National soldier traits

Old-ish (and not necessarily politically correct) literature often asserted the relevance of national traits in armies, even in individual soldiers.

A typical description for a British soldier would be 'stubborn in the defence', or an Italian as 'brave, but doomed due to poor material'. Outstanding are the rich depictions of the Russians, who impressed German WW2 officers a lot. Their published stereotype was 'close to nature, and thus good at camouflage', 'able to withstand great hardships and make do with primitive means' and similar. Every positive mention of Russian soldier traits sounds to me like a description of their superiority, not like an attempt to save their face (as with Italians and Romanians, who seem to have been defended by German WW2 officers against critics).*

The actual accuracy of such stereotypes is by now only of interest for historians, since no doubt the societies, upbringing and cultures changed a lot.

Yet the concept of national traits may to some degree be true, and thus of interest today and in the future. Yet, how to learn about such traits short of waging war?

One approach could be to look at simulated warfare, and since hardly anyone has a close-up vantage point over actual military exercises (not the least because there are very few large-scale outdoor exercises nowadays) we might look at the next-best simulation: Computer multiplayer games. These bring together players from different countries and by the very large quantity of players and matches there ought to be fine statistical relevance for this demographic. Many so-called "Russian" gamers are often Ukrainians or other people (even Greeks, since "Russians" are usually identified by chatting in Cyrillic), though.

I'm focusing on Russians here because they are of particular interest to a defence-interested citizen in a NATO and EU country. I've looked this up and the stereotypical Russian player seems to differ from game to game.
In some games, Russians appear to have the reputation of being incapable of teamplay, in others the opposite. It appears that the language barrier is the actual determinant here: All-"Russian" teams appear to have teamplay, whereas "Russians" in a mixed language "team" are reputedly incapable of teamplay. It should be noted that teamplay doesn't require a player to communicate in game chat; he could adapt his actions to what the majority does - and seemingly they don't.

The observation becomes particularly difficult and anecdotes may be misleading because players aren't equal. The game developers know that about 5% of the players can wipe the floor with the other 95% any time in a 1-on-1 contact. There can thus be some very impressive players of nationality "A", while the vast majority may appear to be useless. The experience with players from country "A" depends thus on whether you have a systemic bias in your contacts. Top players teaming up with other top players will meet a disproportionate share of very effective players from "A".

A few quick observations and internet text searches are no proper way to research the topic, and nobody should build his own prejudices about a nationality based on such a superficial research. My point here is that people who actually get paid to do research might gain some useful, statistically relevant insights by observing different nationalities in MMOGs and MOGs. They might be able to define a set of psychological archetypes (or adopt such from less specific psychology theory) and observe players from different nations to determine the different shares of these archetypes in different nations. This might actually be of use for military theory, specifically doctrine development and red teaming/OPFOR. We sure should not rely on generations-old stereotypes or Cold War prejudices.


*: It's the negative attributed traits more than the positive ones that make the written stereotypes look racist and politically incorrect in the post-Cold War world. Many if not all stereotypes have at least a small core of truth, though.


Brace yourself

The Russians will hold a 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade on May 9th.

They will show off their newest tank family "Armata", including a long-awaited all-new main battle tank design (probably the first all-new one since the 1970's).



A comment on the maritime migration disaster

People from countries with a paramilitarized coast guard seem to tend to discuss coast guard issues such as the illegal immigration and distress situation in the Central Mediterranean as a topic fit for a Milblog, and I will use this as an excuse to issue a comment.

The situation shows that both sides of the debate (as I view it) are very much restricted in their repertoire.
The governments of Europe appear to be limited in their ability to a treatment of the symptom, by ramping up maritime observation and search and rescue efforts mostly. Other measures include the handling of the immigrants in EU countries.

The other extreme is the much less prominent team do-gooder, which pretends to propose measures that address the root cause; restrictions on immigration if not even poverty in Africa and civil wars. Yes, some people talk about the need for a small arms export ban and feel this is closely related to the distress at sea issue.

Based on my (not truly thorough) investigation of the subject, I suspect the best course of action would be to address the immediate cause, but just as with the piracy issue, the Ukraine crisis and some others such a policy doesn't seem to be in the European repertoire any more.

The cause of this kind of migration is in my opinion largely the success of a well-reported investment model: A village or clan sends one or two productive and loyal members to Europe to earn money there and then send it back home. This is how poor African refugees can come up with 5,000 € for the smugglers' efforts. Another business model that drives the migration is even criminal; the smugglers themselves pay families to get pretty young women to immigrate into Europe, where their 'occupation' is pre-planned already.

