Monday, January 31, 2005

EU to Cuban democrats - piss off

Vaclav Havel quite rightly lays about the EU's new Cuba policy with a big stick with nails in it.

For the record, I am of the view that American sanctions on Cuba are almost certainly broadly counterproductive and are sustained as much for domestic political reasons than serious strategy or human rights concerns. This is something quite different, however.

I would hope that ordinary people within the EU would be disgusted by this and lobby their elected representatives to get their fingers out. Given the popularity of things like The Motorcycle Diaries, celebrating the life of anti-democratic, gulag-supporting, Stalinist street thug "Che" Guevara among the public at large (every time I see the advert for it in the Oxford Street Virgin megastore I want to scream) I'm not holding my breath.

(via Eric Umansky)

Our Sonofabitch

Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation has something up about Islam Karimov.

There are bastards in this world with whom we need to make nice. As I have stated in the past, however, I am resolutely unconvinced that Islam Karimov is one of them. There are perfectly good reasons for it, of course, mostly geopolitical, but if we look at Uzbekistan itself it is clear that Karimov is part of the problem. Not only is he a torturer on a grotesque scale, but he is active in suppressing even moderate Muslims in a manner that is the policy equivalent of trying to sit on top of a pressure cooker. Now he's playing funny buggers again.

If policy towards Uzbekistan is to be brought to book, history indicates that Congress is the forum that is best suited to applying leverage. Whether Republican or Democrat dominated, it has consistently been ahead of successive administrations on the matter of human rights. The cynic may argue that in a number of these cases (though I'm not necesaarily arguing this. I think by and large the congressional record has been creditable on both sides of the aisle) this has been a case of noisy consciences being exercised without broader responsibility. In this case, however, I feel there is good cause for concern on both moral and - more importantly - pragmatic counts.

Americans, pester your elected representatives. Brits, remember the case of Craig Murray.

Tsunami Relief - The State As Key Actor Vindicated

Something struck me yesterday, namely the fact that criticisms of the US's handling of Tsunami relief (ie. bypassing the UN) have fallen off the radar completely.

Well, nothing succeeds like success.

In this post I argued that we should judge by results and I think in retrospect the USA has won handsomely. US naval forces took a key role, with the immediate dispatch of an entire carrier battle group to help distribute aid and all in all it seems to have gone well. US forces remain in the area and are helping with post-disaster planning (this is, of course, a long term problem in spite of the fact that it has predictably fallen of the broadcast news media priority list). I am not aware of any recipients of aid alleging that the United States lacked the "moral authority" to give them food and medicine and helicopter them to safety. I think it's probably fair to judge that what we have seen over the past month has been an admirable case of a large bureaucratic middle man being cut out of the loop.

And it's one in the eye for Clare Short, always a good thing.


Of $20 billion in oil revenues handled by the CPA, $9 billion is missing.

I look forward to a Simone Ledeen article at NRO explaining what the bloody hell has happened.

I think we do have to understand that the situation out there is difficult (though if this is the case, it does make some of the crowing over how the UN allegedly can't handle accountability somewhat hollow). But for the average Iraqi reading this - presumably in the hours when power cuts have not knocked out his lighting - it must be extremely annoying to put it mildly. And for the insurgents it's a propaganda dream.

The noise was pretty good, but I thought they phoned in a lot of the funk...

Rich Lowry at The Corner:


E-mail:“Rich: What’s amazing to me about the relatively low level of
attacks is that Al Qaeda was less successful in influencing the election in its
home territory than it was in Spain. That alone had got to say something about
the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces.”

Just goes to show that one man's "Interesting Point" is another man's "Remarkably Stupid Point".


Well now, I think yesterday was a pretty good day.

It is not the end, of course. In reality, yesterday was the opening shot in an 11 month process culminating (hopefully) in parliamentary elections in December.

I for one do not expect the violence to stop, or even tail off. However, I do think that on a Big Picture level we can give it a cautious thumbs up and on the level of individual Iraqis it was a fantastic day and we should all join in a big circle and sing campfire songs.

I'd like to make a few individual points:

  • Turnout was ok. Not stellar, but not bad either. Given the importance of trust and credibility in a COIN situation I would have prefered it if the electoral authorities had not started babbling on about a 72% turnout (later cranked up to 76%) because it doesn't look ideal now that it has slumped back to around 60%.
  • We don't yet know what the Sunni vote was. We need to find out. Some estimates put the turnout around 25%. Given that Kurdish and Shia areas saw turnouts in excess of 80% on a national turnout of 60%, I think we need to accept that Sunni turnout may have been very low. One of the more worrying aspects for me is that the government marshalled the press into operating only at certain polling stations - these were inevitably in heavily Shia areas where turnout could be reliably expected to be high and where there would be much dancing in the streets. So we need to know the Sunni vote. We also need to look at another factor - comparisons between Sunni turnout in the insurgent-dominated areas and Sunni turnout in reliably coalition controlled areas (such as Basra, where there is a small but significant Sunni presence). If the Sunni turned out in the South but not in the centre, we can tentatively posit that Sunni no-shows were largely due to insurgent threat. If the Sunnis stopped off at home with a cup of tea across the country, we may be talking legitimacy problems.
  • Happily, the insurgents did not seem to be able to pull anything spectacular out of the hat. I am surprised and pleased. In fact in terms of active operations it seemed to be a very bad day for them. We need to be careful however. The failure to make nasty may have been representative of a general trend or it may simply be a result of temporarily beefed up Coalition security. Or - perhaps less likely - it may be a sign that the insurgents believe that they have got the Sunni population at large sufficiently under their thumb not to need to try for a "spectacular" that this point (I doubt it though).

Always allowing for the fact that we don't know the results of the election yet, it seems to me working on the assumption that the Shiite and Kurdish parties will probably have pretty much swept the board, that is is now important for the winners to undertake a policy of appeasement from a position of strength. It is over the next 11 months that we will discover whether Grand Ayatollah Sistani is a Mandela-like statesman who will try to unite and reconcile or a shrewd, canny Kissingerian who has played a cynical blinder and managed to get his people into a position where they can get their hands on the entire kitty.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. It's too early to be too concrete right now. But I would certainly argue that this is just the start of a new stage and that what happens over the next year will be crucial. It could go either way and nothing is set in stone at this point.

P.S. On Sky News yesterday, one of the presenters in a moment of excitement referred to the elections as "one in the eye for the terrorists". I'm not saying he's right - though I hope he is - it was just rather nice to see somebody on the news talking like that. Actually, I recognise he may have been exceeding his brief - not asking for Fox News or anything - but I get so weary of the sour, po-faced dirge that some BBC correspondents serve up as a matter of course. If I want sour, po-faced dirge, I'm quite capable of serving it up myself.

P.P.S I think it's probably worth looking at the heavy security measures implemented by the Coalition as well. Sustainable on a day to day basis? Perhaps not, at least not in the same context as... er... anything else functioning. But the point is that is seemed to work. Lessons for the future? I think so.

Freddie on Civil Liberties

Frederick Forsyth takes aim at the government's anti-terror policies at the BBC Website.

I rather like Frederick Forsyth, for all that his work represented the very apogee of BBC bias (during the Biafra conflict, Forsyth fell strongly for the Biafran cause and lavishly doctored his reports in order to prevent as positive a face for the Biafrans as possible. He lost his job as a result and promptly put his money where his mouth was by buggering off and fighting as an officer in the Biafran armed forces. Following the loss of the cause he found himself without work and embarked on writing Day of the Jackal to keep the wolves from the door. Now that's classy - if you're going to do something, go hog wild I say). I think his instincts are sound on most of the issues and I'd cheerfully vote for him were he to stand for public office.

As an opponent of such things as ID cards and whatnot, I agree with the broad sweep of his argument. However, I do feel that he is perhaps a touch cavalier.

