read the rest here.

The map borders on the territory? Turkey, Palestine

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — maps as records, as wishes, as hints, as silent threats ]
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Interesting things, maps. Models and descriptions, too, but it’s maps I’m thinking of here. Two examples:

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Turkey:

turkish-map

From my point of view, the most striking paragraph in the Foreign Policy piece titled Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming The Ottoman Empire was this one:

At first glance, the maps of Turkey appearing on Turkish TV recently resemble similar irredentist maps put out by proponents of greater Greece, greater Macedonia, greater Bulgaria, greater Armenia, greater Azerbaijan, and greater Syria. That is to say, they aren’t maps of the Ottoman Empire, which was substantially larger, or the entire Muslim world or the Turkic world. They are maps of Turkey, just a little bigger.

Map bloating & boasting is obviously bigger business than I had fully realized.

Also of interest was the comment:

On two separate occasions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the Treaty of Lausanne, which created the borders of modern Turkey, for leaving the country too small. He spoke of the country’s interest in the fate of Turkish minorities living beyond these borders, as well as its historic claims to the Iraqi city of Mosul..

Mosul, okay, noted — but what interests me more is the parallelism with Putin‘s attitude to the Ukraine:

“Novorossiya” or “New Russia”: Putin only briefly mentioned that term during a five-hour, televised question-and-answer session this month. But his revival of that geographic title for southern and eastern Ukraine—territory won from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century by Catherine the Great—is resonating among Russians today.

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Palestine:

One other recent map controversy caught my eye…

google-map

The claim was made that Google had eliminated the name Palestine from Google Maps. Google denied this:

“There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps, however we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip,’ ” the company said in a statement. “We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.” It is unclear if that bug played a role in spurring the online outrage.

Elizabeth Davidoff, a spokeswoman, said in an email that the company had also never used the label “Palestinian territories” on its maps. The bug affecting the words “Gaza Strip” and “West Bank” persisted on Wednesday, but when Google Maps functions properly both areas are labeled and separated from Israel by a dotted line to signify that their borders are not internationally recognized.

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Dotted lines in the sand..

Twice lucky, or thrice? On dodging nuclear fireballs

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two Russian secular saints — and an Australian ]
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It seems we’ve been lucky twice —

saved-twice

Read their two stories, and weep.

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27 October 1962

Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war

If you were born before 27 October 1962, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov saved your life. It was the most dangerous day in history. An American spy plane had been shot down over Cuba while another U2 had got lost and strayed into Soviet airspace. As these dramas ratcheted tensions beyond breaking point, an American destroyer, the USS Beale, began to drop depth charges on the B-59, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear weapon.

The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, had no way of knowing that the depth charges were non-lethal “practice” rounds intended as warning shots to force the B-59 to surface. The Beale was joined by other US destroyers who piled in to pummel the submerged B-59 with more explosives. The exhausted Savitsky assumed that his submarine was doomed and that world war three had broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing. Its target was the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force.

If the B-59’s torpedo had vaporised the Randolf, the nuclear clouds would quickly have spread from sea to land. The first targets would have been Moscow, London, the airbases of East Anglia and troop concentrations in Germany. The next wave of bombs would have wiped out “economic targets”, a euphemism for civilian populations – more than half the UK population would have died. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan – a doomsday scenario that echoed Dr Strangelove’s orgiastic Götterdämmerung – would have hurled 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets, including ones in non-belligerent states such as Albania and China. [ .. ]

The decision not to start world war three was not taken in the Kremlin or the White House, but in the sweltering control room of a submarine. The launch of the B-59’s nuclear torpedo required the consent of all three senior officers aboard. Arkhipov was alone in refusing permission. It is certain that Arkhipov’s reputation was a key factor in the control room debate. The previous year the young officer had exposed himself to severe radiation in order to save a submarine with an overheating reactor.

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September 26, 1983

The Man Who Saved the World by Doing Absolutely Nothing

It was September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was on duty at Serpukhov-15, a secret bunker outside Moscow. His job: to monitor Oko, the Soviet Union’s early-warning system for nuclear attack. And then to pass along any alerts to his superiors. It was just after midnight when the alarm bells began sounding. One of the system’s satellites had detected that the United States had launched five ballistic missiles. And they were heading toward the USSR. Electronic maps flashed; bells screamed; reports streamed in. A back-lit red screen flashed the word ‘LAUNCH.'”

That the U.S. would be lobbing missiles toward its Soviet counterpart would not, of course, have been out of the question at that particular point in human history. Three weeks earlier, Russians had shot down a South Korean airliner that had wandered into Soviet air space. NATO had responded with a show of military exercises. The Cold War, even in the early ’80s, continued apace; the threat of nuclear engagement still hovered over the stretch of land and sea that fell between Washington and Moscow.

Petrov, however, had a hunch — “a funny feeling in my gut,” he would later recall — that the alarm ringing through the bunker was a false one. It was an intuition that was based on common sense: The alarm indicated that only five missiles were headed toward the USSR. Had the U.S. actually been launching a nuclear attack, however, Petrov figured, it would be extensive — much more, certainly, than five. Soviet ground radar, meanwhile, had failed to pick up corroborative evidence of incoming missiles — even after several minutes had elapsed. The larger matter, however, was that Petrov didn’t fully trust the accuracy of the Soviet technology when it came to bomb-detection. He would later describe the alert system as “raw.”

But what would you do? You’re alone in a bunker, and alarms are screaming, and lights are flashing, and you have your training, and you have your intuition, and you have two choices: follow protocol or trust your gut. Either way, the world is counting on you to make the right call.

Petrov trusted himself. He reported the satellite’s detection to his superiors — but, crucially, as a false alarm. And then, as Wired puts it, “he hoped to hell he was right.”

He was, of course. The U.S. had not attacked the Soviets. It was a false alarm. One that, had it not been treated as such, may have prompted a retaliatory nuclear attack on the U.S. and its NATO allies. Which would have then prompted … well, you can guess what it would have prompted.

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Oh, and the Australian. I came by this topic via an article about this man, Professor Des Bell:

des-ball

A strategist with books — he’s the sort of chap this blog thrives on! And he, too, seems to have saved us from a fiery furnace of our own devising:

Des Ball: the man who saved the world

THAT America could launch a limited nuclear strike against Russia was a fashionable belief in US strategic theory of the 1970s. Policymakers thought that if Cold War tensions boiled over, they could hit selected Soviet targets in a way that controlled further escalation and forced Moscow to back down.

It took the iconoclastic Australian security scholar Des Ball to point out that the theory was bunkum. In his influential essays of the early 1980s, Ball argued that reasoned strategic theory was likely to go out the window once the missiles started flying.

Among the first targets would be the other side’s command and control centres – its eyes and ears. Once blinded, a superpower – consisting of real people responding with human instincts – would not distinguish a ”controlled” strike from a full-scale attack and would retaliate with everything it had.

Thrice lucky? I prefer to call it grace.


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