2014/03/31

Spying, data collection and the coercion problem

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I think I held back for long enough; I suppose the media will indeed not go after the real problems.*

The issue of population surveillance can be divided by domestic/foreign, government/private, government/government, business/private and it's all very different.

Germans (and foreigners in Germany) have a constitutional right to not be spied upon or be under surveillance. This was established by the German federal constitutional court three decades ago in a ruling on a case about the German census.

Surveillance and spying do also incur costs, so both the situation of the people's rights and costs allow the conclusion that spying on us or having us under surveillance requires a good justification. The burden of proof is thus on the proponents of spying and surveillance.

That's the point where I actually could conclude this blog post, because the proponent's cases for any spying that's not near-consensus (such as observation of Mafia members and the like) have been utterly ridiculous and disproved with such impressive regularity that their credible is even worse than a government politician's credibility in general.

- - - - -

We shouldn't let the case rest, though. Knowledge is power, and power needs to be tamed and legitimated in a society or it will tear it apart and replace it with another kind of society - autocratic, plutocratic or other.
An agency which knows a lot on us can misuse its knowledge (or be misused itself) to political ends.

A CEO may be blackmailed into accepting a poor deal.
A bureaucrat who wants to expose a scandal may be discredited or blackmailed with information.
A rising star politician may be damaged by revelations while government politicians who did the same are not.
A member of parliament may be blackmailed into voting a certain way.
In fact, a foreign power's government may blackmail our politicians into acting against our interest and in their interest.

Knowledge is power, and to not protect this knowledge and to not deter the acquisition of such knowledge means to yield power to those who are not democratically legitimated to wield this power. A democracy yielding such power needlessly to government officials or even foreigners becomes less self-determined, less democratic. According to the German constitution, power originates from the people and is being lent to people in government based on democratic legitimation (through votes and plebiscites). Power just slipping away on another route is not constitutional. Foreigners are not supposed to be able to exert power over the German state; that would be counter to the very sovereignty. Likewise, our own officials should not wield other powers than those legitimated democratically and thus legally.

- - - - -

Domestic spying and surveillance has another, very bad problem: It's an important ingredient in autocratic governments, and to set up the laws, the public tolerance, the tools, the agency with personnel and the databases for such an autocratic government in advance is a very stupid idea. We shouldn't make it so very easy for them, just in case we fail to keep dangerous idiots away from power and turn into an autocratic society sometime again. At least make it harder for the dangerous idiots to pull off such a transition towards dictatorship, and keep them from exploiting accumulated data spanning back years or decades!
This point is one which our politicians don't get. They simply cannot imagine that they themselves could be evil or turn evil, and they wouldn't make it to top politicians if their ability to think far ahead wasn't concentrated on their career alone.

- - - - -

The business/private spying and surveillance is a different matter. This is about ripping us off. Businesses collect data not only in order to supply us with goods and services which meet our preferences better: They collect data in order to have more profitable business relationships with us. This is very often to our disadvantage, not a win-win. It also provokes a lot of annoyances. I had four advertisements of computer stuff in my mail the first week after I bought a computer sometime in the mid-90's. Even back then, the information about my computer purchase was traded and lots of companies began to annoy me. I try to avoid that companies learn about my real contact address ever since.
The problem is especially evident (and tricky) in the insurance sector, where companies have good statistical methods to predict the costs you'll incur to them if they know a lot about you. Then again, them guessing instead is not really good for the insurance market outcome either.

- - - - -

Now what should German politicians do in light of foreign spying and data collection on us?
(1) Make sure none of our government agencies is tolerant or even supportive of such behaviour.
(2) Expose any such activities.
(3) Encourage (if not fund) defensive measures.
(4) Restrict such activities domestically (= kick the relevant personnel out, including persona non grata status for embassy and consulate personnel regardless of other relationships).
(5) Consider supportive legislative changes (criminal code).
(6) Sanction the offending countries.
(7) Reply in kind if nothing else matters; retribution in kind.


None of this appears to happen. So either the German politicians don't think the issue is serious or the blackmailing already took effect and Germans already lost some sovereignty in this regard. So far I think they're too trusting.

- - - - -


One might also think about whether another country spying and collecting on us is a hostile act or not.
 
I suppose the red line is to hostility would be crossed if
(1) The activity is meant to harm us, but not benefit them directly.
(2) The activity is indeed blackmailing, an offence against our sovereignty.
Foreign government/domestic business or foreign government/our government activities are the same in this regard. Government contractors count as agents of their government and thus as part thereof in this regard..

The week after hostilities against us were discovered we should rethink any alliance with the hostile power. So far I think the activities don't meet (a) or (b), at least not (a) intentionally. Whoever does covert missions on us does most likely expect some benefit from it.

- - - - -

The typical German discussion on espionage and data collection focuses on the experience of the private individual or on the example of the East German state and its Stasi's domestic surveillance and oppression. I believe we should pay more attention to the vulnerability of our democracy through the "knowledge is power" venue; blackmail and denunciation.
The question whether all companies and governments of the world know what messages I personally sent through the internet is in my opinion negligible in comparison to the prospect of another power exerting illegitimate influence on our top politicians. This holds true at least till we get federal-level plebiscites for direct legislation on important matters.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de
 
*: I was curious and waited and waited and waited, but the mainstream media appears to be utterly disinterested in these aspects.
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2014/03/30

Appropriate military strength requirements

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What is a satisfactory or even ideal level of a nation's "defence" strength?

Let's ignore for a while the inclination of many people to mistake intervention-readiness with defence.
There are - according to my long-time observation - different aspirations concerning defence and security. 

Dominance
The most extreme demands complete dominance in a quest for perfect security, but aside from the problem that the latter is unachievable, there's also the correct saying that perfect security for one is perfect insecurity for others.
We don't need Kant's categorical imperative to understand that being able to defeat (or at least hurt badly) everybody else is hardly a reasonable metric for "defence". In fact, the quest for such dominance may carry the seeds for future war (and war losses, costs) in itself, as others will feel compelled to increase their military power in order to meet at least relatively moderate defence requirements. This in turn can be misunderstood as offensive preparations (and can indeed morph into them) and provoke 'hawks' to promote offensive action in order to achieve something that's usually not really achievable.
The spending required to seek dominance is also ruinous.
Complete dominance isn't even a sensible means to achieve the end of security for a single country. It's for the same systemic problems no sensible means for an alliance.

