Even if the USA picked up its toys and went home in a huff, which they won’t I might add, more’s the pity for the hapless US taxpayer, the effete dissipated welfare addicted gender quota apportioned peoples of Europe that dwell so prominently in the imaginations of Real Men From Texas (or wherever), are actually quite capable of keeping the Russian Hordes, in their rust covered jalopies with siphoned fuel tanks, from sweeping across the steppes and threatening to once again park themselves somewhere near the Fulda Gap, presumably out of nostalgia for a place with half decent food. Russia… big dick, but no shoes.
I have often said the difference between British and American arrogance is the Brits think they run the world, the Americans think they are the world. Yet somehow the world will bumble along even if either don’t get involved with spanking Putin. The US should just fixate the collective paranoia on China because that actually is something of a Good Old Fashioned Looming Threat, of the kind much loved by people like Boeing and Lockheed.
Perry de Havilland, “Russia… lets keep a sense of proportion”, Samizdata, 2014-04-06
April 6, 2014
March 31, 2014
Mark Collins links to this Washington Post graphic showing a comparison of military spending in the top five NATO countries and Russia (counting Soviet spending 1988-1991). Note that the United States and Russia now each spend the same proportion of GDP on their respective military forces:
For reference, Canada’s military budget doesn’t crack the top 10 in NATO: we spend about US$16.5 billion per year (not even in the top 15). Mark also points out that Australia spends proportionally more than Canada … about 50% more, in fact. But it should also be noted that while Canada and Australia have a lot in common, our defence needs are significantly different: Oz is in a much more dangerous part of the world than Canada, and they don’t share a lengthy border with the world’s biggest military spender. You could probably make a viable case that Australia isn’t spending enough given the rough neighbourhood they’re in.
March 25, 2014
In the Telegraph, Con Coughlin says that if NATO doesn’t stand up to Vladimir Putin’s aggressions, it’s done for:
For anyone who still takes the security of the West seriously — and I fear I am in a distinct minority — the manner in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has effortlessly achieved his audacious land grab in the Crimea should serve as a dramatic wake-up call for Nato.
And yet, to judge by the mood music coming from the meeting of Western leaders in The Hague this week, the likelihood of Nato doing anything to dissuade Moscow’s macho man from undertaking any further acts of military adventurism in central Europe or the Baltic states does not seem at all encouraging.
When faced with a crisis, the default position of Nato member states, as we have seen recently over Libya and Syria, is to bicker amongst themselves over how to respond, rather than coming up with an effective programme that safeguards its interests.
But if Nato leaders fail to come up with an adequate response to Putin’s new mood of military aggression, they might as well dissolve the alliance and start negotiating peace terms with Moscow.
Update: Poland is recalling reservists for military refresher training.
Next time you take a tray of tea and custard creams to the nice gang of Polish builders renovating your semi, they may seem a little distracted and anxious. Ask them why, and they will answer that some of them have in the last few weeks received call-up papers as army reservists.
This happened to a friend of mine in London at the end of last week. At least 7,000 reservists have been recalled to the colours for immediate exercises lasting between 10 and 30 days.
They’re told by the Polish authorities that the call-ups are “routine”: but the men say they haven’t been asked before and they’re well aware of the growing alarm in Warsaw at President Putin’s aggression. Three weeks ago, their Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, called a press conference to warn that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation.”
My own view is that Putin was initially more concerned with righting a specific historical wrong in Crimea than starting a new Cold War. This is still probably the case despite the dawning truth that the EU/Nato Emperor really has no clothes at all.
But in the worst case scenario of a truly revanchist Russia, Poland certainly has the borders from hell. Starting from the top, it abuts Kaliningrad (the Russian exclave on the Baltic carved at the end of the war from East Prussia), Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.
October 26, 2013
Austin Bay looks at the latest re-invention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):
As the Cold War faded in the early 1990s, “end of NATO” prognosticators argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union would lead to the collapse of the military alliance forged to defeat it. They maintained that intra-alliance political frictions, no longer checked by the threat of Soviet tanks and nuclear weapons, would inevitably fracture the complex organization.
Moreover, Western Europe, re-cast as the European Economic Community and preparing for life as the European Union, could do it alone, militarily and economically. According to these seers, the outbreak of peace in Europe meant Europeans no longer needed to fret with those overbearing Americans.
However, European peace didn’t break out, not quite. Instead, Yugoslavia broke up, a USSR in Balkan miniature, its dissolution sparking a series of dirty wars on European soil.
U.N. peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans failed to prevent massacres like Bosnia’s Srebrenica genocide. When Kosovo exploded, the Clinton Administration, Britain and France sidestepped the U.N. To fight the Kosovo War, they used a democratic political alliance capable of waging war on behalf of a better peace: NATO. By doing so, they reinvented NATO as a global actor for the North Atlantic democracies.
Balkan troubles still plague Europe, but NATO’s Kosovo intervention staunched the bloodshed. European diplomats also quickly learned that (excepting Serbia) the ex-Yugoslav Balkan states regarded NATO and the European Union as classy clubs. Diplomatic clout is one of NATO’s continuing utilities. Membership has prestige. Dangling NATO and European Union membership still encourages better, if not quite good, Balkan behavior.