Such business models and also the hopes of other potential immigrants can be smashed if the migrants were kept without the freedom of intra-EU travel on an island. Pantelleria is not really too small for this, but maybe too pretty. How about paying Greece to house all unaccepted migrants at minimum humane comfort on Crete or Rhodes?
A following information campaign in African and Arab television with plenty of video documentation of unhappy and bored migrants who get no money at all could then dry out the supply of these migrants. A few mean rumours wouldn't hurt either. And those who want to return ought to be returned.

Rescue of people in distress at sea is a self-evident service of a modern, sophisticated state. Yet such states do not need to respect foreigners' business models that don't respect the state.

The problem is that only the most obvious, most primitive reactions to problems have a decent chance of approval in the rigid and unimaginative European capitals. Pirates at sea? Patrol the sea! War in Ukraine? Call for ceasefire and issue sanctions. Migrants at sea? Patrol the sea! 
Something seems broken when political systems can only come up with unimaginative, primitive and utterly predictable responses.



[deutsch] Deutsche NATO-Mitgliedschaft - Quo vadis?

(A link to German blog post on pro and contra of German NATO membership)

Exklusiv veröffentlicht auf "Verteidigung und Freiheit":

Eine Bewertung der Mitgliedschaft und politische Optionen für die Zukunft.

UK, European nuclear deterrence

Looking at defence debates in the UK is a strange experience. They're very insular, very much charmed by an idea of exceptionality. Approaches perfectly acceptable to almost all other countries are seemingly unacceptable if not unthinkable to those interested in UK defence (and I suppose almost everybody in the UK is actually disinterested in defence affairs, so the debates are even more insular).

One recurring topic are the expenses of the nuclear deterrence. "Trident" had been a huge topic back in the 80's already.
The expectations for the reliability of a national second nuclear strike capability are extremely high; the only benchmark for this seems to be the U.S.' capabilities. Such ambitions lead to a tunnel vision on the most expensive approach; super-sophisticated small series run nuclear submarines with long range ballistic missiles tipped with thermonuclear warheads.

Isn't it strange how people reliably turn all-mad thinking abut the perfectly imaginary threat of a single crude nuclear bomb in hands of terrorists, but when it comes to a state's nuclear armament one must not think less than half a dozen leagues higher?

I suppose a few dozen universal nuclear warheads of variable and modest yield (preferably uranium-based* with high fusion share**) that fit into ship- and air-launched cruise missiles, torpedoes, free fall bombs, containers, Cessnas, car trunks, ATACMS and would be stored together with hundreds of decoys in lead-lined containers in military bases, warships and civilian locked-up locations*** would be deterrence enough. Real and decoy warhead containers could have covered and sealed serial numbers.
One could not threaten Siberia's annihilation with it, but St. Petersburg's for sure.

- - - - - -

My position on nukes
I myself are not in favour of nuclear disarmament in Europe before the Americans and Russians get rid of their nuclear munitions as well. My preferred course of action would be to have all nuclear powers limited to at most a hundred warheads of at most 100 kt yield each in the 2020's, and in the 2030's a step back towards "we can have nukes again within weeks" and later "...within months".

For the time being, it's useful to have nuclear deterrence not only for NATO, but also for the EU - in part because nobody can tell whether we'll be allied with or hostile to the Americans in 20 or 30 years. And I'm fine with France having nuclear warheads as a second European country, because the UK is European on paper only.
National control over nuclear warheads is NPT-compliant and more deterring than multinational (consensus- or majority-requiring) control. "EU nukes" are thus no option.
The UK and France have nuclear arms expenditures for the 'nuclear umbrella', which means their conventional military strength contribution towards collective defence can be relatively small (it's too bad both waste resources on interventionism, though).


*: Less hazardous in production and accidents than plutonium.
**: Less fallout per kt TNT equivalent.
***: Mining plants, basements of town police stations etc.


"Cluster Munitions No More: What This Means for the U.S. Military"

I wrote a few times about the cluster munitions ban and its consequences for battlefield artillery, examples:.