Two Power Standard
There's a great choice of only slightly less ambitious goals; the Royal navy's two-power standard was such an example. They wanted to have a fleet equal to the fleets of the second and third most powerful fleets combined. It was defined with a couple serious other fleets in mind.
The British were not able to maintain this standard for long; the first true challenge to this standard succeeded by exceeding the UK's economic abilities and the British settled for a much less ambitious parity with the strongest other navy soon thereafter.*

Reality isn't simple enough
More sensible approaches take into account additional information, such as logistics, geography, or the difference between offensive and defensive potential. It wouldn't make much sense for the Europeans to be concerned about the Indian army's strength, for example. China does not need to worry about Israeli nukes. Austria doesn't need to worry about Turkish amphibious capabilities even thought they add to the Turkish military spending. Vietnam doesn't need to fear German tanks.

Political relations - at least the stable ones - influence the sensible demand for military strength as well. Allied forces can be added to yours, neutral ones don't add to your needs and only unfriendly ones are of real concern.
So basically Europe is overly militarized because of little threats, but let's move on the theory track some more.

Not simple at all
Let's assume you've got a sum of unfriendly forces potential of 100 that could be brought to bear against you. Would you need to have a military strength of 101 or 100? 
Or maybe you need less than 100 because said sum cannot ever be realised since some of the unfriendly powers don't like each other or at least would not co-operate? Maybe there's a potential of 100, but the maximum reasonable expectation of realised threat is rather at 60? So we should discuss a strength level of 61, 60 or less, right?

Reality vs. perception
Is military strength the correct metric at all? Do the potential aggressors ask god about our exact real military strength and get an answer? Is the answer correct or a lie?
Or maybe they don't know our correct military strength and what matters is rather their estimate of our military strength? Or rather the emotional impression done instead of a more cool-headed estimate?
What about the inaccuracy of our estimates or impressions about our and their strengths?
There's no doubt a great deal of uncertainty. The problem of uncertainty is that we should not choose the safe route and estimate our strength cautiously while readily believing every hype about theirs. Assume we did; we would need to strive for great military strength, which would lead to similar consequences as the 'complete dominance' approach.

Pyrrhic 'victories'
But maybe we don't need this anyway. Maybe we do not really need to be superior. 
Sounds silly, right? That's because the discourse on such matters has gone silly itself long ago.
Almost everybody is aware of the phenomenon of Pyrrhic victories and generally disappointing 'victories'. Sometimes a fight wasn't worth it even though you're recognized as 'winner'. Maybe the expectation of such a disappointment is a just as effective deterrent as the expectation of defeat?

At times, even less might suffice. Even the expectation of a resounding victory may be an insufficient motivation for aggression. Keep in mind there are third parties. Hitler would likely not have attacked Poland the way he did if he had known what mess this would entail. Hussein would not have attacked Kuwait either if he had understood the third party reactions in advance.

International Law (and culture) as cost-saver
An international framework of rules, norms and expectations may indeed enhance national or collective security far beyond what your military strength can achieve on its own. All those miniature countries such as Monaco, Andorra or Brunei would not exist any more without this effect.

Reliance on third parties is unreliable of course (despite the aforementioned long-term survivor states). Even formal, treaty-bound allies are at times unreliable and may not act quite as expected when it gets bloody [cough] Italy [/cough].

You might also get caught in a situation in which you ought to defend an ally against attack from a power which you didn't initially consider unfriendly at all.


In the end there's a great deal of fuzziness and uncertainty. It's apparently impossible to determine the exact military strength needed to meet a specific ambition or requirement. Well, it's at least impossible without god-like omniscience, and I won't be reassured by certain politician's pretensions that they've got a direct phone line to god.

We can tell whether certain ambitions are wrong in principle or not. These are not affected by the complexity, fuzziness and uncertainty. Someone who claims that his country needs to dominate the world militarily as a requirement for its national defence isn't speaking about mere defence and national security at all; he (rarely she) is rather speaking about infantile power fantasies.


Practical application on the EU
Europe is in a beneficial geographic situation thanks to the Mediterranean Sea. Right now most of the Southern Med countries have little military power and Israel is still considered to be no threat to Europe. Yet even if there were credible threats on the other side of the Med, all we would need to have is the ability to keep them at a distance or repel them. An ability to return the favour and invade them, occupy them, and force extreme demands on them is not required for European defence. The South is relatively nice and cheap defence-wise.
The Western direction is no issue as long as we're allied with the only powers there, the northern direction is basically barren land and water from where no threat originates. 
The Eastern direction only points at Russia, which is much weaker than it used to be. Again, we don't need to be able to capture Moscow - we don't even need to be able to bombard it. I suppose we only need to be able to keep whoever rules there convinced that attacking us is a stupid idea.

And military strength alone - even if great - is not enough to do so. You also need to be convincing about its use even against minor aggressions. This is - yet again - an Estonia-related topic. One of the present European deterrence challenges is to teach Russians that EU Europeans truly considers Estonians as some of themselves. That might some day be worth more than a thousand of gold-plated military aircraft. To be frank; this would require that the average EU citizen learns about the existence of Estonia in the first place.

S O

*: Please note that today, even a theoretically much more ambitious five-power standard applied to the USN would allow the USN to dismantle itself so very much that the naval community and many anglophone milbloggers would not only cry foul, but likely even talk about revolt.
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2014/03/28

New leaked recording from Turkey

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International business Times, UK Edition



Remarks
 
(1) For years their domestic and foreign policies seemed like a huge and extraordinary success. Since then, the Turkish economy has gone into bubble mode, the foreign policy unravelled due to the Arab Spring, the liberties situation turned visibly to the worse with censorship and the government which initially countered decades-old corruption turned out to be corrupt itself.
They clearly missed the point when it was best to pass on the baton.

(2) Warmongers at work (apparently). Deliberating about how to construct a false reason for war, false flag-style.

(3) After more than a year of country-shaking leaks they still discuss such things when recordings are possible? Even with the intelligence chief? How stupid is that?

(4) It's remarkable how leaks have influenced foreign and domestic policies since Wikileaks attracted much attention. Now Russia appears to use leaks as an effective foreign policy tool, trying to thwart opposing schemes.