Comparisons with the IRA do not ultimately convince. The IRA was less of a fundamental threat than radical Islam is. This isn't because the IRA were nicer people - the only good IRA man is one who is about to spend an extended period of time face down in a ditch with a bullet in the back of the head and his arse on fire - but because the IRA operated within a different strategic framework to al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Both organisations operate according to strategic principles - it is a mistake to perceive AQ and friends as some strange breed of strategic nihilists - but the IRA recognised that in terms of targeting civilians, it trod a fine line between successful coercion and the destruction of public support. The Americans - or sections of American opinion at least - had to be kept on side. Real mass casualty attacks would have been entirely counterproductive for IRA strategy. Whether the Salafists are peering through the same lens is highly debatable (though there is a debate over whether or not "superterrorism" is truly an attractive option strategically for Islamic terrorists).

Forsyth is also surely wrong in asserting that British security forces have equal difficulty penetrating the IRA and AQ. At numerous points during the conflict in Ulster the British had the IRA leaking like a seive and high level Republican staff structures were penetrated up the wazoo. AQ is an entirely different beast on any number of levels - ethnicity, cultural background, required language skills, recruitment, promotion structure Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. It is beyond the scope of this piece to go into AQ recruitment methods at length but the process of penetrating the procedure - especially to the extent of getting an operative in at a high level - is extremely difficult. The radically decentralised organisational structure also presents problems to an extent that the IRA did not.

The citizen can be arrested and held without charge or trial, not even on
the careful consideration of an experienced judge, but the whim of a political
activist called a government minister.

This is not - thank God - quite true. The Home Secretary has recently made clear that independent judicial oversight with be operative in these cases.

All in all though I would commend readers to take note of Forsyth's criticisms, as this is a very serious issue with profound implications. Given that we live in a period in which governmental meddling and general intrusiveness has never been so marked, the necessity for these measures - is necessary they are - could not have come at a worse time.

For a critique of post-9/11 British terrorism legislation, I recommend Helen Fenwick's essay in Lawrence Freedman (ed.) - "Superterrorism: Policy Responses".

Five'll get you ten...

The Afghan authorities have launched an initiative to prod people into handing back Stinger missiles. The Stinger was highly effective against Soviet helicopter gunships during the 1980s* and it is now feared that they could cause mischief against the good guys (though a dissenting opinion I heard argued that few of them would be in workable condition these days).

The initiative rest on a bounty being paid upon handover of weapons. This sort of policy does not have a particularly happy pedigree - though as I shall explain later, different circumstances provide different contexts and the lessons of past attempts in a similar vein may not provide clear cut lessons in this instance.

In post conflict situations in which civil society is awash with arms, it has been surprisingly common practice for reconstruction authorities to offer a bounty in exchange for arms handover. This doesn't work. The authorities invariably offer somewhat over the odds for weapons in order to provide motivation, but all this does in effect is set in motion an unfortunate supply/demand cycle. Because most of the small arms found in post-conflict regions tend to be readily available mass produced Soviet and Chinese pieces, most notably the AK47, such arms can be bought for less than the UN or regional authorities are prepared to pay for them. A healthy profit can therefore be made by buying cheap and selling expensive. In practice the locals, far from becoming disarmed, simply become the middle men in an increasingly thriving arms market. Guarenteed bounties for weapons also draws every conflict vulture and two bit arms racketeer in the region like moths to a flame. Paradoxically, a policy that is intended to disarm the area generally results in not only the locals not being disarmed but a thriving influx of small arms into what is effectively a newly created market.

A similar, but if anything even more grave problem has been encountered in Afghanistan with regard to the demand for terrorist prisoners. In the immediate aftermath of the Afghan campaign, the Americans offered Afghan tribesmen a substantial bounty in exchange for the handover of foreign terrorists and indigenous Taliban supporters. Unfortunately, this created a thriving market in which impoverished Afghans could accrue life-transforming amounts of cash by hoovering up any foreigner, tribal rival and person-who-looked-at-them-funny in sight and handing them over to the US. It is clear that a number of the people who were held at Gitmo for extended periods of time (amounting to years) were merely casualties of circumstance who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or had pissed off the wrong people. Even when this is not the case, the ability to allege capture of innocents for profit has served to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the American position in the matter of, for example, the recently returned British prisoners.

Obviously, the first case study is the most relevant in this instance, but happily the similarities are not exact. Stinger missiles are not AK47s. They are more expensive and significantly more common and one imagines that the ability to flood them into the region must be extremely limited indeed. So hopefully the current initiative will at worst be ineffective rather than counterproductive. But it's something worth bearing in mind.

*Trivia - the Stinger was first used in anger by the SAS. Apparently when British troops were assigned to do some training with the Americans and the Americans wanted to show them how the Stinger worked, they were startled to discover that the SAS not only knew how to use it, but had already blown stuff up with it.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Michael Ignatieff Article

Check this out too while you're about it.

UPDATE: This is very wrong though:

The Bush administration has managed the nearly impossible: to turn
democracy into a disreputable slogan.

Liberals can't bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest
they seem to collude with neo-conservative bombast.

The Bush administration has done a hell of a lot wrong - either the wrong thing or the right thing in an incompetant manner - over the past four years. But to place the blame for Liberals "not being able to bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq" at the door of President Bush is entirely wrong. The fault lies with those on the Left for whom the key aspect of any policy position must be that it is anti-American. If they can't get their heads out of their own arses and take on board some degree of moral perspective and responsibility (John "We can't afford to be choosy" Pilger and George "The day the Soviet Union fell was the worst day of my life" Galloway are positively Kissingerian in their realpolitik approach to containing America) then that's not George W. Bush's fault. These people aren't infants. It's high time the commentariat at large stopped coddling them and recognised the for the vicious, dogmatic, morally retarded, student-politicking arseholes they are.

What's Good For America Isn't Necessarily What's Good for GM... Or the UAW

Tom Friedman has a nice piece in today's New York Times about how to create real political transformation in the Middle East. His key points:

Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the "geo-greens." I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

By refusing to rein in U.S. energy consumption, the Bush team is not only depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East, it is also depriving itself of any military option. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out, given today's tight oil market and current U.S. consumption patterns, any kind of U.S. strike on Iran, one of the world's major oil producers, would send the price of oil through the roof, causing real problems for our economy. "Our own energy policy has tied our hands," Mr. Haass said.

The Bush team's laudable desire to promote sustained reform in the Middle East will never succeed unless it moves from neocon to geo-green.
This is certainly a worthy goal and I am all for it, but it is predicated on, what Dennis Miller once said, "more ifs than a Kippling piece."
UPDATE: See also this piece by Victor Davis Hanson. Particularly the mid portion and ending. The first part, however, was a bit of a head scratcher for me. The subtext of that section seems to me to be: build democracies and productive economies and leave us alone.
UPDATE II: UPDATE BOOGALOO: See also Anthony's post on this subject.

Fred Halliday Article

Provocative and interesting article by Fred Halliday of the LSE in the Observer today. Not saying I agree with it (though his treatment of the contents of the Third Dustbin does do it for me - but I suppose that's rather missing the point...), but it's still worth a look.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Turn the frown upside down...

Having been a grumbling curmudgeon for much of the period of this site's existence I just thought I'd take a couple of minutes to say that I hope everything goes off ok for the Iraq elections. I am far from 100% convinced that they will solve our problems in Iraq but obviously I hope they may represent a step on the way. Certainly those Iraqis who are risking life and limb to get out to vote for the first time deserve moral support from Westerners of all shades of political belief. It has the potential to be a splendid thing - heck, it IS a splendid thing, effective or not.

I've got a couple of pieces of writing bouncing around right now (including that effing report on the Pakistani tribal areas conference) but I can't muster up the energy to type any one of them to completion right now. So in the meantime if you're looking for something to do - go here.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - update

Errr. quick update regarding this.

I got my wires crossed, here:

Plus, when I walked past him the first time he had a sign saying something
about Britain being a criminal "Zionist" state - a sure fire sign of either a
crank or a complete git.

Turns out I was thinking about a different bloke who camps out just up from him. Whether you sympathise with Mr Makarov or not, there's no evidence that he's some sort of weird antisemitic crank.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

An Ideal, Not a Shift in Policy

In a press conference yesterday, President George W. Bush cleared up the intent of his Inaugural Address.

Q Sir, your inaugural address has been interpreted as a new, aggressive posture against certain countries, in particular Iran. Should we view it that way?

