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Point and Counterpoint in Defining Warfare II.

Monday, December 10th, 2012

A few comments on the article by Lt. Col. Jill Long at SWJ and the hardheaded critique by Jason Fritz of Inkspots to which I linked yesterday.

First, the attempt that Long was making in posing an alternative to Clausewitz was a laudable one, in the sense that every serious student who picks up a classic text, Clausewitz, Thucydides, Sun Tzu, Marx, Plato, Machievelli, Musashi and so on, should do more than simply try to understand the author and accept their views uncritically. Doing so would make you a parrot, not a scholar. Instead, we need to wrestle with and challenge the text; try to poke holes in the argument, turn it inside out and break it apart, if we are able. Sometimes we can make a legitimate chip or dent but most of the time, we are going to fail – the reason people have read these books for two or twenty centuries is because the arguments of brilliant minds within them continue to have enduring relevance.

I don’t think Long succeeded in her effort here, but if every officer had as part of their PME to formally construct an alternative to Clausewitz as she tried, we’d have a more strategically informed military and arguably one that better understood Clausewitz. If nothing else, Long was intellectually more courageous than the majority of her brother officers to make the attempt in the full glare of public scrutiny and that is praiseworthy

That said, “What is War? A New Point of View” is problematic. In my view, there are three major structural flaws in Long’s article: first, I don’t think she wrestled with On War  to plausibly justify her opening claim that that Clausewitz’s definition of war was obsolete. As Colonel David Maxwell pointed out at SWJ, that kind of bold discussion requires some reference to CvC’s “remarkable trinity”. Jason Fritz was probably speaking for a Clausewitzian legion when he, quite correctly, jumped on her argument for using dictionary definitions(!),  not tackling Clausewitz’s actual definition of war in asserting it was an anachronism or that such a definition can and does apply to non-state actors making war as well as states. You can’t make sweeping claims as a declaratory preface to the subject you’d really like to talk about – your audience will demand proof of your claim first.

The second major problem, is Long similarly dismisses the accepted definition of war under international law which is not only as equally large a field as Clausewitzian thought, it’s far larger and more important – being, you know – binding international law!  Disproving either of these alone is a fit subject for a dissertation or a book, not a paragraph. Sometimes we must learn how to construct a melody before we attempt to write a symphony.

The third structural problem is one of basic epistemology. Long’s assertion that Clausewitz’s (or any ) definition is not sufficiently broad because it is simple and that her definition is because it is complex is fundamentally ass-backwards. The question of definitions is one of the oldest ones in Western philosophy and we know that simple and profound definitions are by nature broadly stated while the negative dialectical process of qualifying them narrows their scope of application by revising the definition in a more complex form.

Jason Fritz raised a very interesting objection in his rebuttal:

….Long fails to adequately describe how the world has changed or how the “Global Era” plays into this. She states that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have changed how we should perceive the world. It seems that the she believes that that day should have awakened Americans to the threat of non-state actors. Long also states that “‘interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security’ demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.” Both of these points are stated in defiance of history. Globalists enjoy selling the greatness and threats of our “interconnected systems” in the modern day, but that presumes that the world is newly interconnected. We know this is not true. Interconnection in today’s world may be faster and easier, but it is not new. States and other political groups have interacted over the elements listed for millennia – look only to the period of global colonization to see how long we as humans have been at this. Long does not describe how today’s globalization is unique and why that changes how we define war.

There are important distinctions to be made here but my short comment would be that globalization has had a significant effect upon warfare but not upon war.

As Jude Wanniski once pointed out, there is and has always been only one “system” – the whole world. What globalization has changed among the constituent parts is the velocity of transactions, their frequency, the potential number of players making transactions, where the system has degrees of transparency and opacity, the incentives and capabilities of political “gatekeepers” to control exchange of information or goods among other things. It is a different global economy than the one under the auspices of Bretton Woods or the quasi-autarkic decade of the Great Depression or the first globalization that died in August 1914.