S O

*: In theory it could be worthwhile to learn Turkish, but it's yet another language family and I'm not inclined to learn it as 5th language.
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Germany and natural gas (the same again)

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My annoyed rant from 2008 still applies concerning the German 'dependence' on Russian gas: The figures did not change substantially. 

Only 22.5% of German primary energy 'consumption' is from natural gas



8-9% of total. If you think this enables Russia to blackmail Germany into anything serious, you need to catch up on historical perspectives. And an oil embargo wouldn't be nearly as relevant because they would export most of it to the world market instead and this is where we buy crude oil anyway.

Now if we look the other way, it becomes clearly visible that a cut off of EU-Russian natural gas trade would crash their economy within two years or so, especially if coupled with a financial embargo. They depend on mineral fuels exports almost as much as Persian Gulf countries do.
Merkel could survive a lengthy gas embargo in office*, but Putin could likely not.

S O

*: To gain and maintain power is her only core competence anyway
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2014/03/24

[Fun] Russian air assault troops

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It's visually a combination of 30's (shrouded undercarriage), 40's (iconic PPSh-41 submachine gun, the predecessor of the AKM as identifier of all things "Russian"), 50's (camo suit) and 60's (exposed boxer engine 'cylinders').
Still, it's modern given the current Russian politics ... and it's hilarious!
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Ukrainian militias

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Many Ukrainians feel defenceless and calls for a mobilization have more or less directly led to the creation of de facto militias more or less parallel to the regular armed forces. 

I cannot tell the exact nature of what is growing there - that's the disadvantage of writing about recent events. 
I do want to remark that such militias have historically rarely proved to be effective against invaders. There's especially no example in history of an ad hoc militia forcing its ways over a defended land bridge as the one(s) connecting the Crimea with the continent. The battles on the land bridges of Tenochtitlan came most close to such an example, but the attackers failed.

Such militias can easily grow into domestic political factors, though. The German Freikorps, French revolution Garde nationale, Afghan Mujaheddin and plenty other examples show this.

So the actions of the government in Kiew regarding control, regulation, absorption or disbanding of whatever kind of militias sprung up will be potentially coining strategic decisions. I suppose these decisions will be more influential than their rhetoric reactions to what Russia does on the Crimea.
In an outlier scenario, the mobilisation and aroused nationalism could put the Ukraine into a position of regional numerical superiority vs. Russia and thus provoke a fundamental change of Russian military posture in Europe. This in turn could necessitate an arms race-like reaction by Poland and Germany - if we're not too busy and distracted with domestic and intra-EU issues.

S O
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2014/03/21

Actio et reactio

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One of the selling propositions of expeditionary warfare is that expeditionary capabilities of armed forces protect weaker countries against aggressors.* The scenario usually goes like this:

Small country is being under attack or threatened -> some super-deployable notional force arrives on the scene -> ??? -> Success!

This isn't merely about intra-continental administrative marches as what I wrote a couple days ago: It's about massive budgets for airlift capacity, aerial tankers, amphibious warfare ships, aircraft carriers or even only about squeezing some army vehicle into some medium-sized cargo aircraft.
______________

Strangely, interventions are rarely similar to their advertisements (quel surprise!).

Three kinds of case studies about the interventionist cause have become quite apparent during the last generation:

(1) Strategic offensive cases after months of undisturbed force build-up:
Iraq 1991, Iraq 2003

(2) Strategic defensive cases in which intervention forces aren't used at all or arrive very late:
Ruanda/Burundi 1994, TF Hawk 1999, South Ossetia/Georgia 2006, Ukraine/Crimea 2014

(3) Cases in which interventions began small and swelled up in size over time
Kosovo Air War 1999, Iraq occupation 2003-2007, Afghanistan 2001-OMG, Libya 2011

The very few flash-like interventions were meanwhile largely the business of the French and happened in Africa. The initial overthrow of the Taleban in 2011 with indigenous allies and few dozen Western soldiers on the ground supported by very long-range air power was another partial example.


The Ruanda/Burundi (or Hutu vs. Tutsi) genocide event of 1994 was an especially disturbing case, all interventionist bashing aside for once. Intelligence officers warned early about the potential for mass violence, but their warnings drowned in the noise of diplomatic cables and intelligence assessments. There were only weeks time to prevent the worst with an invasion, and the whole nightmare was completed within roughly a hundred days. The lag in understanding what's happening plus the lag of building political will to stop it and finally the landlocked location which required overflight rights and other details added to a very troublesome mixture.
The most irritating Rwandan Genocide is in my opinion the biggest challenge to the anti-interventionist cause. 
 
An intervention in Rwanda wouldn't have required most of what interventionists demand for the armed forces, though. Interventionists argue for more budget, more aircraft, more ships, more brigades, bombings and invasions - they don't focus on building up politicians' cojones to intervene quickly and decisively where there's no ally, no oil, and no figurehead of evil.


S O

*: And of course there's never a cost/benefit analysis attached. It's never with interventionist talking points.

P.S.: I admit; I ran out of good titles.
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2014/03/19

[Deutsch] Das Principal-Agent Problem; Sonderausgabe Politik

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Dieser Blogtext hat den Tag "civil liberties" und ist über das "Freedom" in "Defence and Freedom". Einige Blogbesucher halten dies für einen reinen Milblog und finden Themen wie diese unpassend dazu. Aber was ist schon eine verteidigung der Freiheit gegen fremde Armeen wert, wenn man nicht auf die Freiheit daheim achtet?* "Civil liberties" ist eines der vier großen Themen dieses Blogs.

John Stewart machte sich auf köstliche Weise lustig über die Doppelmoral einer US-Politikerin zum Thema Spionage daheim. Ich würde das Video ja gerne einbinden, aber es benimmt sich daneben (startet von alleine etc.), also sei Euch der Link empfohlen.


Satire ist ein wundervolles Mittel, um Doppelmoral zu entlarven. Doch normale Nachristen zeigen diese auch. Man muss höchstens mal zwischen den Zeilen lesen oder auch bloß ein paar Nachrichtenberichte vergleichen.
Es war überaus offensichtlich dass deutsche Politiker sich laut über die Spionage ihnen gegenüber beschwerten, aber zuvor kaum etwas von sich hören ließen, als über Spionage gegen Normalbürger berichtet wurde. Selbst heute nehme ich ein ernsthaftes allgemeines Aufmüpfen nur von den niederen Etagen der Parteien (natürlich nicht CDU) wahr; Kommunal- und allenfalls noch oppositionelle Landespolitiker.