THE PRESIDENT: My inaugural address reflected the policies of the past four years that said -- that we're implementing in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it talked about a way forward. I think America is at its best when it leads toward an ideal. And certainly, a world without tyranny is an ideal world. The spread of freedom is important for future generations of Americans. I firmly believe that free societies are peaceful societies, and I believe every person desires to be free. And so I look forward to leading the world in that direction for the next four years.

Q Do you see it as a policy shift?
THE PRESIDENT: No, as I said, it reflects the policy of the past, but it sets a bold, new goal for the future. And I believe this country is best when it heads toward an ideal world. We are at our best. And in doing so, we're reflecting universal values and universal ideas that honor each man and woman, that recognize human rights and human dignity depends upon human liberty. And it's -- I'm looking forward to the challenge, and I'm looking forward to reaching out to our friends and allies to convince them of the necessity to continue to work together to help liberate people.
Prediction: We will shortly begin to see opinion pieces coming out with a general theme of "If only the Inaugural Address was a shift in grand strategy and was resourced properly, starting with a 100,000 ground force end-strength increase...."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why not Bismarck? Why not Archduke Charles?

Bill Lind has something up at D-N-I on the 4GW manual he's working on with his merry collaborators. Looks like it's undoubtedly going to be required reading, whether you agree with it or not.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy...

Newsnight had an interesting segment last night on a former KGB officer who spied for Britain and is now on hunger strike on Whitehall.

Especially interesting for me, as I walk past the bloke twice a day and had no idea who he was.

For the record, I'm dubious. The chap got his citizenship and his papers. He then had to fight for anything else he got. He fought and he won and he got £65,000. Good for him. But apparently he wants more and it's at this point that my sympathy begins to run dry. A lot of people don't get to start out with £65,000 in pocket - not enough to live the rest of your days on, but quite enough to set up the foundations of a nice little life for oneself as long as one is prudent while starting out.

Plus, when I walked past him the first time he had a sign saying something about Britain being a criminal "Zionist" state - a sure fire sign of either a crank or a complete git. So I'm not too sure what's going on there. It's an interesting story, however, and I may stop and wish him happy birthday on my way back to the flat tonight.

Incidentally, they had Oleg Gordievsky on and he pretty much took the view that the chap didn't know when he had it good.

How Green Is Their Valley?

Apparently, sundry "neocons" are going completely gonzo for saving the environment.

I think this shows a creditable degree of intellectual consistency and a willingness to embrace strategy in all its dimensions.

Personally, I think the more nuke plants the better.

Galloping At Everything: The Myth Of British Cavalry-centrism In The Great War

I had a very pleasant conversation with the only one of my non-university related friends to harbour even the vaguest interest in military history on Friday night. During the course of the conversation he mentioned the "fact" that "the generals" in the Great War were obsessed with cavalry.

Oh! What A Whingeing War...

In fact this was not, by and large, the case. The persistence of this myth is interesting and what is actually rather more interesting is that fact that is is a predominantly British myth, in that our generals are always assumed to be the most crazily enthused about galloping cavalry into machine guns.

Of course, myth making about the Great War is endemic to British historical discourse. Never has so much hair been rent and so many teeth ground down to stumps - in spite of the fact that in relative terms Britain had a far better war in terms of casualties and dead than any of the other major participants and in spite of the fact that by the summer of 1918, the British Army was the most effective fighting force on the Western Front (and, incidentally, the most heavily mechanised, hi-tech army in the world). In fact, I would go so far as to contend that British Army performance in the Great War was superior to British Army performance in the Second World War, but that's a whole other debate.

In relative terms, the British were also far less bothered about cavalry than either the French or the Germans. What is interesting in 1914 is just how suited the British cavalry was for modern warfare in comparison to that of its key ally and opponent. Thanks largely to reforms undertaken by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien (who commanded II Corps in 1914 and was one of the few survivors of Isandlhwana) every British cavalryman was, to all intents and purposes, Mounted Infantry. Unlike the French, who still employed quasi-Napoleonic cavalry uniforms and to a greater extent than the Germans, the British cavalry was outfitted for practicality rather than dash (trivia note - British uniform in the Great War was based on a golfing outfit, which was seen to be the most practical and comfortable get up for outdoorsmanship), the kit being fundamentally similar to that of the infantryman, with the addition of riding boots and the substitution of ammunition bandoliers in place of webbing. Importantly, whereas French and German cavalry carried carbines as secondary armament, every British cavalryman was equipped with a Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle of the same pattern as that carried by the infantry. The firepower generated by British cavalry formations was therefore significantly greater than that of their French or German counterparts. On top of this, the British cavalry could shoot. Cavalry troopers were assessed under the same regulations as the infantry and were expected to attain similar standards of musketry (which they did). Although individual cavalry commanders still nursed dreams of an all out arme blanche stirrup-to-stirrup charge, it was widely acknowledged in the British Army to an extent that had not percolated to other armies that the cavalryman's troop horse was essentially a means for manoeuvre and that as a matter of course troopers were as likely to fight dismounted as mounted.

Cavalry as MI still brings with it certain inbuilt disadvantages, of course. A cavalry regiment is smaller than an infantry battalion and this lack of numbers is compounded by the fact that one man in four had to be told off to secure the horses while his mates went into the line. This does not detract from the relative effectiveness of British cavalry, however.

Bah Yah Bah

Another point not widely acknowledged is the fact that cavalry was by no means obsolete in 1914. In fact, I'd go further and say that it was by no means obsolete in 1918. This does not mean that it should have been used in an all out charge of the type not seen since Omdurman in 1898. And indeed it wasn't. However, the fact of the matter is that the Great War represents an uneasy combination of the 19th and the 20th centuries. Many of the horrible and costly (and unavoidable) tactical problems that emerged during the war raised their heads because while some strands of technology - artillery, the machine gun etc - had come or were coming to maturity, others - communications technology, mechanisation - were either immature or still going through birthing pains. Two of these emerging strands of technology were the aeroplane and the combustion engine. During the war, the employment of this technology would advance considerably. However, in 1914, both were present but rare and inadequate and this left several roles that only cavalry could fulfil.

The first is outpost and picket duty, a role cavalry has performed for ever and which it continued to perform 1914-18. Second was recon duty - to some extent reconnaisance was taken up by the budding air capability of those involved, but in the absence of specially harnessed photographic equipment and radio communications the information gleaned by aircraft in 1914 could only be by its very nature vague and unreliable. Third was exploitation. The armies of 1914 - and, with the partial exception of the British, the armies of 1918 - moved no more swiftly than did the armies of 1815. Or 216BC for that matter. The only widely available mechanism for cranking up the speed was the Mark 1 Old Nag. This was still largely true in 1918.

"Ahah!" I hear you cry, "What about the lorry! You can't tell me that there were no lorries in 1918! And you can't tell me there were no armoured cars!" Indeed I can't. However, both forms of vehicle were severely limited in terms of the terrain in which they could operate. By 1918, most British units were mechanised to some extent, as were the artillery supply lines. The Germans were mechanised to a significantly lesser extent, but Stormtroop units could expect to be bussed to the front line. There things tended to grind to a halt, however, due to the fact that ground that has spent the past four years being churned to goop by heavy artillery is not widely suited for easy access for wheeled vehicles. Lorries were suitable only for use behind the lines and armoured cars could not be reliably employed in all situations (though they were useful in some - British planners [foremost among them JFC Fuller and his Plan 1919] nursed grandiose plans involving fleets of Rolls Royce armoured cars speeding around the German rear areas shooting things up).

Ah, but there were tanks. The whole point of tanks was to be able to deal with rough terrain! Well, yes. But a couple of points need to be taken on board. First of all, tanks during this period were painfully slow. Most British tanks operated at the hair-raising speed of 4mph. Later British tanks had a projected range of between 60 and 70 miles an hour, but in practice the attrition rate to breakdown, crew fatigue and delicate mechanisms spanging apart at inconvenient moments was huge. These tanks were not tools of exploitation and manoeuvre in a fashion that a student of the Second World War would recognise. They were intended to support infantry in structured bite-and-hold operations and this is what they did very well (by Summer 1918, German AARs noted that British attacks combining infantry, tanks, airpower and artillery were, literally, unstoppable and the only thing to do was fall back or die). To make more ambitious claims for them is to project onto them capabilities that were simply beyond the existing level of technological maturity. The Mark A "Whippet" could crank it up to 13mph and much of the more forward-looking British exploitation planning was based around the use of Whippets. However, Whippets could not survive for any great length of time outside of contact with friendly lines without infantry support and the only way infantry could maintain anything even approaching 13mph was by... getting on horses.