Most of these things have direct bearing on economics, politics or policy but indirectly on the conduct of warfare as well. Balance of comparative advantages can be altered, situational awareness of conflicts can be heightened and the line between de jure war and “mere violence” uncomfortably blurred. Generally, statesmen have reacted to globalization by imposing greater political constraints – usually more than would be tactically wise or efficient –  on their own use of military force in less than existential conflicts. Generally, this is perceived as an aversion to taking or inflicting casualties and a legalistic-bureaucratic micromanaging of  military commanders and troops.Whether such politically self-imposed limits are useful in pursuing a strategy for military victory is another question, one that can only be answered in specific contexts. Sometimes restraint and de-escalation is the best answer on the strategic level.

What was good in the Long article? In my view, the root idea of conceptualizing of war on a spectrum; it is a useful cognitive device that could accommodate nuances, ideal for examining case studies or changes in warfare over time. But would be more persuasive if developed with accepted definitions.

New Book: The Rise of Siri by Shlok Vaidya

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The Rise of Siri by Shlok Vaidya 

Shlok Vaidya has launched his first novel,  dystopian techno-thriller in e-Book format entitled The Rise of Siri.  Having been the recipient of a late draft/early review copy, I can say Shlok on his first time out as a writer of sci-fi has crafted a genuine page turner.

Companion site to the book can be found here –  The Rise of Siri.com

Blending military-security action, politics, emerging tech and high-stakes business enterprise, the plot in The Rise of Siri moves at a rapid pace. I read the novel in two sittings and would have read it straight through in one except I began the book at close to midnight.  Set in a near-future America facing global economic meltdown and societal disintegration,  Apple led by CEO Tim Cook  and ex-operator Aaron Ridgeway, now head of  Apple Security Division, engages in a multi-leveled darwinian struggle of survival in the business, political and even paramilitary realms, racing against geopolitical crisis and market collapse , seeking corporate salvation but becoming in the process, a beacon of hope.

Vaidya’s writing style is sharp and spare and in The Rise of Siri he is blending in the real, the potential with the fictional. Public figures and emerging trends populate the novel; readers of this corner of the blogosphere will recognize themes and ideas that have been and are being debated by futurists and security specialists playing out in the Rise of Siri as Shlok delivers in an action packed format.

Strongly recommended and….fun!

Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan Reconsidered, a review

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, by Jon Tetsuro Sumida

As of August 2012 this is the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year. Professor Sumida brings a potentially dry topic to life making Alfred Thayer Mahan relevant in the process; as indeed, he should. At a mere 117 pages of moderately footnoted text, Sumida provides the reader a grand tour of Mahan’s life work, not just The Influence of Sea Power 1660-1983. Sumida includes the major works of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s (ATM) father Dennis Hart Mahan, as he introduces ATM’s major works, lesser works, biographies, essays, and criticisms.

Sumida begins his chapters with quotes, and weaves his recounting of ATM’s work with musical performance, Zen enlightenment, and naval command; which is quite a combination, but convincing. Of ATM’s “approach to naval grand strategy” he writes:

Mahan believed the security of a large and expanding system of international trade in the twentieth century would depend upon the creation of a transnational consortium of naval power. His handling of the art and science of command, on the other hand, was difficult, complex, and elusive. It is helpful, therefore, to achieve an introductory sense of its liminal character by means of analogy.

This is where musical performance and Zen enlightenment become relevant and instructive. Sumida writes on musical performance:

Teaching musical performance…poses three challenges: improving art, developing technique, and attending to their interaction.

Sumida goes on to illustrate the parallels between learning musical performance and naval command/strategy and the common thread is performing or, “doing it.” He writes that most musical instruction is through the understudy watching demonstrations by the master, but the higher purpose of replicating the master’s work is “to gain a sense of the expressive nature of an act that represents authentically a human persona.” In other words, the development of relevant tacit knowledge, or as I have come to refer to this as “tacit insight.”