Here's a recent take by a U.S.Army officer on the subject:

by LTC Mike Jacobson, Armor Journal

It begins with

The end of American cluster munitions is arriving and the Department of Defense (DoD) has no plans to replace them. In 2008, when the U.S. government committed itself to disposing of cluster munitions by January 2019, this milestone seemed distant. Unfortunately, when DoD implements the final phase of this policy, it will deprive itself of a critical capability without a replacement.
and his proposal is about

*sarcasm* Surprise! */sarcasm*

expensive gold-plated ammunitions:

Thankfully, there may be a means for closing the gap against imprecisely located hardened and armored targets that does not involve a one-for-one replacement of the stockpile of cluster munitions currently in the inventory. The answer may be sensor-fuzed munitions. This is a family of munitions employed by firing them in an area where enemy vehicles are thought to be located; the munition fuze will then seek out objects on the ground for which its sensors are designed. Having located a target, moving or stationary, the munition then guides to and detonates precisely on the target using its own sensors and without reliance on GPS. The United States fielded such a munition to great effect during Operation Desert Storm in the form of Sense and Destroy Armor (SADARM).
He ends with a misinformation: The SADARM program was stopped as a disappointment AND it wasn't even available by the time of OP Desert Storm. The munition was used in the war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, though.

To be fair; I wrote about something similar many years ago, but it wasn't meant as a medium term procurement proposal.

The article was stereotypical, since the U.S.Army deserves its reputation as a lover of technological and big budget solutions to problems. This culture has infected many other military bureaucracies in the Western World, and it costs a lot. It may cost even more if the technophiliac approach leads into severe real war troubles again, as it already did in Korea and Vietnam.



[Blog] Blog comments

I switched comments off more than six weeks ago and I didn't regret it. The felt workload from blogging evaporated to very, very little. I've seen a great many blogs disappear or fall asleep because the people behind them grew tired of the effort,

The probability of Defence and Freedom sharing this fate any time soon dropped considerably - despite a much increased professional and non-blogging private demand for time.



It's about time to reassess Saudi-Arabia

What's on your mind when you think of Saudi-Arabia?
Oil fields, seas of yellow sand, medieval social policies, guys holding hands, bed sheets as clothes?

Well, maybe it's about time to think of Saudi-Arabia as a regional power, if not great power. An unconventional one - a new great power.

Here are the signs that made me think about Saudi-Arabia possibly turning into a great power:

Their intervention in Qatar to oppress Qatar's Shi'ite majority in favour of the Sunni monarchy.

Their intervention in over Syria and Iraq against Daesh

Their intervention in over Yemen against the Shi'ite civil war party known as Houthis

Their cultural export of wahhabism

Their foreign aid to Comores etc.

Their unique privilege and opportunity to be the protector of Mecca and Medina and resulting prestige gain amongst about 1.5 billion Muslims

Their high (albeit inefficiently used) military expenditures

They politically lead the Gulf states against Shi'ite powers and (less cohesively so) against Daesh as well

Them being the anchor for the regional regimes' orientation towards EU and U.S.

Their central geographical position between Persian Gulf and Red Sea

Their relatively large (~ 31 million) population compared to many other countries in the region

Saudi-Arabia used to tail-wag the U.S. for its purposes in regard to Persian Gulf maritime security and security against Saddam's Iraq, but this has lessened considerably.

Let's compare to another great power, Russia:
Russia doesn't do interventions or exercises much influence globally. Maybe it does the latter even less than Saudi-Arabia. A foreign policy with a regional focus does not prohibit great power status. Japan is being considered a great power without exercising substantial influence beyond its own region (or even only in its own region).
China is even more similar, albeit less prone to interventions: It's exercising economic influence in much of the world, just as does the Saudi "royal" (kleptocrat) house: They used the trade balance surpluses of the past to buy many shares of large European and American corporations.

The Saudi position, capabilities and actions look dissimilar to Apartheid South Africa and Israel, two countries that felt encircled with enemies (for good reason) and proceeded to wreck their neighbourhood with conflicts. Saudi-Arabia's kleptocrat regime feels threatened by both potential Shi'ite or out-of-control radical Sunni (Salafist) uprisings mostly.*
They look dissimilar for now, maybe because it's difficult to attribute who exactly contributed how much to the mess in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. This may change, and Saudi-Arabia may very well prove to be comparable to Apartheid South Africa and Israel.


*: Though not the few Shi'ites in Saudi-Arabia itself.


The irritating flashlight issue

Do you remember 1990's cop television series? Suddenly, all law enforcers seemed to use some cool-looking arms gymnastics to align a flashlight in their left hand with their pistol in their right hand. It sure looked cool, but I wondered about the concept itself: Didn't we teach Bundeswehr soldiers in basic not to do anything like this on guard duty?
The flashlight right between yourself and a suspect would be a perfect aiming help for the suspect even if he's dazzled by the light. You'd want the flashlight to be as far away from you as possible

Old "Reibert" book illustration
The 90's also saw the rise of "Surefire" (tm), a flashlight to be mounted on a firearm coaxially. Countless similar products have been introduced in the meantime.