It is desperately important to recognise the inherent limits to technology during the Great War. A combination of mythmaking regarding "butchers and bunglers" and the very fact that there was so much technological upheaval during the period tends to obscure this fact. It's also worth noting that the army that embraced technology most fully was the British army. Part of this revolves around the fact that the British often sought technological solutions to tactical problems, but in fact the willingness to embrace technology was present at every level. British logistics were mechanised to an extent that no other army could match. British soldiers were able to be transported around the rear lines on lorries and light railways. The Royal Artillery mounted heavy guns on tracked platforms in order to enable them to be brought forward as the infantry advanced. But in many ways the British cavalryman with helmet, magazine rifle, .303 ammo bandolier, spurs and sword best represents the period, not as a symbol of incompetance, intellectual reaction or hidebound thinking but as a symbol of the uneasy, evolving mixture of old and new.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Pardon me while I gag on my muesli...

The Muslim Council of Britain is threatening to boycott events to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz. They have cobbled together various rambling justifications for this, but Prof Norm Geras has two posts up detailing why this is, to all intents and purposes, complete bullshit.

The MCB's response is, upon due reflection, an egregious display of

Hear hear.

This was intended, incidentally, to be a post on the conference I attended on the Pakistan tribal areas but having spent 45 minutes plus typing it up, Blogger ate it.

Rorshach Realism Redux....

Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute has an interesting piece in today's Opinion Journal. He argues that:

Those who are skeptical of injecting issues of freedom, democracy and human rights into the conduct of foreign policy call themselves "realists," and they accuse their opposite numbers--the so-called idealists--of an almost juvenile enthusiasm. But a sober reading of the historical evidence shows that President Bush and his fellow idealists are more realistic than the "realists."

To begin with, the idealists are right about the possibility for freedom and democracy to spread across borders and cultures. In 1775 there were no democracies. Then came the American Revolution and raised the number to one. Some 230 years later there are 117, accounting for 61% of the world's governments.

This historic transformation in the norms of governance has not occurred at a steady pace. Rather, it has accelerated. Just over 30 years ago, the proportion of democracies was about half of what it is today. These years of rapid transition have been dubbed democracy's "third wave" by the political scientist Samuel Huntington. The wave metaphor, however, gives the impression of an inevitable ebb. But each of Mr. Huntington's first two waves left the world considerably more free and democratic than it had been before. And there is no telling how long a democracy wave will last. The first continued for 140-odd years; the second, for just about 15. The world could all go democratic before this "third wave" is spent.

Moreover, there is the factor of example and momentum: As the proportion of democracies rises, it will become harder for the remaining authoritarians to hold out. The skeptics ridicule President Bush for declaring his ultimate goal to be the end of tyranny. But today probably no more than 20% of the world's governments could rightly be called by that name, whereas once the proportion was vastly higher. Why shouldn't that 20% go the way of the others?

Some skeptics warn that democracy may not prove to be a cure-all for terrorism. Perhaps, but the record so far shows that democracies rarely produce wars or terrorism, and at a minimum we can predict confidently that we will have less of both as democracy spreads.

Others warn that to recklessly overthrow benign dictators will pave the way for less benign radicals. But there is no need to simply topple regimes: Our goal will surely be incremental change. And our key method should be to strengthen indigenous democrats through moral, political and material support, so they can be the agents of peaceful political transitions.

Still others make the reverse argument, saying that if we don't move single-mindedly for regime change then we are not sincere. But, democratization cannot be the only item on our diplomatic agenda. There will be other pressing issues like security and economics. The test of President Bush's
sincerity is not whether he pursues freedom to the exclusion of everything else, but whether he insists on including it consistently among our priorities.

A foreign policy that makes freedom a touchstone will of course entail some self-contradictions and hypocrisies and doubts about our sincerity. The same was true when President Carter elevated human rights to a new prominence. Nonetheless, in doing so he changed the world for the better and
advanced America's interests. It was embarrassing when President Carter fawned over the Shah of Iran and the Communist dictators of Poland, Romania and the USSR. But where are those men now, or the governments they headed?

Despite the skeptics, all historical evidence suggests that democracy can indeed spread further, that America can serve as an agent of its advancement, as it has done all over the world, and that democracy's spread will make the world safer. And for those who doubt that President Bush is earnest about his campaign for freedom, I refer them to Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, John O'Sullivan, the editor of The National Interest, has a very good piece in today's Chicago Sun-Times. His key points, to me at least, are:

Imagine, for instance, a revolution in Saudi Arabia. Rebels have seized key positions in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dahran, issued a manifesto establishing a Revolutionary Salvation Council, and promised to hold elections within six months. But our intelligence suggests that key figures on the Council are linked to anti-American terror networks.

Do we (a) intervene on their side in the hope of influencing the new regime? (b) intervene on the side of the present royal despots? Or (c) let events take their course? If we do (a), then we are true to our democratic rhetoric but we probably replace a pro-American despot with anti-American ones. Both the other options make us look hypocritical. And the third makes us look weak as well. It is almost needless to add that option (c) is the one Jimmy Carter actually chose when the Shah of Iran
was threatened with the Islamist revolution of 1979 that created the present terrorist state.

Or take a different kind of tragedy. Imagine a revolt of oppressed Sunni Muslims in Syria who cite the president's speech as their inspiration and appeal for American intervention. Reports arrive that they are being shot out of hand.

One assumes we would not intervene on behalf of the Syrian despots. But which of the other two options above would we choose? Almost certainly we would choose to do nothing -- or to issue appeals for restraint which amounts to much the same thing. That at any rate is what we did when the Iraqi Shiites rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 in the hope that America would come to their assistance. As a result, the Shiites were slow to trust us in both the invasion of 2003 and in its political aftermath. What goes around comes around.

Neither America nor any other country, however idealistic, can be expected to intervene militarily against its own interests or when it has no real interests at stake. And it is immoral as well as unrealistic to encourage others to rebel by promises of intervention we cannot keep.

But that does not mean we cannot take lesser steps -- imposing trade penalties on regimes that jail and torture dissidents, offering a safe haven to despots who agree to go quietly, giving training and technical assistance to free media in authoritarian states that permit some freedoms -- to assist gradual movement toward greater freedom. Promoting democracy in those ways is eminently realist in a world of rapid change. Such a policy, however, must place equal weight on the promise of democracy and the qualification of gradualism. Indeed, the "senior administration official" realized something the president did not: In the grammar of international politics, the qualifications are the main point.
Now, first off, as I alluded to in the last piece, I think there are more distinctions than a simple realist-idealist dichotomy. Muravchik proves this for me with his call for democracy promotion in ways other than regime change -- in this way he and O'Sullivan are actually arguing similar themes, but with obvious differences in scale. O'Sullivan is spot on with his emphasis on qualifications. Not all democracies are built alike and similar governance does not guarantee similar interests. Finally, the "democratic peace hypothesis" still is operating based on "a relatively small-N sample size" -- in the lingo of academic political science. In other words, once everyone is able to live in a nation-state where they can vote for candidates in contested elections and where ethnic or religious minorities have some semblance of protected rights does not necessarily mean that war and warfare go away as arbiters of economic, cultural, and diplomatic differences.

UPDATE: See also Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria's excellent four-part analysis here.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I'd just like to concur with most of what Michael has to say here.

This part of the McDougall piece caught my eye:

Having thus set the stage with a less than accurate historical

Nothin' new there... *snark*

Kristol and Kagan move on to define their neo-Reaganite foreign
policy. Now that the “evil empire” is vanquished, they write, the U.S. must
aspire to exercise a “benevolent American hegemony.” For never has the U.S. had
such a golden opportunity to promote democracy and free markets abroad, while
Americans themselves “have never had it so good.” Hence, the “appropriate” goal
of the United States should be “to preserve that hegemony as far into the future
as possible.” The authors dismiss those gloomsters who warn of imperial
overstretch or the danger of conjuring enemies, and call instead for a sharply
increased U.S. defense budget “to preserve America’s role as global hegemon”;
measures to enthuse the American people, perhaps through some form of military
conscription; and a bluntly moral foreign policy that aims at “actively
promoting American principles of governance abroad.” After all, the revolting
alternative would be to pursue business as usual with authoritarian states
suchas China, and such “Armand Hammerism should not be a tenet of conservative foreign policy.”