Sumida continues with six short chapters that pack a powerful punch and a good introduction to the trajectory of Mahan’s work from the beginning to end. My favorite was Chapter Six, The Uses of History and Theory. In this chapter Sumida deals with complexity, contingency, change, and contradiction, naval supremacy in the Twentieth Century, Jomini, Clausewitz, and command and history. Quite a line-up, but a convincing inventory of Mahan’s influences and how his work remains relevant today. Sumida writes:

Mahan’s role as a pioneer and extender of the work of others has been widely misunderstood and thus either ignored or misused. The general failure to engage his thought accurately is in large part attributable to the complexity of his exposition, the difficulties inherent in his methods of dealing with several forms of contingency, changes in his position on certain major issues, and his contradictory predictions about the future and application of strategic principles…His chief goal, however, was to address difficult questions that were not susceptible to convincing elucidation through simple reasoning by analogy. He thus viewed history less as a ready-made instructor than a medium that had to be worked by the appropriate intellectual tools.. Mahan’s analytical instruments of choice were five kinds of argument: political, political-economic, governmental, strategic, and professional.

The first three were used in grand naval strategy, the latter two with the “art and science of command.” The section of Command and History is particularly relevant given two recent posts, one at the USNI Blog, The Wisdom of a King, by CDR Salamander, and the other in a September 2012 Proceedings article by LCDR B.J.Armstrong, Leadership & Command. Here’s why: Sumida quotes Admiral Arleigh Burke, who latter became Chief of Naval Operations, during WWII. Of “Decentraliztion,” Burke wrote:

…means we offer officers the opportunity to rise to positions of responsibility, of decision, of identity and stature—if they want it, and as soon as they can take it.

We believe in command, not staff. We believe we have “real” things to do. The Navy believes in putting a man in a position with a job to do, and let him do it—give him hell if he does not perform—but be a man in his own name. We decentralize and capitalize on the capabilities of our individual people rather than centralize and make automatons of them. This builds that essential element of pride of service and sense of accomplishment.

The U.S. Navy could do worse than return to this “father” of naval strategy and give his ideas more attention; Professor Sumida’s little book would be a good place to start.

Strongest recommendation—particularly to active duty Navy personnel.

Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

New Article at IVN: Debt Traps, Defense & the Danger of Decline

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Have a new short article up at IVN.us:

Debt Traps, Defense and the Danger of Decline

Traditionally, in American politics, questions of budget deficits and national debt were seen as purely domestic issues that only had ancillary effects on foreign policy. The situation today is different: debt has become a strategic problem not only because of the magnitude of American debt ($14 trillion), but because our major allies and adversaries are interlocked economically and have their own severe systemic debt and monetary issues. Even China, which enjoys high GDP growth rates, has a crisis of “hidden debt” that reputedly exceeds $1.6 trillion and may, in fact, be several times larger. Among the great powers, when it comes to accumulating risky amounts of debt, no one has clean hands.

….However, enthusiasm in Washington for shrinking the numerous missions given to the military to line them up with the Pentagon’s reduced capabilities is nonexistent. This may fool the voters back home, but it doesn’t deceive mullahs in Teheran or North Korean generals that the American ability to respond in a crisis has been circumscribed by capability and costs, particularly when key American allies like Britain and France have made sharp defense reductions of their own. Realistically, we are effective now for one crisis at a time and our ability to juggle any other major problems will be extremely limited, removing some of the “super” from our superpower status that Americans are accustomed to….

Read the rest here.

The Russians are Not Coming….Nor are they Going Away

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Now that Vladimir Putin has resumed the Presidency of Russia, it merits looking at the defense discussion that appeared under his name in Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Virtually everyone agrees that the condition of the Russian Army is parlous and that Putin’s program of difficult military reform to transform the Russian military from a conscripted army to a modernized professional force has not borne fruit. Therefore it is interesting to look at how Putin’s regime articulates it’s defense challenges with a mixture of bravado and brutal strategic realism we would never hear from an American politician.

Excerpts of the article are in bold while my commentary is in normal text.

 Being Strong 

…..The world is changing, and the transformations underway could hide various risks, often unpredictable risks. In a world of economic and other upheaval, there is always the temptation to resolve one’s problems at another’s expense, through pressure and force. It is no surprise that some are calling for resources of global significance to be freed from the exclusive sovereignty of a single nation, and that this issue will soon be raised as a “matter-of-course.”