Dies ist das klassische Principal-Agent Problem: Die Leute können nicht alles als Gruppe selbst tun, also delegieren sie Aufgaben an 'Agenten', die dann ihre eigene Sicht der Dinge, ihre eigenen Vorlieben usw. anwenden - und das Ergebnis ist selten im besten Interesse der Allgemeinheit.

Aber dies hat noch tiefere Wurzeln; ich denke Politiker haben zwei Gesinnungsprobleme.

(a) Sie halten viel zu viel von sich und Ihresgleichen
Dies ist ein großes Problem wenn es darum geht, Sicherheitsregeln gegen Machtmissbrauch zu etablieren oder auch nur aufrecht zu erhalten. Politiker auf nationaler und Landesebene halten sich nicht für eine Gefahr für unsere Freiheit, also warum sollten ihnen Fesseln angelegt werden?
Eine bessere Frage wäre natürlich  'Warum würdet ihr überhaupt diese Einschränkungen gegen Machtmissbrauch auch nur bemerken, wenn Eure Handlungen doch niemals so übel sind, dass ihr auch nur in die Nähe dieser Einschränkungen kommt?'

Dieses Problem ist besonders offensichtlich in Diskussionen zur Internetzensur. Diese naiven Politiker glauben tatsächlich, dass Zensur OK ist, solange sie selbst an der macht sind. Denn sie meinen es ja nur gut und die Zensur ist ja auch nur gegen die wenigen *füge die Buhmänner des Jahres hier ein* gerichtet.
Nein. Keine Zensur, basta.

Dasselbe gilt für Spionage im eigenen Lande und Vorratsdatenspeicherung. Die Pläne in diese Richtung sind oftmals ebenso verfassungswidrig wie Zensur (man würde "verfassungsfeindlich" sagen, wenn politische Außenseiter sie vorgeschlagen hätten).


(b) Sie trauen den Bürgern nicht
Das ist eigentlich unlogisch, denn schließlich haben ja diese nicht vertrauenswürdige Wählerschaft sie überhaupt mehr oder weniger direkt erst in Ämter gewählt, oder?
Dieses Misstrauen ist besonders offensichtlich beim thema Volksabstimmung. Angeblich sind wie das Volk ja vollkommen fähig eine gute Wahl zu treffen wenn ganze Parteien mit riesigen Wahlprogrammen für eine Legislaturperiode von vier Jahren voller unvorhersehbarer Ereignisse zur Wahl antreten. Doch wir sind zu emotional instabil und zu einfach manipulierbar wenn eine Abstimmung über einen spezifischen, veröffentlichten und monatelang öffentlich diskutierten Vorschlag ansteht.

Und natürlich sind wir nicht vertrauenswürdig, denn schließlich sind wir alle potentielle Kriminelle, wenn nicht gar pauschal Verdächtige oder 'Gefährder'. Ich bezweifle stark, dass die Kriminalitätsrate bei den Spitzenpolitikern unter dem bundesdeutschen Durchschnitt liegt. Zu viele Politiker wurden sogar verurteilt, und manch einer kam gar als Vorbestrafter ins Kabinett.
Doch diese Gefahren - politischen Extremismus und mangelndes Demokratieverständnis - sehen die Bundespolitiker scheinbar nur bei den Normalbürgern (und bei den Mitgliedern einer Partei, die ohnehin nie an einer Bundesregierung Anteil hat).
___________

Es wäre wunderbar wenn wir unsere politische Kultur über diese Gesinnungsprobleme hinweg fortentwickeln könnten. Doch das ist auf absehbare Zeit nicht zu erwarten. Die politischen Eliten reden zu viel untereinander und mit ihrer Peripherie. Politshows im Fernsehen sind auch bloß eine Form der Unterhaltung, die Politik als Vorwand nutzt und Politiker als leicht verfügbare, bekannte und kostenlose Darsteller beschäftigt. Über die dahergebrachten Formen der politischen Öffentlichkeit wird kaum viel Reform kommen.

Nieman schien fähig, das Grundfalsche an der Idee der Zensur in den Politikerschädel zu hämmern, aus dem dieser dumme Vorschlag kam. Und nun? Besagter Politikerschädel hat jetzt den Oberbefehl über die Bundeswehr.

Der bloße Vorschlag von Zensur hätte den sofortigen Karriereselbstmord bedeuten müssen, doch so kam es nicht. Dies, wenn schon nichts Anderes, sollte nun wirklich als Motivation reichen, sich selbst politisch zu engagieren und sich für Verbesserungen im politischen System und der politischen Kultur Deutschlands zu engagieren.


S O
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The Principal-Agent Problem, a Politicians Edition

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This blog text is tagged "civil liberties" and about the "Freedom" in "Defence and Freedom". Some visitors think this is only a military blog and such topics are outside of its scope, but what's the point of defending freedom against foreign power if powers within have already taken it away?* Civil liberties topics are one of the 'big four' of this blog.

Stewart mocks the hypocrisy of some U.S. politician on domestic spying. I would embed the video, but it misbehaves (starts on its own et cetera), so feel free to watch it at this link.


Satire is a wonderful tool to expose such a hypocrisy, but normal news reports show it as well. All it takes to see it is to read between the lines or even only compare different news reports.
It was all-too obvious that German politicians reacted loudly to reports about espionage on them (such as for example on their phones), but created merely a faint response to reports about how their constituents were being spied on by a foreign country.

This is the classic principal-agent problem; the people can't do all by themselves as a group, so they delegate tasks to agents who then apply their own view of the world, their own preferences - and rarely do what's in the groups' best interest.

But this goes deeper; politicians have in my opinion two attitude problems:

(a) They think of themselves too highly.
This is a major obstacle to the addition or even only maintenance of safeties against governmental power abuse. National-level politicians don't think of themselves as a threat to our liberties, so why shackle themselves with rules?  A better question should be 'why would you even notice the limitations on your power if your actions are never outrageous enough to encounter said abuse-preventing limitations?'

This problem is especially evident in discussions about domestic spying and internet censorship. These naive politicians actually believe censorship is fine if they are in control, after all they're benevolent and the censorship was only meant against *insert bogeyman of the year here* any way.
NO, no censorship, period.
 