To all that I would say, first, that “benevolent hegemony”
is a contradiction in terms. Such a self-conscious, self-righteous bid for global hegemony is bound to drive foreign rivals into open hostility to the U.S.and make our allies resentful and nervous.

I think a couple of points need to be raised here. First, this. Second of all, the notion of "balance of threat". I think the USA is in real danger of running into this - or at least it will do if it goes wholeheartedly down the "neocon" route, which it hasn't so far. Third of all I'd just note again my contention that the use of American power in the international sphere runs the risk of being subject to something like a Clausewitzian "culminating point of victory" (similar to the balance of threat actually).

Rorshach Realism

Much ink has begun to flow over the "true intent" of President George W. Bush's Inaugural Address. In particular, the "muscular ideational realists" (my term to get around the label debate on "neo-conservatives") seem to think that the speech was meant as a massive sea change in American foreign policy. Others, particularly "international realists" -- as opposed to "nationalist realists" (note to self: expand on these categories later) -- see it more as a long-term intent statement.

Of the muscular ideational realists, David Brooks of the New York Times and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment on International Peace's positions are illustrative. According to Brooks:

Two years from now, no one will remember the spending or the ostrich-skin cowboy boots. But Bush's speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day. With that speech, Bush's foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged.

When he goes to China, he will not be able to ignore the political prisoners there, because he called them the future leaders of their free nation. When he meets with dictators, as in this flawed world he must, he will not be able to have warm relations with them, because he said no relations with tyrants can be successful. His words will be thrown back at him and at future presidents.

American diplomats have been sent a strong message. Political reform will always be on the table. Liberation and democratization will be the ghost present at every international meeting. Vladimir Putin will never again be the possessor of that fine soul; he will be the menace to democracy and rule of law.

Because of that speech, it will be harder for the U.S. government to do what we did to Latin Americans for so many decades - support strongmen to rule over them because they happened to be our strongmen.

Kagan, for his part, notes:

Bush still asserts that "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." But in his inaugural address he has taken a step beyond that. In this third phase he has grounded American foreign policy in universal principles, in the Declaration of Independence and what Lincoln called its "abstract truth, applicable to all men at all times." The goal of American foreign policy is now to spread democracy, for its own sake, for reasons that transcend specific threats. In short, Bush has unmoored his foreign policy from the war on terrorism.

This is where Bush may lose the support of most old-fashioned conservatives. His goals are now the antithesis of conservatism. They are revolutionary. But of course -- and this is what American conservatives have generally been loath to admit -- Bush's goals are also deeply American, for the United States is a revolutionary power. Bush has found his way back to the core, universalist principles that have usually shaped American foreign policy, regardless of the nature of the threat. "The great struggle of the epoch [is] between liberty and despotism," James Madison asserted in 1823, and Americans from the founders onward have viewed the world in terms of that struggle.

Many will take a cynical view of Bush's latest pronouncements, and cynicism is an understandable response. Truman's 1947 declaration that "It must be the policy of the United States to support free
peoples" was soon followed by close ties with Spain's fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. Kennedy's inaugural pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty" did not keep him from supporting friendly dictators in Latin America. And when Reagan announced a "global campaign for freedom" in 1982, he had the Soviet bloc in mind, not Ferdinand Marcos, Augusto Pinochet or the military junta in South Korea.

But presidential rhetoric has consequences. Contrary to his initial instincts, Reagan wound up pulling the rug out from under those friendly dictators, propelled by his own publicly stated democratic principles. Bush may be thinking about Iran and some Arab dictatorships, not China. But the next time China locks up a dissident, or Vladimir Putin further curtails Russian freedoms, people will remind Bush about his promise that "America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains."

I believe Bush understands the implications of his universalist rhetoric. In Ukraine, Bush chose democracy over his relationship with Putin -- a first example of a paradigm beyond the war on terrorism. In Asia, too, we may be on the threshold of a strategic reevaluation that places democratic allies, not China, at the core of American strategy.

From the international realist position see former head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department and current president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard N. Haass's op-ed in today's Washington Post. In particular:

Promoting democracy can also be useful as one component of the campaign against terrorism. Young men and women who are more involved in their societies and less alienated from their governments might see more reason to live for their causes than to kill and die for them. With luck, they might choose to become teachers rather than terrorists.

But there are more reasons to conclude that it is neither desirable nor practical to make democracy promotion the dominant feature of American foreign policy. The bottom line is that while the nature of other societies should always be a foreign policy consideration, it cannot and should not always be the foreign policy priority.

To begin with, democracies are not always peaceful. Immature democracies -- those that hold elections but lack many of the checks and balances characteristic of a true democracy -- are particularly vulnerable to being hijacked by popular passions. Post-communist Serbia is but one illustration of the reality that such countries do go to war.

It is also difficult to spread democracy. It is one thing to oust a regime, quite another to put something better in its place. Prolonged occupation of the sort the United States carried out in Japan and West Germany after World War II is the only surefire way to build democratic institutions and instill democratic culture. But as Iraq demonstrates, the rise of modern nationalism and modern methods of resistance means that such opportunities will be rare, costly and uncertain to succeed, despite an investment of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

So, what position is more convincing? For me, I tend toward the Haass line. (For the record, I like to think that I am somewhere between the muscular ideational and international realist perspectives -- leaning more toward the latter.) I found this portion of the Inaugural Address most salient:

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.

The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, this is the President's intent and it provides some underlying guidance for the conduct of American foreign policy, but that does not mean that it is dogma that should and must drive every course of action. I have always thought that Walter A. McDougall, author of Promised Land, Crusader State and Freedom Just Around the Corner (full disclosure: he is also a Senior Fellow at the FPRI), made a convincing argument about the muscular ideational realist position by way of a discussion of that perspective's views of Reagan Administration foreign policy in a piece that he wrote in response to William Kristol and Robert Kagan's Foreign Affairs piece "Toward A Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." McDougall wrote:

Having thus set the stage with a less than accurate historical backdrop, Kristol and Kagan move on to define their neo-Reaganite foreign policy. Now that the “evil empire” is vanquished, they write, the U.S. must aspire to exercise a “benevolent American hegemony.” For never has the U.S. had such a golden opportunity to promote democracy and free markets abroad, while Americans themselves “have never had it so good.” Hence, the “appropriate” goal of the United States should be “to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible.” The authors dismiss those gloomsters who warn of imperial overstretch or the danger of conjuring enemies, and call instead for a sharply increased U.S. defense budget “to preserve America’s role as global hegemon”; measures to enthuse the American people, perhaps through some form of military conscription; and a bluntly moral foreign policy that aims at “actively promoting American principles of governance abroad.” After all, the revolting alternative would be to pursue business as usual with authoritarian states such
as China, and such “Armand Hammerism should not be a tenet of conservative foreign policy.”

To all that I would say, first, that “benevolent hegemony” is a contradiction in terms. Such a self-conscious, self-righteous bid for global hegemony is bound to drive foreign rivals into open hostility to the U.S. and make our allies resentful and nervous. Secondly, the authors' argument again ignores the historical record, which demonstrates that U.S. diplomacy has been most successful when it weighs in against would-be hegemons such as Germany and the Soviet Union for the purpose, as John F. Kennedy said, “to make the world safe for diversity.” But Kristol and Kagan would have us arrogate to ourselves a hegemony for the purpose of making the world over in our image. Thirdly, there is a huge difference between promoting democracy for the purpose of undermining an aggressive dictatorial enemy, and turning some authoritarian country into an enemy because it is laggard in embracing American values.

Which methodology did Reagan employ? Clearly the former one, and if you are inclined to doubt that, just try to imagine a secret staff meeting in which Reagan, Alexander Haig, Caspar Weinberger, Bill Casey, Richard Allen, Fred Ikle, Richard Perle, and Richard Pipes— tough-minded strategists all— indulge fantasies of a U.S.-policed Wilsonian New World Order? No, Reagan’s genius lay in his recognition that freedom-fighting rhetoric backed (unlike Jimmy Carter’s) by military strength and deft geopolitics is a mighty weapon of war against tyranny, but not any sort of utopian blueprint. If anything, Reagan was remarkably cautious about interventions abroad, as evidenced by the fact that he sent forces abroad fewer times in eight years than Clinton did in four. Yet Kristol and Kagan would have us believe that the purpose of Reagan’s campaign to bring down the Soviets was to supplant their ideological hegemony with one made in the U.S.A.

Prediction: Muscular ideational realists will continue to point the address as evidence that American grand strategy has shifted. International and nationalist realists will point to it as more of underlying context about American society that helps shape strategy. All three schools will continue to fight it out and look to and point to every foreign policy pronouncement to argue that their position is in the ascendence, stuck in neutral, or declining. This cycle will then drive more debate and pronouncements.

Civil Warriors

If you would care to cast your eyes in the direction of our bulging sidebar, you will find a new addition to the links. Professor Mark Grimsley has started a new group blog entitled "Civil Warriors" and I'd encourage you all to hop on over there on a regular basis, the better to encourage frequent postage and all round good karma.

Bombay Dreams

Just back from the Indian High Commissioner's Forum at the IISS. I believe I told some people that I planned to provide a write-up on the event. Fortunately for the High Commissioner's freedom to comment but unfortunately in terms of dissemination, his remarks and the subsequent Q&A session were strictly off the record, which I hadn't expected, so I'm afraid I don't really feel able to use this as a forum to gibber on about them.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

War Historian

Heh, we've got a small heads up from Professor Mark Grimsley's "War Historian" blog, which has featured in the links section since this site started.

I've tried to encourage various people in the War Studies department to visit War Historian for a while now and I'd like to take this opportunity to do so again, if anyone from the department is reading. Anyone who knows my opinions on various issues and the way that I look at the world will know that the approach taken by the professor on many (non-military history) issues is not my own, but even when I don't agree with him his work - especially on the state of military history today - is excellent, self critical and thought provoking. Also, he's the guy who wrote the chapter on the American Civil War in The Dynamics of Military Revolution. 'Nuff said. It's borderline criminal that somebody who helps run arguably the best military history postgrad programme in the world gets so few visits to his site. Git chore arse over there.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Not for all the guns 'n' shit in China...

Huh. I find this very disappointing and rather disturbing. EU dealings with China on the defence front have been pretty alarming (and wildly, wildly hypocritical) recently, especially in the field of hi-tech communications and space technology with potential defence implications and I had hoped to see the British government hold its nerve over this. Even if the Americans have acted like a complete bunch of ungreatful so-and-sos, this is a pretty dodgy way of going about sticking a finger up at them.

And don't even get me started on the abomination that was the French fleet swanning around with the PLAN during the Taiwanese elections.

There's gonna be some changes made...

Gotta be quick here, as I'm going to an event on artillery development in WW1 in less than half an hour.

Due to a horrific communications error (made entirely in good faith), one of my tutors who has been reading this site for a while emailed the URL to my fellow War Studies students yesterday. This isn't really a problem, though frankly I rather liked not being held a hostage to fortune when dishing out my opinions, but it is going to have something of an impact in that the multi-part treatment of the current state of military history I promised will not now be posted until late March, as it stems from research conducted in the preparation of an academic essay and if any students were to read it it could conceivably be prejudicial to the integrity of one of the essays required to be submitted between now and the end of this semester. Sorry to any readers who have been sitting with clammy hands and clenched buttocks waiting for it.

I don't know whether any of the people on the course are going to bother reading this, but if so I thought it might be worthwhile at this stage to make things easy by compiling links to some of the better (in my view) posts to have appeared here since we started over the Christmas period:

The American Way of Battle - ([Michael] with a very interesting link)
Loose Lips Sink Ships - ([Anthony] critique of media coverage of British redeployment in Iraq prior to the presidential election)
Count Pointer-Count ([Michael and Anthony] present differing views on possible British special operations forces expansion)
Blame only the civilians at DoD? ([Michael] on why only blaming Rumsfeld and co doesn't cut it)
A Prudent Plan on Action? ([Anthony] arguing that Bill Kristol doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to Syria)
It works in Practice... ([Michael] links to various IR articles which will help you in Contemporary Security Issues)
Let's play a fun game - it's called "Get a Grip" ([Anthony] slagging off the Belmont Club and internet echo chamberism in general)
Not Just a River in Egypt ([Mark] on the state of the COIN effort in Iraq)
E Ticket Ride in Fantasy Land ([Mark] on complete absence of Iraq Phase IV planning)
Non-Anonymous Prescriptions ([Michael] on tricky alliances and proxy forces)
Mouldy Persian Rug ([Anthony] bum-raping Michael Ledeen's intellectual coherence and why democracy may not be a universal panacea)
Good Points, Badly Made ([Anthony] taking on VDH's assertions that America is some sort of international charity)
Ho Chi Minh's Flying Circus ([Anthony] Why Cliff Rogers of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies doesn't really get Vietnam and really doesn't get Iraq)
Anthony! Please! ([Mark] Why I was far, far too kind and lenient toward Clifford Rogers)
Cost-Benefit Nit-Pickery ([Anthony] Why "staying the course" is a meaningless slogan as regards Iraq)
Well, We Warned You They'd Be Irregular ([Mark] A continuation of the Iraq dialogue)
I Don't Appreciate Your Ruse Ma'am ([Michael] The role of deception in military operations)
Tales From The Far Side ([Anthony] VERY obscure satire. If you aren't aware of various funny little internal ideosyncrasies within the international security community it will probably be meaningless to you)
Budget-centric Warfare ([Michael] A look at proposed defence cuts)
Witness for the Prosecution ([Anthony] The case for firing Donald Rumsfeld and why his defenders ultimately do not convince)
A Muppet Christmas With Zbigniew Brzezinski (Links to forum with Zbig and Brent Scowcroft)
Bouncing Bettys ([Anthony] Why the US is, on balance, justified in not signing up to an international land mine ban)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Liquid Lunch

On Tuesday, I attended a lecture by the Defence Minister for Serbia & Montenegro at the RUSI. The lecture was on the record (obviously if the Chatham House rule was on I wouldn't be posting this) but I felt that it went above and beyond the sort of boilerplate that on the record remarks by officials about the future of their country can be.

The key aspect of it was clearly the fact that Westernisation and ultimately NATO membership is the keystone of Serbian policy at this point. The minister made a few bitterly humerous remarks regarding the attitudes of some of his domestic press, which I take to indicate (which I'm sure we all knew anyway) that the populace is not all of a mind on this issue. In discussion of military reforms the minister referred, correctly in my view, to the importance of skimming off some of the old guard at the top who had too-close links with the old regime. At lower levels he made no pretense of immaculate and immediate attitudinal transformation - he predicted a decade long process of gradual Westernisation, noting that the people of Serbia who finally complete the process may well still be in elementary school right now.

At a practical level he praised Western governments for their assistance and made the case that in his view one of the most important moves countries like Britain and America could make would be to invite Serbian officers to train with our own forces and be taught at our staff colleges.

I felt that one area in which he was, perhaps a little less than candid - shall we say he was "diplomatic" - was in response to questioning over Russia's reaction to a Serbian realignment towards the West and NATO. His response was, frankly, blithe. Unconvincingly so in my view. Apparently the Russians are thrilled, delighted and cock-a-hoop and there is not the slightest tension. Hmm.

Lord (David) Owen chaired the event and closed by supporting the minister's comments and arguing that the West should be more active in drawing Serbia under our umbrella. One thing he particularly singled out as a missed opportunity was the failure of the West to include Serbia in the PFP immediately after the fall of Milosevic.

Unfortunately I failed to take notes during the event and so this summary is somewhat thin but you get the general gist of what went on. The event itself was only (after lunch) 1 hour so obviously the ground covered was fairly limited.

Yesterday I attended a half day conference on the use (or not) of the tribal areas of Pakistan as a terrorist haven. It was highly worthwhile and brought a number of points to the fore which seem to me to be relevent both to the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation in particular and to counterinsurgency policy in general. And I took notes. So I'll stick something up about that at some point over the next week when I have time.