There will be no possibility of this, even a hypothetical one, with respect to Russia. In other words, we should not tempt anyone by allowing ourselves to be weak. 

While some of this is boilerplate, it does demonstrate Putin’s astute view of Western elite noises about “global governance” as an effort to erode historic Westphalian legal norms of sovereignty for a self-aggrandizing reasons.

I am including paragraphs here from different parts of the paper where President Putin deals with nuclear weapons, though the first one continues from where the last excerpt left off.:

It is for this reason that we will under no circumstances surrender our strategic deterrent capability, and indeed, will in fact strengthen it. It was this strength that enabled us to maintain our national sovereignty during the extremely difficult 1990s, when, lets’ be frank, we did not have anything else to argue with.

….I remember in 2002 when the Chief of the General Staff proposed liquidating a base for strategic ballistic missile submarines on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Understandably, this proposal was motivated by dire circumstances. This would have deprived Russia of its naval presence in the Pacific Ocean. I decided against this. Due to the lack of the required budgetary funding, we had to ask private companies for help. I would like to thank them for that. Both Surgutneftegaz and TNK stepped up to provide the required funding for the base’s initial reconstruction. Budgetary allocations were later disbursed. Today, we have a modern base in Vilyuchinsk where next-generation Borei class submarines will soon be deployed.

….We have greatly increased the capabilities of our early missile warning system. Tracking stations have been launched in the Leningrad and Kaliningrad Regions and in Armavir, and a similar facility is undergoing tests in Irkutsk. All aerospace defence brigades have been equipped with the Universal-1S automation systems, and the Glonass satellite group has been deployed.

The land, sea and air components of our Strategic Nuclear Forces are reliable and sufficient. The proportion of modern land-based missile systems has grown from 13% to 25% over the past four years. The rearmament of 10 missile regiments with the Topol-M and Yars strategic missile systems will be continued.  Long-range aviation will maintain the fleet of strategic Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers; work is underway to modernise them. They will be equipped with a new long-range cruise missile system. Russia’s strategic aviation resumed combat patrols in their zone of responsibility in 2007. A new aircraft is being designed for strategic long-range aviation.

New-generation Borei class strategic submarines are being put on combat duty. These include the Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky which are undergoing state trials.

….In the coming decade, Russian armed forces will be provided with over 400 modern land and sea-based inter-continental ballistic missiles, 8 strategic ballistic missile submarines…. 

This does not sound  like Putin puts much stock in his predecessor’s endorsement of Global Zero or President Obama’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. Or that a drastic unilateral American cut in nuclear weapons proposed by Global Zero to “break the triad” contemplated by the Obama administration would be reciprocated by Russia. Or any other nuclear power state.

Given that Pakistan, India, North Korea, Israel and China are reportedly increasing and improving their nuclear arsenals, it begs the question of whether the Obama or the Putin administrations have the most realistic view about nuclear weapons and their currency in international relations. Or what the Obama administration would use as bargaining chips to negotiate reductions in foreign nuclear arsenals after making gratuitously slashing unilateral cuts. And if the paper was not clear enough, Putin was more blunt about the strategic situation two days ago:

“With regard to further steps in the sphere of nuclear weapons, these further steps should be of a complex character, and this time all the nuclear powers should be involved in this process. We cannot disarm indefinitely while some other nuclear powers are building up their arsenal. It is out of the question!” 

On the subject of Russia’s land forces:

….There are no undermanned units in the Russian armed forces any more. The Army has over 100 combined and special brigades. These are full-scale military units with the requisite personnel and equipment. Their alert reaction time is one hour and they can be deployed to a potential theatre of war within 24 hours.

In the past, it took up to five days to prepare for combat readiness. The deployment and equipment of all the armed forces to wartime conditions could take nearly a year, even though most armed conflicts now last from a few hours to several days.

Why have we chosen the brigade as the main tactical unit? First of all, we have relied on our own experience in the Afghan and other wars, where mobile combat and assault groups reinforced with air and other support units have proved  more efficient than regiments and divisions.