The same applies to domestic spying, surveillance and data retention efforts. The political plans in these directions are often as much unconstitutional as the canned censorship idea.

(b) They don't trust their constituents.
That's actually illogical, after all those untrustworthy people have chosen the politicians for high office in the first place, right?
This distrust is especially evident when it comes to discussions about plebiscites. Supposedly, we the people are perfectly capable of making a wise decision to vote for entire parties with entire political programs for a duration of four year full of unanticipated events, but we are too emotionally unstable and too easily manipulated when the vote is about one specific, published bill that's been discussed publicly for months.
 
And of course we're untrustworthy, as we're potentially criminals. I strongly doubt that the crime rate is lower among the general populace than among national-level politicians, though. We have seen enough scandals, including people serving in the federal Cabinet after being found guilty of crimes.
But the dangers, political extremism, lack of understanding of democracy - national-level politicians seem to see these problems only among the general population (and among the members of some party which never happens to be a ruling party on the federal level).
___________

It would be nice if somehow our political culture would evolve beyond this attitude problem. This is unlikely to happen any time soon, though. The political elite is talking too much to itself and its own entourage. Political discussion TV shows are mere entertainment, using politics as pretext and politicians as easily available, free and already famous actors.
Nobody seemed to be able to hammer the idea that any censorship is wrong into the head of the minister who proposed internet censorship. Guess what? Said minister is as of now in command of our armed forces.

To propose censorships should equal instant political career suicide, but it wasn't. That, if nothing else, should be enough motivation for everyone to get more politically active and to push for improvements of the political system and the political culture.
 
S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: For a somewhat humorous take on this, look here.
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2014/03/18

Fascinating

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The past weeks were fascinating. There's an 'opportunity' for a war, and most voices suddenly sound anti-war. Even infamous warmongers had their anti-war moment and for the first time ever disliked an 'opportunity' to send troops in harm's way. That is, until their fetish got the better of them and they still demanded some involvement with guns.

So there's a conflict in which the potential opponent would not be some inept Arab military and there was no orchestrated multi-month propaganda campaign, much less there's oil in any substantial quantities involved. 
And suddenly there are pacifists, reasonable adults, everywhere.

Warmongers do no cost-benefit calculations, so the only explanation I have for this kind of behaviour is that still too many people are in a gaming mode when thinking about war and peace. Some wars promise to be 'fun', others not so much.

"News" shows are actually entertainment shows pretending to deliver information.
Plane is missing! - plane crashed there in the sea! - no it flew that direction! - no, wreck pieces found there! - no it flew the other direction after all! - people on some island saw an aircraft flying low! - information content: about zero, but it's apparently attractive to enough people to sustain the racket.

One shouldn't be surprised by how some distant war is just another entertainment project to the masses, distracting them from few people enriching themselves on it or having fun with their fetish of power fantasies.
Wars used to be in great part the games of a ruling elite and a justification for a warrior caste. Nowadays we're more democratic, and cabinet wars are largely gone. Today's governments don't need majority support for a war, but at least a critical mass of a minority - and especially majority support or tolerance in the media.

Now it just happens that wars are a story that keeps giving to media, like a plane crash every week. Horrible, but they do love it. And too man people cannot resist the attraction and keep being useful idiots, contributing to the critical mass of war supporters once the warmongers gear up.
Well, unless the potential war is no fun even to warmongers.


S O
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2014/03/14

[Blog] Sorry, I'm manipulative

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I admit it; I'm manipulative. Quite often so, indeed.

My shtick is not to intentionally use wrong info or arguments, but very often I write something hoping that the reader really concludes something that wasn't mentioned directly.

A recent, harmless example;
 
The British were probably the last Europeans to understand this; even as late as early 1918 they still had a 'forward strong, little depth' defence on the Western Front. They suffered accordingly, with the many infantrymen in the observable forward trenches getting hammered by artillery. Other armies had previously (at least partially) moved to a defence with a thinly manned continuous forward trench for pickets with most infantry beyond the LOS.
This wasn't a superficial bashing of the British, but in part a hidden message that you're almost a behind the curve by almost a century if you disagree with my notion of "forward weak" on grounds of intuition or whatever. It supported my next line:
 
You better keep your exposed LOS troops rather few in number.

I already admitted in a comment discussion that entire blog texts are essentially meant to convey a 'hidden' message:
I rarely write non-"[Fun]" posts for but one reason. There's often a hidden one as well.
This time I coupled a popular topic with the messages that looking at military history can help understand parts of our world and I wanted to demonstrate how the integration of tactical and technical details can further the understanding of what the tools of war mean.
Rifles and cartridges are not mere chunks of metal, or some object of fascination for hobbyists. They were shaped by evolving circumstances, serve a purpose within their context - and a successful solution can be outdated and outright wrong soon thereafter.

My habit of writing blog posts with 'hidden' intents and messages and my approach of attracting milporn seekers and then releasing a small avalanche of pro-peace anti-interventionist messages on them has come to my attention step by step. It wasn't some cunning plan formulated when I founded this blog. It just developed over time, by exploiting opportunities. Sometimes I just write about some hardware topic (because I myself feel the fascination of technical hardware, too) and end up colouring it heavily with one or two of my recurring themes.

One of the style elements on this blog which I attempted to honour for years is the "moral of the story" in italic text at the end, which summarizes the point of the text. I found that even these were often not the really intended (hidden) message.

It took me quite long to understand this subconscious subtleness of mine as I am usually characterised as not very subtle by others. Some anglophone contacts (not Germans) described (or complained about) my approach as 'abrasive', 'blunt', 'brutal' or similar not exactly soft words.

I believe the more usual milbloggers attempt to manipulate as well, albeit typically from opposing political points. I cannot know for sure - only they themselves can know it.


Now you've got a new free mini game available; you may attempt to discern the hidden messages from my blog texts...

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2014/03/13

LOS and NLOS firepower

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I got annoyed - again - by a clueless remark on milporn toys infantry weapons.

The topic this time is thus the substitution relationship between line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight firepower, or more specifically the firepower of troops in contact (infantry or tanks, for example) and the firepower of troops either not on the ground or far away (indirect fire artillery, for example).

Example clueless question:
Couldn't we replace mortar fire with grenade launcher fire?
Answer:
Most likely we would be very, very stupid if we did.

This answer is not self-evident for people who look at milporn toys weapons themselves. After all, both weapons kill with exploding things spraying fragments, right?

Here's the somewhat abstract summary why this particular substitution would be idiotic unless the status quo ante was even more idiotic:

LOS troops* are usually the most vulnerable ones during a battle because they are most exposed to detection and identification; hostile ground forces can detect them not only through NLOS means (as aerial recce), but also through LOS means (such as simple eyes).
LOS troops are also relatively immobile; once in contact, they are at least somewhat fixed. It's a historical constant that troops committed to a fight are difficult to pull out of it; breaking contact is hard. Valuable, but hard.
LOS firepower is also typically short-ranged. Lines of sight are short, and LOS firepower is optimised accordingly. This means LOS firepower cannot shift its impact by a long distance in a short time. An artillery unit may shoot at two different targets with a spacing of 70 km within five minutes. LOS firepower would  -depending on LOS troops type- be limited to about 1-8 km. NLOS firepower can thus participate in more fights per week and is thus quite efficient in its own way.

All this - and particularly the first point - lead to a preference for rather few LOS troops in contact. The areas of the battlefield which are exposed to LOS observation must not be crowded.
The British were probably the last Europeans to understand this; even as late as early 1918 they still had a 'forward strong, little depth' defence on the Western Front. They suffered accordingly, with the many infantrymen in the observable forward trenches getting hammered by artillery. Other armies had previously (at least partially) moved to a defence with a thinly manned continuous forward trench for pickets with most infantry beyond the LOS.
You better keep your exposed LOS troops rather few in number.

Well, how to gain an advantage if you don't strive to have the 'bigger battalions' up front all the time?
One answer is to add 'effects', not troops. And by 'effects' I mean first and foremost artillery firepower; NLOS firepower.
Whenever possible (especially within the constraints of unreliable radio comm) one should strive to substitute LOS firepower by adding NLOS firepower quality or quantity. Less firepower applied by LOS forces allows for less LOS forces exposed, for longer endurance (until ammunition runs low) or for lighter loads (for more agility and mobility).

To attempt to substitute a NLOS firepower asset which is acceptable at its job in favour of more LOS firepower gets this entirely backwards. It's an example of how hardware fandom (or a man with simple professional training without enough thinking) doesn't get the concept of some tool right. 
There's a conceptual difference between LOS and NLOS firepower.
 
LOS replaced by NLOS = usually an improvement
NLOS replaced by LOS = usually nonsense


Try to get the idea and the concept of what, why, where and when of the milporn toys weapons in question.
A layman can get this right just as easily hardly as a professional soldier because a layman isn't burdened by indoctrination. It requires thought beyond the spec sheets, beyond the visual appearance, beyond the doctrinal teachings (which were all too often devised for the most stupid students).
Weapons of war are no fun toys or sports equipment. They serve a role in an intricate web of restraints, environment, capabilities, organisation and much else. Your odds of getting the "is it good idea or not" question about weapons right are almost exactly as poor as the flip of a coin if you don't even attempt to understand this background in detail.

This assertion of mine is spanning very much the entire world of military affairs. Think about the question whether the German submarine fleet of September 1939 was right, too weak or too strong for example. Form your opinion without trying to heed my advice and then compare with what I wrote on the topic five years ago.

S O

*: I will call troops in line of sight (or "duel") fights "LOS troops". The others "NLOS troops". Also, "LOS firepower" and "NLOS firepower" respectively.

P.S.: I've been trying to get this point across for more than five years, and now it was about time to drop the subtlety. Subtlety doesn't work well here.
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2014/03/11

Strategic reaction to inter-state war crisis situations

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Historians keep blaming the mobilization of forces for setting Europe on autopilot for the Great War (now known as First World War), or at least partially so.
Quick mobilization of reserve divisions and transportation thereof to the theatre of war by means of the railroad network have been known since the mid-1860's. The better armies of the 1900's emphasized this very much in their peacetime planning. To be slower than an a opposing staff or to have politicians introduce any delays was believed to risk a quick defeat in war.

Mobilizations - even reactive, defensive ones - are since 1914 widely regarded as provocative measures and as escalating steps potentially (likely) leading to war. Politicians don't authorize mobilizations lightly for this reason any more, nor equivalents.
The result is that the aforementioned politically induced delays have become rather likely.
________
Scientists calculated during the 70's that a Soviet first strike with intercontinental missiles could reach Washington DC within about seven minutes if launched from the USSR (and almost no time if launched from the Atlantic ocean nearby). This wasn't enough for a reasonable decision-making about a retaliatory attacks even without including any friction. Again, politically induced delay was a major 'problem', and there was no doubt that a second strike ability after the first (only) thermonuclear attack wave was required, hence all that interest in the ridiculously large quantity of U.S.and USSR nukes and in mobile (rail, truck, submarine) long-range missiles with large yield warheads. The delay and its consequences shaped a large part of the Cold War arms race. The nuclear arsenals didn't so much compete against each other as some people believed: It was a race to convince the other bloc's leaders that they couldn't keep you from retaliating. We will never know if much less of an arsenal would have sufficed as well.
Well, this was how seriously all the things which can go wrong were taken in planning for a crisis situation during the Cold War. Seemingly insane spending levels were 'justified' with the necessities caused by the difficulties of Cold War crisis situations.
________

At the end of the Cold War, everyone seemed to slack a bit.
By 1991 NATO had adopted (but not trumpeted out very much) counter-concentration as its crisis reaction doctrine.

counter-concentration
The massing of military forces, or massing of their effects, at a particular time and place with sufficient military capability to counter the attacker's force concentration. Counter-concentration can be conducted by the defender to neutralize the effects of the attacker's ongoing or future concentration.
Dictionary of Modern Strategy and Tactics

To be honest; the rather few noises made about this may indicate that few take it particularly seriously more than two decades later, but then again there's to my knowledge no real alternative doctrine and counter-concentration is the rather intuitive response anyway. It doesn't take the studying of von Clausewitz' "Vom Kriege" original edition to understand the concept.

The strategic counter-concentration doctrine didn't provoke very much activity, though. Planning for such counter-concentrations, base-building, forward supply stocks, quick deployment exercises - none of this coined NATO since the 90's. NATO went playing great power games over Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan instead. 
The Baltic countries were still a bit reassured by the established quick deployment forces (paras, mountain troops, wheeled armoured reconnaissance units) and probably also by Gen. Shinseki's quick deployment fetish post-'99.**
Western airborne forces were never adequately equipped to face competent mechanised forces on relatively flat, open terrain. In fact, Western airborne forces doctrine and equipment didn't seem to much sense in face of competent adversaries ever. They were all weak in regard to on-ground mobility, supply, anti-tank firepower, protected mobility, direct fire support, indirect fire support ... basically a hyped-up reserve pool for regular infantry.
________

NATO's counter-concentration capability is suffering from inevitable political delays as only warmongers would want to provoke and escalate needlessly and it's suffering from a rather low speed of counter-concentration because the units of highest strategic mobility are rather inadequate in a major crisis once on the ground.

Air power deployments don't change this much either, for in part they compete with ground forces deployments for air lift and in part Western air forces seem to lack what it takes.
The Soviets were always making sure that all their front combat aviation would be capable of operating from grass strips if necessary. Westerners fiddled around with some STOVL aircraft (yielding only a handful Harriers), some impractical zero length launch devices (only suitable if you think of an aircraft as a single use cruise missile with a nuclear warhead or to evacuate cratered air bases) and other than that occasional exercises with some aircraft operating from motorways were about the maximum ever done.
 
This unhealthy love affair with big airbases became even more fortified during the 90's. Aircraft flying missions against targets in Kosovo didn't necessarily take off in Southern Italy, but usually in more distant Northern Italy. This was much worse in regard to endurance over the target area, fuel reserves for air combat and so on, but there were more big and beautiful bases up north. Aviano Air Base, for example. Aviano was suitable for strikes on most of Serbia, but far away from Kosovo
 

The same ridiculous story was repeated during the bombardment of Libya (and I don't mean Reagan's, which was even more extreme): The participating air forces did mostly not set up shop close to Libya, on Crete and Sicily, much less on Lampedusa. Instead, they used whatever fully built-up air bases already existed in the Mediterranean, with all bells and whistles. Even in ridiculously distant places. It's no wonder that European aerial refuelling assets were inadequate. They were never dimensioned to make up for such epic laziness.

In short: NATO's air forces may think of themselves very highly (or not), but they are far from oriented towards quick a deployment in force onto ill-prepared air bases or roads in some distant country. Counter-concentration isn't their strength, and I suppose if politicians asked them to shape up in this regard the first and loud answer would be a multi-billion wish list for more transport and tanker aircraft instead of a couple serious unannounced deployment exercises.

- - - - -
Now, how to do it better?
 
First, acknowledge there will be politically induced delays. We're not going to get rid of them because they actually make sense. In fact, to pay more attention to political means of addressing conflicts not only during conflicts but also beforehand (budget!) would be very promising.
 
Second, acknowledge that whatever quickness of counter-concentration 'we' may have when we need it, it's more likely to be called "slowness" by later historians. Take this into account in general.
 
Third, military forces need to get quicker by actually preparing for their defence job for a change and run unannounced quick deployment exercises. Tell a German brigade on Sunday at 19:00 to be on an army training ground in Bulgaria by next Friday at 12:00. Then run a demanding one-week exercise there. Someone from top leadership should be there and see what arrives in time, and in what shape (and whether they fall asleep on 5th day or maintained sleep discipline). Rinse, repeat (with new locations and times) till they're good at quick strategic deployments.

Fourth, forget all this Arab beating up business with six months of preparations, "overwhelming force" and "synchronized" stuff, including detailed plans for many hours ahead.
 
We need doctrine, organisation and equipment meant to prevail while outnumbered, partially outclassed by hardware, unaccustomed to terrain, from -30° C to +45° C, with severe yet random personnel deficiencies (up to ~20% non-deployable personnel and vacancies) and material deficiencies (up to ~15% material unserviceable). Small units of manoeuvre (reinforced battalion battlegroup size at most), prepared to make do with little and sporadic official supply. To wait till large units of manoeuvre arrive completely and with plenty stocks would add much delay.
Air forces need to be banned from their air bases at times, their ground units have to be able to generate two or three sorties per combat aircraft and day on average - including repairs of combat damage and with the wing dispersed on two or three improvised airfields. An air war needs to be sustainable far away from depots without time to stock up forward depots first.
Quick deployment plans involving not only the easily disrupted rail network, but also civilian trucking companies need to be available for contingencies.

- - - - -

Military bureaucracies would no doubt prefer a very expensive and not particularly challenging forward deployment with lots of forces in lots of areas over a cheaper yet very challenging preparation for very responsive forces capable of prevailing under very unfavourable conditions. I prefer the latter if it's reasonable that it will succeed to deter an aggression against our alliance(s).
Now what we have least use for are stupid military adventures for no real gain whatsoever in distant places that distracts said military forces from their most noble mission:

(1) Der Bund stellt Streitkräfte zur Verteidigung auf. Ihre zahlenmäßige Stärke und die Grundzüge ihrer Organisation müssen sich aus dem Haushaltsplan ergeben.

(1) The Federation shall establish Armed Forces for purposes of defence. Their numerical strength and general organisational structure must be shown in the budget.

S O

*: Including Chancellor Schmidt, whose alarm about the SS-20 was naive in my opinion.
**: The goal was to deploy an American brigade with Stryker 8x8 AFVs by air within four days, but nobody seemed to have asked the USAF if this did fit in its plans and nobody had convinced the Russians that 8x8 AFVs were equals to T-80s.

P.S.:  This was in part inspired by the Ukraine crisis, but it combines several opinions I had about the entire topic for a long time. I criticized counter-concentration already back in 2010, for example.

By the way; I recommend to read about the undefeated (in over 60 battles) Generalissimo Suvorov and his habit of being so quick and direct on campaigns that his opponents were rarely ready for the fight.
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2014/03/03

Hypocrisy in effect

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Kerry on Russia: “You just don’t” invade another country “on a completely trumped up pretext”

We should not have done the Kosovo Air War. They should not have done the Iraq invasion.
Now the U.S. cannot really claim that Russia is doing anything unusual, even through they violate the sovereignty of another country and a multinational treaty. At least not without being completely hypocritical.

U.S.:
Violated the Charter of the United Nations repeatedly (Panama 1989, Iraq 2002, Yugoslavia 1999)
Violated the North Atlantic Treaty repeatedly (same)
Invaded countries repeatedly (Panama 1989, Iraq 2002)
Did not bring any responsible individuals to justice for these violations

Many EU members:
Violated the Charter of the United Nations (Yugoslavia 1999; UK and Poland also Iraq 2002)
Violated the North Atlantic Treaty repeatedly (same)
(UK and Poland: Invaded a country (Iraq 2002))
Did not bring any responsible individuals to justice for these violations

Russia:
Violated the Charter of the United Nations repeatedly (Georgia 2006, Ukraine 2014 apparently)
Violated the Budapest Memorandums repeatedly
Invaded a country (Georgia 2006)
Did not bring any responsible individuals to justice for these violations

I don't need to talk with someone who has a Russian perspective to see that the Obama administration's line is hypocritical. It's the same old story again; 'we' do what we want, rules apply only to others. Grow up.
S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

P.S.: The lists are not meant to be comprehensive, nor do they include domestic behaviour. I think they prove the point that the West and the U.S. in particular don't own the moral high ground without being comprehensive. Putin could even invoke the Grenada excuse for an invasion.
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What I wrote years ago...

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...on the topic of the Ukraine and possible guarantees of sovereignty or independence:
 

The tone is coined by my stance that defence policy is about defence, not about playing games in distant places. 
Feel free to compare this tone and mindset with all the voices which are inevitably going to be raised about possible guarantees or interventions in the Ukraine.

The difference is a fundamentally different approach. 
My approach is to protect one's own country, which is best done in a sufficiently strong alliance - and this means "defence" is widened in its meaning to collective defence of the alliance.
 
Troubles such as those in the Ukraine, or earlier in Georgia, are better handled through institutions and global culture. Interventionists erode the role of institutions (UN etc.) and peaceful culture with aggression, hypocrisy and disrespect. Both are unpleasant obstacles to their own gaming, but merely useful tools to bash others (hence hypocrisy).
We were globally better than that when the UN was founded and aggressions ostracised.
A world with interventionist great powers is a worse world than one in which even great powers could face the Apartheid regimes' fate of exclusion. Regrettably, the design of the UNSC and the economic integration of Western economies make this extremely difficult for the time being.

- - - - -

By the way; the best a better lever against the apparent current Crimea policy of Putin is likely not military power, but taking the wealth of Russian oligarchs that's being stored abroad hostage. This in turn is reminiscent of what I wrote about strategic air warfare.*  Let's see if the usual (warmonger) suspects get that idea, too. ;)
I suppose they only see nails and will call for the hammer.

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: (I don't have nearly as many ideas as blog posts, that's for sure.)
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[Blog] Your choice

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Your choice: Which topic shall I cover next week?

(1) A text about MRL (multiple rocket launcher) history similar to the recent rifle calibre summary, with some more emphasis on the current situation and near future?

(2) Finally finish the drone theory part about naval drones?

(3) A text about personnel affairs, with a healthy dose of military history?

(4) "The great irony of imperialism" (my lazy option; it's almost done anyway)?

(5) A run-of-the-mill text about an AFV?

(6) A text about reaction to strategic crisis situations, partially inspired by the Crimea crisis?

(7) A text combining a couple threads from this blog to draw conclusions for one scenario of how infantry armament may (or should) evolve in the future?

(8) Finally some more on the civil liberties / civil rights front?

(9) None. Just STFU for a week?


Most if not all losers (by majority vote) won't be done for quite some time...
I expect few votes in the comments, so feel empowered!

S O
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2014/03/01

A second interpretation of international sanctions

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You may or may not have followed the developments about the Iran / nukes / USA story over the last year of so, thus for the purpose of this blog post my summary:

An agreement was reached that Iran stops or reverses some of his civilian nuclear industry activities (there's no evidence for ongoing military nuclear activities) and ongoing negotiations are meant to eventually resolve the conflict peacefully* within the next months.
The price paid for this progress? No new sanctions on Iran.

So basically what happened a while ago was what the existing sanctions were purportedly meant to achieve: Iran becoming cooperative and seeking a diplomatic solution, with the prospect that it doesn't turn into a nuclear power.

Yet something strange happened; some politicians who were very much proponents of sanctions (supposedly to coerce Iran) are now calling for more, even adding them into federal U.S. legislation efforts that otherwise aren't really about Iran at all (such as a veterans benefits bill). They're obviously trying to sabotage the negotiations process, even though sanctions were supposedly meant to coerce Iran into doing what it's actually doing now.


The majority interpretation appears to be that this is merely a symptom of the usually idiotic domestic two-party system politics between the two overtly hostile political parties in the United States: It's being assumed that the sabotage is meant to keep the president from scoring a foreign policy success by solving a chronic issue which the other party's president didn't solve.
I disagree, albeit I admit blaming idiotic politics is not implausible.

My interpretation is rather that the masquerade did end. 
The sanctions were never meant to coerce Iran into negotiations, at least not to some of their influential proponents. The sanctions were rather meant to foster a climate of hostility towards Iran, laying the groundwork for "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran".

It was the same with the IAEA inspections in Iraq post-1996. The smarter Neocons probably understood that Iraq had been thoroughly disarmed in part by warfare and in part by the 1991-1996 disarmament campaign. The dumber ones like Wolfowitz likely didn't, but the smarter ones likely did (at least subconsciously). Ongoing inspections were not meant to disarm; they were meant to keep the 'problem' (which wasn't) alive and to maintain the image of Iraq as a hostile, threatening power. It was about fostering hostility, not about seeking a peaceful solution to an actual problem.

Only a few days ago there were calls for sanctions against the Ukraine (or its government). It didn't sound to me as if someone had thoroughly thought about what sanctions, how they could help - it rather sounded like an attempt to escalate the Western position in the domestic Ukrainian conflict towards open hostility towards the Ukrainian regime.

Maybe I'm right on this, maybe I'm not. Just keep it in mind when the next time someone is demanding sanctions against some country.  Is the person (and the represented institution) likely sincere in the quest for a peaceful solution? Are the proposed sanctions better suited to coerce others into a peaceful solution or better suited to foster hostility against a foreign government?

S O

*: That's what the United States, UK and others are obliged to seek in case of a political conflict anyway; a civilian solution. The obligations stem from the Charter of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty.
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