The “deep goal” of this new round of reinvention is to insure that the alliance can fulfill its NATO treaty Article 5 obligation to current members. Article 5 commits every NATO nation to the defense of a member suffering attack by a non-NATO member. NATO invoked Article 5 after the 9-11 terror attacks on the U.S. The 9-11 Article 5 invocation and the Kosovo War were predicates to NATO’s “beyond Europe” involvement in Afghanistan and in Libya 2011.
NATO’s demise is anything but imminent. Evolving threats have seeded closer cooperation.
October 5, 2013
Sir Humphrey is back from his honeymoon and posts about the unfailing media habit of nostalgically looking back at the military of the Cold War era and contrasting it with the much smaller military of today:
When one looks back over the last 150 years, the possession of large military forces by the UK has been somewhat of an aberration. If you ignore WW1 & WW2, then the only period in which large forces were sustained was from 1945 until the end of the Cold War. This could only be done by relying firstly on large numbers of conscripts, then having to provide very low pay after the end of National Service. It is telling that once military wages began to catch up with, then overtake civilian roles, manpower quickly became increasingly unaffordable. Similarly it is easy to forget that this period is one of the very few in UK history where there was a clearly defined opponent, where UK forces had a clear role to play (e.g. maintain BAOR, defend the home base, conduct ASW) as well as support wider non NATO commitments. It is much easier to justify the retention of larger armed forces when you have a specific role in mind for them, and not just being held at readiness as a contingency.
In the UK we are perhaps guilty of looking back on the Cold War period as halcyon era where we had large armed forces, while forgetting that they existed to do very specific roles, and also encourage other nations to pull their weight too. The post Cold War era wasn’t some wonderful period where UK forces roamed the globe in glorious isolation emulating Palmerston’s views, but a period when the UK had to contribute to an international coalition and work with our partners against a common enemy. This is important to remember, for the argument that 30 years ago we had X frigates, Y jets and Z tanks compared to today’s paltry number is actually misleading. In reality much of this equipment was fully committed to NATO forces, and wasn’t easily available to support wider UK national interests beyond the NATO area. So yes, the UK had capabilities, but they were borne to meet a specific external threat, and not a general role.
Similarly, if one looks at availability, it becomes clear that in real terms UK capability for purely national tasks now isn’t far off what it was at the end of the Cold War. Speaking to a Naval friend who joined in the late 1980s, he pointed out that of the 47 escorts when they joined, nearly a third were usually tied up in refit. Add to this the tasking and working up of escorts for things like NATO commitments, and support to the South Atlantic, and suddenly that’s the best part of another 15 escorts committed. At best there would be a margin of some 10-15 hulls available for national discretionary deployments — not much more than is available today.
Yes, yes, but what about tiny Obscuristan with their 500 tanks? Britain is much bigger than Obscuristan, shouldn’t the British army have more tanks than them? And Fantasia has more ships in their navy than the Royal Navy does!
It is also important to realise when looking at these sorts of papers that nations have very different defence requirements. It is one thing to say we have less soldiers than say, South Korea, but we forget that we do not have a nuclear armed neighbour on our border with a leader who is not always a completely rational actor. It is entirely logical that some nations will have more military personnel than the UK — they have direct ground threats, or their need for manpower for other jobs means it is politically helpful to keep a large army to hand. For instance many states still conscript their troops, meaning on paper their army is vastly larger than the British Army, but this is only achieved through a ready pool of manpower who can be paid a pittance and employed on duties which are often as much about support local agriculture by working on farms, or support public order as it is about being a military force.
There are also many nations out there who on paper have large stockpiles of equipment (particularly in the Middle East) and this can easily be turned into a headline about how a tiny nation has more tanks than the UK. The reality though is that these purchases are little more than an insurance policy designed to coax the nations into feeling an obligation to support the purchaser in a real crisis. If one views defence sales to the Middle East as a means of these nations buying support through economic largesse then that’s probably not far off the mark. Many of these equipment buys are in fact often stored in the desert and left to rust without ever being used. The author has heard many tales of armouries full of weapons never removed from packing crates, or trained on and often forgotten about. On paper this is a capability, and in reality it is little more than a box of life expired spare parts. One difference between the UK and many other nations is that the UK is willing to genuinely use and ‘sweat’ its assets to get the most from its equipment purchases. Just because some nations have impressive arsenals does not equate to a genuine ability to use them to best effect.
May 1, 2013
Strategy Page outlines what we think we know about the use of nerve gas in Syria:
In Syria the rebels have been accusing the government of using nerve gas shells and bombs. Israel is convinced this is so and the U.S. is inclined to agree with them. The known incidents occurred in the northern city of Aleppo where government forces are taking a beating. Syria insists that no nerve gas was used, but the nerve gas may have been ordered as a desperate measure to halt the advancing rebels, with instructions that “this never happened”. