Sacred grounds

About a year ago I casually mentioned the concept of "sacred grounds" in defence policy.

Two examples stand out for this, and a third may qualify:

United Nations Flags - cropped.jpg
Veiew of United Nations European HQ
at Geneva by Tom Page 
Switzerland hosts so many global institutions that, even ignoring its incredible track record of neutrality and peacefulness and their location far from any threat, it would be difficult to imagine an aggression against it. They're kind of host to the world - an aggression would almost be like an aggression against the world.

Saudi Arabia
The Masjid al-Haram and Kaaba
in Mecca by Ariandra 03

Saudi Arabia, guardian of Mecca and Medina, is a rather unrealistic target for aggression, despite the fake allegations from 1990 and a handful of skirmishes on and over the Persian Gulf during the 1980's. Neither a bombardment nor an assault on these two cities seems conceivable given the importance of both to over a billion people on six continents (mostly four).

Panama Canal - Pacific Side Entrance.jpg
"Panama Canal - Pacific Side Entrance" by
Camilo Molina derivative work: MrPanyGoff
Panama was actually invaded in 1989, but this was a time when it was not in control of the Panama Canal or its guardian. Ever since, any assault on it would be globally considered to be an assault on global trade. The lessons of the Suez Crisis 1956 were learnt, and it seems inconceivable that Panama would be invaded again unless the world is already in flames anyway.*

 To host something that's of global importance** could add to a country's security and help it a lot in gaining supporters and reducing the list of hostile countries. Maybe this is not an exogenous benefit only, maybe it could intentionally be created and fostered in order to pacify a conflict zone?


*: Or unless the aggressor is trusted to not disrupt or risk disruption of canal operations.
**: Not just for sightseeing, but something actually important.


Death toll in Gaza in perspective

So far about 1,200 Gaza Strip inhabitants and 55 Israelis died in the current hot phase of the Gaza conflict (BBC).

There are about 1,816,000 Gaza Strip inhabitants (World Factbook), 7,821,000 Israelis (World Factbook), 80,997,000 Germans (World Factbook) and 318,892,000 (U.S.) Americans (World Factbook)*.

The death toll in Gaza represents 0.0661% of the population. The death toll to the Israelis represents 0.0007%.**

The Gaza Strip death rate applied to Germany would be about 53,522 dead and applied to the United States it would be 210,722 dead.

The Israeli death rate applied to Germany would be about 570 dead and applied to the United States it would be 2,243 dead.

I don't think the Western attitude to the conflict parties or the main theme of Western news reporting on the killing does justice to this massacre.
I suppose the conflict could be 'solved' quite easily, if 'we' (the Western powers) only pressured the regime in Cairo to take back Gaza within a year or two. It would only take a UNSC decision (mandate that Gaza Strip is Egyptian and Egypt is responsible for it, also mandate demilitarisation with permitted paramilitary presence and UN observer mission), an EU/US air travel embargo (hits tourism) and a hiatus in U.S. subsidies to Egypt.
In parallel, the West could easily force Israel to yield the Golan heights (Syria is for sure no threat for years to come) with demilitarised status and UN observers (UNSC decision), and to completely withdraw from the West Bank within a year or two. The pressure required for this could not possibly exceed an air travel embargo, maritime blockade, a telecommunications cable and satellite blockade and a hiatus in U.S. subsidies to Israel, for Israel is 100% dependent on these lines of  communication with the West.

All the decades of talking to two parties evidently gone crazy yields little because of the seriously fucked up regional and domestic dynamics in the Levante.

The lingering conflict is FUBAR regionally, but it's obvious that only Western tolerance for this status keeps it going on like this. The West could cut this Gordian knot if only it decided to get serious about it and force all parties gone crazy to yield.
But that's not what we do, for we're not serious about wanting peace in that region: Decades-old arrangements and prejudices still reign supreme, and actors from that region feed them.


*: These statistics are for population, not citizens.
**: Israel is winning the propaganda war decisively, though. A few days ago the 24hr news cycle in Germany had the headline that the IDF fears a "9/11" style attack by Hamas - pure fantasy which paints Hamas as AQ-like terror group, but it was also a great distraction from what happens in reality. The mass media loved it, as it offered a spectacular headline. More recently, Israel fed to the media the fear that Hamas has still 10,000 rockets in storage and again, the mass media loved it and coined a 24 hr news cycle with it. I wonder whether they would consider a spectacular headline about Israelis stocks of bombs, howitzer shells and artillery rockets as newsworthy in light of the undisputable fact that Israel kills more civilians by orders of magnitude? I wonder rhetorically only, of course.

//No comments allowed for obvious reasons.//


To anyone who believes law enforcement wouldn't use modern intelligence-collecting powers in minor cases, only to keep us safe for real

That's simply not the nature of a LE or intelligence bureaucracy!

Analysis of recordings of license plates, analysis of DNA - to identify some young people who have raised a white flag on a bridge.

Not enough?

Well, then maybe I should remind you about the ridiculously low success rate of London's Metro police stop and searches of civilians:

The Metropolitan Police used section 44 of the Terrorism Act more than 170,000 times in 2008 to stop people in London.
That compares to almost 72,000 anti-terror stop and searches carried out in the previous year. The Met said anti-terror searches had been more widely used since the planting of two car bombs in central London in July 2007.

Of all the stops last year, only 65 led to arrests for terror offences, a success rate of just 0.035%.
The dates are so old because I wrote about this in 2009 already. There's a huge welath of such examples in the Western world. The stop and search thing is no "intelligence collecting power", but I suppose you get the point: 

Don't lead LE or intelligence agencies into temptation, for they will not resist. Limit their powers, and punish transgressions ruthlessly!



Lethality of navies

The Information Dissemination blog has embedded a video titled "The future of Seapower Lethality". I admit right away; I didn't watch a single second of it, nor am I interested in its content.
Instead, it's merely an occasion to write about lethality of sea power myself :

A look at military history shows very few cases in which the lethality of seapower was of prime importance. Frigates of the age of sail cruiser for years or decades without firing a shot in anger, for example. Having enough spare sails in storage and a good tailor to fix damaged sails was more imporant to a frigate captain than whether his ship carried 12 pounder or 18 pounder guns.
Early gunpowder naval combat even rarely saw ships sunk at all; I remember to have read about a battle in which the participant disengaged in horror when -unexpectedly - a ship exploded.

Most utility and importance of seapower in history was to be found in safe routine patrols and in fleet-in-being functions. To have the survivability and strength (numbers) to patrol routinely instead of being the underdog (and be forced to cower in harbours or under water) was of great importance. The Royal Navy became the dominant navy of the world without excelling in lethality - but it was able to let hundreds of ships patrol (cruise). This meant a huge demand for dry docks, coal storages, coal shipping, ammunition depots and many harbours during the Ironclad Age up to WW2. They were not much concerned with lethality, and didn't need to be. 

Navies concerned much with lethality were different navies; underdog navies. The German World War navies were very much focused on lethality, particularly on lethality of the submarines. Eventually, the submarines were defeated or want of survivability, safe communications and logistics.
The really poor underdog navies were the ones which weren't very lethal in at least a niche.*

One might think the American carrier fleets were all about lethality, but their strength was first and foremost their radar-supported survivability in 1943-1945. Their lethality was rather modest (and dependent on luck in 1942), with a rather unimpressive sorties-to-damage_done ratio in most engagements.**

So why would people with naval interests today pay much attention to lethality? Sure, it makes little sense to neglect one aspect, but one ought to admit that the an ESSM missile hitting a speedboat gets more attention than the performance of some plastic foam that's usable to fill up compartments for damage control***.

Maybe lethality - potentially spectacular and easy to grasp as it is - has a little bit too much attention nowadays, and maybe this is one of the many peacetime aberrances which military bureaucracies develop after not being tested for real for generations?


*: The First French Republict had at least some fine corsairs, the German World War navies were lethal with submarines (and MTBs in WW2) at least initially, the IJN had its six-month straw fire with an imperssive amount of prizes captured and the Italian World War Navies had at least fine frogmen (and MTBs in WW1). A complete sucker was the Russian/Soviet navy in both World Wars, and the French World War navies were utterly inconsequential as well.
**: There are not enough low hanging fruits for a spectacular average if you are extremely active, of course.
***: or whether good-enough stocks of ammunitions are available to sustain operations.


Fred Kaplan: "Israel's Deadly Gambits"

I largely agree with Fred Kaplan's column here. He's quite often a sensible, intelligent commentator on affairs I'm more or less interested in.

Israel has long-lost the underdog role, and ever since its intervention in the Lebanese Civil War its grand strategy seems to have turned stupid. They're failing to show strategic self-discipline and long-term thinking while having a position of strength - similar to French policies towards social democrats-led German governments in the late 20's. Their strategic behaviour fits what an average 15 year old boy might suggest to do.

The parallels to Crusader history may be quite disconcerting to someone who is paying attention to history. They came from overseas, have mostly religious claims on the land, showed superior martial prowess in face of superior numbers, their enemies are divided, their enemies are weakened by wars among each other and against foreigners, they depend to some degree on immigration, they depend on continued support from overseas (...).

The crusader states survived for about two centuries. Israel survived for about seven decades already. The question is now how far go the parallels - and will they turn towards a smart-enough grand strategy for survival?*


*: Nukes or MAD alone are no guarantee in the long term. The purpose of the state Israel is to provide security, a crisis under the Sword of Damokles known as MAD might force a future Israeli government to yield to meet its purpose.

///Reader comments are shut off because I'm not stupid enough to not know that Israel-related discussions and comments turn ugly way too often.///



Human shields - repost

I think current events make it worthwhile to point readers at an old Defence and Freedom blog post about "human shields":

Long story short: Hamas is not using human shields unless it keeps civilians from fleeing by force. To just tell them not to go isn't a war crime afaik.

(c)Gringer, 2009
It was ridiculous to expect the Gazans to leave the Northern half of the Gaza Strip anyway: The Northern half is where most of them live (see image), they cannot flee from the general war zone anyway (neither into Egypt nor into Israel, obviously - and the Mediterranean Sea isn't helpful either). And if there's anything Palestinians can agree on, it's that fleeing from the IDF is very risky. Israel has earned a reputation for not necessarily letting refugees return. Many Arabs in the Gaza Strip know this from their family history.

This reminds me of another 2009 blog post, about relevant Chinese history. Some expectations or advices from foreigners sound quite foolish once you consider the history of the country in question.



"Chaos in Iraq"


[Deutsch] 'Sicherheitspolitik' ist seltsam wählerisch


Ich erinnere mich noch, wie Bundesminister der Verteidigung Rühe mit der Salamitaktik der deutschen Auslandseinsätze begann: Ein Bundeswehrhospital in Kambodscha. Das Land litt noch unter dem Bürgerkrieg.
Wer konnte sich schon einem derart edlen Unterfangen widersetzen? So ziemlich niemand. Und so begann es. Schritt für Schritt ging es weiter mit der Militarisierung der Außenpolitik (damals noch beschrien von den Grünen) bis man 1999 mitmachte beim Luftkrieg gegen Jugoslawien (mit einer rot-grünen Regierung!). Recht kurz danach standen auch Heerestruppen in Kabul.

Einer von Rühes Nachfolgern, Struck, prägte den allgemein als lächerlich empfundenen Satz "Die Sicherheit der Bundesrepublik Deutschland wird auch am Hindukusch verteidigt".

Nun gibt es eine Ebola Epidemie in Westafrika. Wiederum könnten ein paar Bundeswehrsanitätstruppen Leben retten. Und dieses Mal ist es weniger lächerlich zu behaupten, dass eine Entsendung von Truppen irgendwie auch Deutsche daheim schützt.

Aber irgendwie scheint niemand diese Option auch nur öffentlich zu diskutieren.

Mag dies sein, weil

* dort zu helfen wohl keine diplomatischen good will erkaufen würde?

* Politiker ihre Abenteuerspielchen lieber mit echten, potentiell kämpferischen,  Soldaten spielen? 

* es weder den Egoismen von Bürokratie noch von der Industrie dienen würde, da ein solcher Einsatz wohl kaum zusätzliche Ausgaben für Truppen, Fahrzeuge usw. zur Folge hätte?

* es in der EU kein Äquivalent zum Chef-Falken der NATO, Rasmussen, und seiner Bürokratie gäbe? Bei Optionen für Militäreinsätze sind die scharf darauf, die "Relevanz" der NATO zu beweisen.

* die Fußball-WM die Massen für eine Weile ruhiggestellt hat? 

* ein Ebola-Epidemiegebiet für Journalisten nicht so attraktiv ist (obendrein Malariagebiet) und es relativ wenige Berichte zur Krise gibt?

Ich behaupte, dass eine rationale Regierung (die irgendwie doch den ISAF-Einsatz für sinnvoll hielt) sicherlich einige Flugzeugladungen und Bundeswehr-Sanitätspersonal nach Westafrika schicken und dort der Führung durch vorhandene Koordinatoren (wohl WHO) stellen würde. Oder sie würde zumindest ein ziviles Engagement zeigen, womöglich auch mit in bezahlten Urlaub geschicktem Bundeswehr-Sanitätspersonal für Ärzte ohne Grenzen.


P.S.: Es sind ganze zwei Wissenschaftler der Bw in einem Diagnoseteam dort, sowas nehme ich hier nicht als nationales Engagement ernst: Link.


'Security policy' is strangely selective

I remember how the German minister of defence Rühe began with the salami tactics towards German military missions overseas: A military hospital in Cambodia, which was still suffering due to the civil war.
Who could object to saving lives, without killing anyone? Nobody. That's how it began. And then they progressed slice by slice, until 1999 German combat aircraft were participating in air attacks on Yugoslavia, and shortly thereafter ground troops were in Kabul.

One of Rühe's successors, Struck, coined the often-ridiculed line about how Germany is supposedly 'being defended at the hindukush' (in Afghanistan). 

Now there's an Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Again, a few military hospitals could save lives. And this time it's less ridiculous to claim that sending troops (military hospitals) there would in some way protect Germans at home.

Yet nobody is even discussing this option in public.

May this be so because 

* helping there would not be perceived as creating bargaining chips for diplomacy?
* playing games with combat troops as game chips is more 'fun' to politicians?
* there would be no bureaucratic or industrial special interests being served, since such a mission wouldn't justify extra expenses such as extra troops, extra vehicles et cetera?
* there's no equivalent in the European Union to NATO's hawk-in-chief, Rasmussen, and his bureaucracy, which are hell-bent on proving 'relevance' through highly visible expeditions?

* the football world championship has satisfied the masses enough for a while?

* an ebola epidemic zone isn't all that attractive to journalists and thus there are few reports about the problem?

I suppose in a rational government which by whatever info came to the conclusion that military action in Afghanistan is worthwhile would certainly send plenty cargo aircraft and some military hospitals to West Africa and put them under control of whatever coordinator institution there is so far (I suppose WHO). Or it would at least create a civilian response under the lead of Médecins Sans Frontières, possibly giving military medical personnel paid leave for it.