The new brigades are smaller than divisions in the number of personnel but have a bigger strike capability, better firepower and support, including artillery, air defence, reconnaissance, communications, and so on. Brigades can operate both autonomously and jointly with other units. I admit that the quality is not perfect in all instances. We need to achieve the required standards in the near future. 

A Russian Army brigade numbers slightly over 4000 soldiers (vs. 3000-5000 in American and NATO militaries) and moving to a brigade structure is intended to make the Russian Army more versatile, flexible, deployable and mobile. The US essentially did the same thing with the “modularity” reforms for a brigade team force structure. However, I find it dubious that the Russian version is anything other than an aspirational work in progress or that Russia today could muster a force remotely approaching 100 combat brigades on short notice or keep them in the field for more than thirty days.

The old Soviet Red Army in the 80’s at the peak of it’s power was a military long on officers and critically deficient in NCOs  and the 90’s cratered the main force quality of what remained of the Soviet armies. Russia will not have a deployable fighting army for anything other than brief Georgia type raids and SPETSNAZ operations until it builds a proportionate NCO corps and modernized logistical support system.

On future war and it’s strategic context:

….The probability of a global war between nuclear powers is not high, because that would mean the end of civilisation. As long as the “powder” of our strategic nuclear forces created by the tremendous efforts of our fathers and grandfathers remains dry, nobody will dare launch a large-scale aggression against us.

However, it should be borne in mind that technological progress in many varied areas, from new models of weaponry and military hardware to information and communications technology, has dramatically changed the nature of armed conflicts. Thus, as high-precision long-range conventional weapons become increasingly common, they will tend to become the means of achieving a decisive victory over an opponent, including in a global conflict.

The military capability of a country in space or information countermeasures, especially in cyberspace, will play a great, if not decisive, role in determining the nature of an armed conflict. In the more distant future, weapons systems based on new principles (beam, geophysical, wave, genetic, psychophysical and other technology) will be developed. All this will, in addition to nuclear weapons, provide entirely new instruments for achieving political and strategic goals. Such hi-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons but will be more “acceptable” in terms of political and military ideology. In this sense, the strategic balance of nuclear forces will play a gradually diminishing role in deterring aggression and chaos.

We see ever new regional and local wars breaking out in the world. We continue to see new areas of instability and deliberately managed chaos. There also are purposeful attempts to provoke such conflicts even within the direct proximity of Russia’s and its allies’ borders.

The basic principles of international law are being degraded and eroded, especially in terms of international security. 

Here we see much of the same keen interest Western military experts have had in RMA/”transformation” but more as new domains in which to fight or weapons to fight with, but Putin’s assumptions about the roots of international conflict remain exceedingly traditional in Clausewitzian and Machiavellian realpolitik senses. There’s no idea here that war’s political nature is being transformed by technological advances or even that breakdowns in order in other nations flow primarily from indigenous social forces  than from strategic conspiracies and manipulations of foreign powers hell-bent on humiliating Russia.

This is a worldview of cynical realism salted with nationalism and a paranoia induced by the lessons of centuries of Russian history. International relations, it follows, hinge primarily on power in all it’s manifestations, a few rules that separate the law of nations from the law of the jungle and that states exert power to accomplish rational strategic objectives. Furthermore, in an echo of Tsarist Russia’s last modernizer, Petr Stolypin, what Putin has put forth as a political program for his domestic audience (sincere or not) is “a great Russia”.

The good news is that President Putin is, unlike his Soviet predecessors, is uninterested in grand ideological crusades that would destabilize the world order and that Russia currently would be incapable of carrying any out. The bad news is that Putin is a shrewd strategic thinker, one who views the US as a long-term adversary of Russia and one who is likely to be highly antagonized and partially misread (and thus miscalculate)  the tactical geopolitics of intervention pursued by America’s R2P moralizers.

From Putin’s perspective, we are currently crusaders rather than deal-cutters grounded in reality. America does not need to appease other power,s but we’d further our own interests faster if we spent a little time looking at the world through the eyes of others

Hat tip to Lexington Green


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