Homegrown Shame

Having harped on about American abuses, it would be richly hypocritical of me not to flag up the current furore gripping the British Army.

The authorities claim that the situation was dealt with promptly and fully. It is too early to pass judgement on that claim but here's hoping this is correct. Certainly at this stage there seems to be no reason to believe that abuses were the result of high policy. That said, given that outposts like Diego Garcia have been made available for prisoner detention by the UK government, we are arguably complicit in any officially sanctioned prisoner abuse (if officially sanctioned abuse there be) carried out by the US anyway.

Lucky Charms

Murder of Catholic widow and mother "not a crime", says Sinn Fein chairman.

Some context: Jean McConville was a working class Catholic, a Belfast resident, a widow and a mother of ten. In 1972 she commited a heinous crime. Following a street battle between British troops and IRA elements, a British soldier, mortally wounded, lurched into her front garden, collapsed on her front step and gasped for water. Mrs McConville brought him a glass of water.

A few days later, the IRA meted out justice for this ghastly action by abducting her, shooting her in the back of the head and burying her body on a beach.

The IRA denied the killing, taking the stance that she had run away and abandoned her children. The children were split up and placed in care.

In 1999, 27 years on, the IRA seemed to get over their memory lapse and admitted that they had actually killed her. They gave vague directions to the police over where the body could be found, but searches proved unsuccessful. In 2003, Mrs McConville's body was found when it was stumbled over by a walker.

It is common (though denied by Sinn Fein) knowledge that Gerry Adams was Belfast Brigade commander for the IRA in 1972.

Troubling New Development

If true, this, see also here, is troubling. It is sometimes forgotten that the PRC has a fairly sizeable Muslim population -- 1-2% of 1,298,847,624 is a lot of people. As post-9/11 screening procedures for people from Muslim countries became more strict, the Padilla and Reid cases pointed to a shift in tactics to test and probe security using non-Arab individuals.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Mars & Merriam(-Webster)

Michael Keane, the author of the forthcoming Dictionary of Modern Strategy and Tactics and a lecturer at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, had an interesting piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. The piece discusses the importance of language and word choice in war time.

This got me thinking about Anthony’s post “On Defining War.” Merriam-Webster’s defines “war” as:
Pronunciation: 'wor
Function: noun
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Middle English werre, from Old North French, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German werra strife; akin to Old High German werran to confuse
1 a (1) : a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations (2) : a period of such armed conflict (3) : STATE OF WAR b : the art or science of warfare c (1) obsolete : weapons and equipment for war (2) archaic : soldiers armed and equipped for war
2 a : a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism b : a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end c : VARIANCE, ODDS 3

Going a step further, “warfare” is defined as:

Pronunciation: 'wor-"far, -"fer
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from werre, warre war + fare journey, passage -- more at FARE
1 : military operations between enemies : HOSTILITIES, WAR; also : an activity undertaken by a political unit (as a nation) to weaken or destroy another
2 : struggle between competing entities : CONFLICT
Now one may quibble with the American “bastardization of the Queen’s English,” but it seems to me that warfare is a more suitable term for most of the struggle’s occurring today. Even if one accepts Van Crevald’s interpretation of Von Clausewitz’s primary trinity (and I happen to think that Anthony’s analysis of Van Crevald is spot on), I think that there are two factors that undercut the “non-state actors trump Westphalia” argument. First, non-state actors or “super-empowered individuals,” or whatever you want to call them, are tied to time and physical space that makes them very similar in most regards to previous state-based actors. Second, and most important, “super-empowered individuals” have a desired political end-state based in terms of a quest for power, cultural factors, or economic desires -- and generally a blend of all three -- that make them similar to states.

War as a term of art and as a phrase with very specific meaning in international law, however, is best left as a descriptive for inter-state conflicts. Warfare is better used for wider applicability in intra-state, inter-state, and even non-purely military conflicts.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Take Your Mama Out

The first of these David Frum pieces needs something saying about it. The second made me splutter somewhat.

For Christ's sake, Paul! Can you not see?! I am having a nervous breakdown!

Frum is critical of the leaks that have been emerging recently from the US security community. He may well be right to be critical. Lives are, as he points out, on the line in some of these circumstances.

On top of this, my personal stance is that if an issue is serious enough to justify leaks it's probably serious enough to justify resignation. See Michael's comments here for more. And perhaps bear in mind your McMaster. It's fairly clear that fairly large numbers of people within both the uniformed forces and the intelligence community are cheesed off enough to leak. Imagine the impact of a mass resignation. Rather higher, no? And rather more honourable. But it does, on the other hand, require rather more sacrifice.

But, and it's a big but...

That said, it is I believe widely accepted among those who study these things that leaks are not an inevitability but frequently come tied into a certain culture within government. This is the culture in which the professional civil servant is made to feel that he cannot do his job - which is, namely, to speak truth to power - without having a ton of shit heaped upon him. Leaks tend to occur when opinions contrary to the "party line" are suppressed internally - not merely rejected after open and vigorous debate, suppressed. In other words, the sort of environment in which everybody is required to be a True Believer.

Additionally, it has to be said that if these anonymous briefers resigned it would take... ahem... certain sections of the commentariat all of 24 hours to swing into action and launch into a rather unpleasant smear campaign ("X is saying this about Bush administration policy - but let's take a look at this fragment of a memo he sent as a junior case officer 23 years ago..."), which is basically what has greeted (justifiably or not) pretty much every other person who has resigned from the Bush administration with annoyances to vent.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Zhao Ziyang Has Died

I will now proceed to turn this water into funk...

On a not even tenuously defence and security related note, I notice that there has been a certain rumbling surrounding the appointment of a "Fun Czar" at Harvard University. This puts me in mind of Mr David Mellor, who gained the soubriquet "Minister of Fun" after being appointed Britain's first Secretary of State for National Heritage. In his case, quite a lot of fun as it later emerged that he was going at it hugger-mugger on the rumpy-pumpy front with some breed of blonde F-grade actress/model/Bedroom Charabanc behind his wife's back. The situation was rendered even more wince-inducing when it emerged that said model made a habit of sucking said minister's toes while he lay prone and... er... flustered wearing a Chelsea football shirt.

He clung on manfully for some time (to his job that is...) but was ultimately pried from office. He was replaced by Peter Brooke, former MP for my constituency when I am residing in London (Cities of London and Westminster - most of my friends get to live in scutty Vauxhall* - WAH-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaaaagh!!!), who had himself recently stepped down from his position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after rashly being induced to gambol about singing "Clementine" on a television light entertainment show in the aftermath of an IRA bombing.

Ah, those were the days.

*The word "scutty" is used in its broadest and most positive sense and should not in any way be taken to imply that Vauxhall is in any way, shape or form a "dump", "flea pit" or "olde shitte hole". Please don't hunt me down and kill me like the dog that I am.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

On Defining War

Following on from this, I've decided to post up a transcript of an essay I received back yesterday. The culmination of the van Creveld/Clausewitz course involves producing a 1,500 word assessed essay under the title "What is War?". It's a difficult question and I was surprised to discover yesterday afternoon that I managed to get the highest possible grade. Woo. Hoo. Anyway, I offer it up here because it builds on some of the things I talked about in the van Creveld piece.

What is war?

‘War is…the continuation of policy by other means.’
- Clausewitz, On War

‘War is not the continuation of policy by other means.’
- John Keegan, A History of Warfare

‘“War” for fun is not really war; it is a form of recreational bondage.’
- James Wirtz
The juxtaposition of the above quotations only begins to hint at the complexity of the subject at hand. Definitional questions are inherently tricky and unlikely to produce entirely satisfying results, except as an intellectual stimulant. No work of 1,500 words can possibly provide a definitive answer to the question of what is war. It must inevitably be more or less inadequate. However, it is possible to isolate certain elements, the presence of which may be necessary in order for a certain form of activity to be legitimately categorized as a war. Obvious though the answer may seem, we must ask ourselves whether war must involve violence. We must ask ourselves whether war must be inherently political – or at least rational. We must ask whether war must involve states as primary actors and, if the answer to this question is no, we must try to deduce at what level a war ceases to be a war and becomes something rather more minor – gang conflict (to refer to it as gang warfare is an almost instinctive reaction!) may be entirely rational, conducted for a purpose with means/ends calculations and organized groupings on both sides and it is certainly likely to be violent, but does that mean it is a war? Answering these questions may not tell the whole story but it will certainly result in getting closer to the answer.