Again, I wondered about why one would mount such a presence indicator on a firearm. I figured it only makes sense if you feel vastly superior to the opposition anyway.

The use of such accessories has increased over time, propelled by the proliferation of standardized mounting rails on firearms.
Military forces use a similar concept at night; a near-infrared laser that's not visible to the naked eye even at nighttime, but is visible to someone with night vision goggles. Again, I figures this only makes sense if you expect to be superior anyway (against an opponent with no night vision goggles or sights).

This sounds fine for occupation duties, but not like a requirement for a real defence-oriented army. Vastly inferior powers attack rarely - they defend.



Who Are the Nuclear Scofflaws?


What can be done about this flouting of the NPT, some 45 years after it went into operation?

That will almost certainly be a major issue at an NPT Review Conference that will convene at the UN headquarters, in New York City, from April 27 to May 22. These review conferences, held every five years, attract high-level national officials from around the world to discuss the treaty’s implementation. For a very brief time, the review conferences even draw the attention of television and other news commentators before the mass communications media return to their preoccupation with scandals, arrests, and the lives of movie stars.



Oh, really?

Unclassified RAND war games indicate that Russian forces could overrun local defenders and the light U.S. and NATO units currently able to respond within as few as two days. While the capitals and a small number of key points could be held for some time, Russian forces could seal the border between Lithuania and Poland, prevent reinforcement by sea, and confront NATO with a fait accompli.

Once secured, these territorial gains would be defended by heavy ground forces occupying the conquered states, along with very capable Russian anti-air and anti-ship defenses on Russian territory. Any serious attempt to liberate Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would entail attacks to suppress these systems.

If a Russian invasion of the Baltic states could not be deterred or defeated, the North Atlantic Council and the U.S. president would be faced with a very unpleasant choice: conduct a costly counteroffensive and risk nuclear escalation, or abandon the Baltics to renewed subservience to Moscow.

hat tip

Now how is this so familiar?

This has its greatest potential in sudden flare-ups of border conflicts à la South Ossetia as well as in regard to a Ukraine breakup scenario or a Baltic coup de main scenario.
An aggressor might see his chance in a coup de main (strategic surprise) coupled with deterring a counteroffensive with fait accompli and nuke threat. Would we really risk WW4 armageddon if the Russians had overrun and annexed Estonia by next week? Would we launch a conventional offensive to liberate it? Russia ain't Iraq, it has nukes. A low force density counteroffensive might actually stay below this deterrent 's actual threshold (this idea would require a lot of elaboration, of course).

I disagree with their recommendation, though. Too much dislike for tripwire forces.




Anti-Israel, Pro-Iran?

It has been brought to my attention that somebody called me anti-Israeli and pro-Iranian.

That's not how I'd call it, though I have to admit that given the choice between a world consisting only of countries with a foreign policy like Israel's and a world consisting only of countries with a foreign policy like Iran's, I'd pick the latter.

And here's why: World Peace in a nuclear arms-free world.

Iran hasn't attacked another country in almost 200 years. It has no nuclear weapons, and according to U.S. intelligence assessment not even a nuclear weapons program. It's a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and meets its obligations thereunder. Nuclear arms are illegal and unethical by top religious ruling in Iran.

The match-up would be considerably more tricky if it was about domestic policies, but theirs don't concern me much as a European. They are sovereign countries and both have elections. Neither has exemplary domestic policies, that's for sure.

A quick search (with search plugin on the left side) yielded merely 5 returns for the word "Israel", and but two of them are blog posts more or less critical of Israel.

The latter is more concerned about the long-term prospects than it is critical, actually.

A search for "Iran" yields MUCH more, and that's largely because I think there's A LOT of hypocrisy and bullying involved particularly in U.S. positions regarding Iran. Israel's Iran policy is in my opinion merely the result of an individual's (Netanjahu's) obsession, and may change in any election. The European's policies regarding Iran are a mystery to me, but likely the result of affinity fraud-based lobbying success particularly by the U.S.. My position regarding Iran is thus largely a "leave them alone!" position, consistent with my general distaste for militarized or bullying foreign policy.

related: Iran's Been Two Years Away From a Nuclear Weapon for Three Decades, The Atlantic