Must war involve violence? Certainly it must involve the threat of violence and in practice it is difficult to think of a non-violent conflict that can be categorised as a war, except in a rhetorical sense. Clausewitz is clear on this issue: Though referring to force rather than violence he makes the point that the force must be physical, as opposed to moral.[1] Sunzi is often hailed as an advocate of winning without fighting but while coercion and various indirect ploys is key in his work it is also clear that the willingness to employ violence must exist.[2]

While thinkers from opposing intellectual camps may agree on violence, the question of politics is more vexed. Clausewitz would have it that war and policy are inextricably linked. His two most prominent critics in this regard are John Keegan and Martin van Creveld. Keegan takes the line that war is – and has been throughout history – often fought for its own sake.[3] His attempt to locate culture as a key determinant in the history of warfare is entirely welcome but his success as an opponent of Clausewitz perhaps rests too much on the assumption that Clausewitz’s formulation the war is inherently political is tied to time-sensitive factors such as the existence of states with a monopoly on violence and clear national interests. This is certainly one line that Martin van Creveld has taken, attacking Clausewitz’s trinity of people, army and government as outdated in a world of, often intra-state, low intensity conflicts.[4] If one accepts van Creveld’s reading of Clausewitz then his case is compelling. If, however, Clausewitz’s trinity is defined as violence, chance and reason, it can be questioned whether it has really lapsed into obsolescence.[5] State-centrism will be dealt with later, but while different cultures and actors may make decisions based on different –seemingly alien – norms and values this does not mean that for them the decisions are not rational, not purposeful and not involving of cost/benefit calculations – though this may be difficult to recognise for those viewing actions and processes through the distorting prism of modern Western liberal democracy.[6]

Mary Kaldor identifies the breakdown of vertical social structures, cultural alienation, identity politics and violent nationalism as key components of “new wars”, but there is little evidence that any of these factors represent the departure of reason and purpose from war.[7] In his landmark essay The New Warrior Class, Ralph Peters identifies “warriors” of the type we are likely to face in the new century as being drawn from one of five “pools”.[8] The first category is the “loser” – the underclass that has no stake in peace. The second is the company seeker, young, male, with little experience of anything other than war who finds affirmation in the company of other men in uniform. The third category consists of entrepreneurs, opportunists and profiteers. The fourth is the patriot or true believer who fights for a genuine cause. The fifth is the mercenary. Three of these categories (3-5) unequivocally act for a purpose and are thus susceptible to coercion and cost/benefit analyses. Peters also adopts the stance that while the methods required may be more violent, the first two categories are largely rational at least to the point of not being suicidal – which is fortunate as otherwise the only solution available must presumably be to create a desert and call it peace.[9] Politics as we recognise it may not be applicable in all cases, but reason surely is. The key is to understand the context in which decisions are being made, not to assume a form of violent nihilism is in evidence.

Where van Creveld’s thesis undoubtedly holds greater purchase is regarding the idea that a rigidly state-centric definition of war is obsolete. Michael Howard’s insistence on the state’s monopoly on, if not violence then at least warfare seems shaky in the face of half a century of insurgency and other low intensity (so-called) conflicts. It is certainly possible to argue that states are still the key actors in the military sphere, but to cut anything below the state level out of the picture appears unsustainable. A Small War is, after all, still a war of sorts. Interestingly, this is a point on which van Creveld and Clausewitz need not necessarily be at odds. Like Sir Michael Howard, Colin Gray has vigorously defended the corner of the state as key actor.[10] However, he has also produced an interesting and highly convincing attempt to fit a Clausewitzian template to the issue of small wars, insurgency and terorrism.[11] The Godfather of modern insurgency, Mao Zedong, it should be noted, was also somebody who found nothing glaringly anachronistic in Clausewitz’s work.[12] While one may choose to quibble over the relative importance of the state as an actor in warfare past, present and future it increasingly seems unduly restrictive to brandish inter-state activity as the ultimate arbiter of whether or not a particular violent conflict deserves to be classified as a war.

This leads to perhaps the most difficult category to explore, namely at what level below that of violent inter-state conflict a war ceases to be a war. As pointed out earlier, the tongue is naturally habituated to refer to such things as “gang warfare”. But can it really be said that a conflict between gangsters over a local drugs trade is a war? Violent, yes, organized, yes, purposeful and rational according to the lights of those involved, yes. But – a war? To accept this definition seems to run the risk of war meaning everything and therefore by extension effectively meaning nothing. At this point it may pay dividends to return to the key bones of contention – politics and the state. One possibility is to allow for war to be conducted by non-state actors but to link its status not to actors but to ends. Thus a conflict becomes a war if it is conducted to influence the nature of a state or the high-level policy of a state. This would seem to square the circle up to a point though it is undoubtedly far from perfect and distressingly inelegant.

A conclusive – or even satisfying - dictionary-style definition of war remains elusive. This situation will persist for as long as people are still thinking about war. Some tentative points can be made, however. Although Clausewitz’s theories have come under sustained attack in the past decade and a half, his work remains the best guide we have. While semantic arguments over the context in which politics or policy is applicable are perfectly legitimate, if we accept Clausewitz’s primary trinity of violence, chance and reason (as opposed to the secondary trinity of people, army and government) we are presented with a road map that may lead us slightly off course but is unlikely to see us tumbling over a cliff or skipping our way into quicksand. All war is violent, though not all violence is war. War is also a reasoned activity – though the reasoning involved (which will often be imperfect) will be distorted through various cultural prisms. While war as politics may increasingly come to be seen as a conceptual atrocity of a similar magnitude to the idea of a Global War on Terror, wars happen for a purpose and are regulated by calculations of value, risk, cost and benefit. War for war’s sake – if it exists - is certainly pas magnifique and, paradoxically, c’est ne pas le guerre.

[1] Clausewitz (1984), p.75
[2] Chailand (1994), p. 221-238
[3] Keegan (1993), pp. 24-46
[4] van Creveld (1991), pp. 35-42
[5] Clausewitz (1993), p.89, Heuser (2002), pp. 52-56, Gray (1999), pp. 91-92
[6] Lynn (2003)
[7] Kaldor (2001), pp. 69-89
[8] Peters (2001), pp.32-47
[9] Peters (2001), pp. 48-69
[10] Gray (1999), pp. 101-102 & Gray, Colin “World Politics as Usual After September 11th: Realism Vindicated” in Booth &Dunne, eds. (2002)
[11] Gray (1999), pp. 273-296
[12] Heuser (2002), pp. 47-48
Booth, Ken and Dunne, Tim (2003), Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future of Global Order (London: Palgrave Macmillan)
Chaliand, Gerard (1994), The Art of War in World History: From Antiquity to the Nuclear Age (Los Angeles: University of California Press)
Clausewitz, Carl von, transl. & eds., Howard, Michael and Paret, Peter (1984), On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
Creveld, Martin van (1991), The Transformation of War (New York: Free Press)
Gray, Colin (1999), Modern Strategy (Oxford: OUP)
Handel, Michael (2004, 3rd edition), Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought (London: Frank Cass)
Handel, Michael, ed. (2004, reprint), Clausewitz and Modern Strategy (London: Frank Cass)
Haslam, Jonathan (2002), No Virtue Like Necessity: Realist Thought in International Relations Since Machiavelli (New Haven: Yale University Press)
Heuser, Beatrice (2002), Reading Clausewitz (London: Pimlico)
Howard, Michael (1983), The Causes of Wars (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)
Kaldor, Mary (2001, 2nd edition), New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era (London: Polity Press)
Keegan, John (1993), A History of Warfare (London: Pimlico)
Lynn, John A. (2003), Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (Boulder, CO: Westview)
Peters, Ralph (2001), Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books)
Sawyer, Ralph D., transl. (1994) Sun Tzu: The Art of War (Boulder, CO: Westview)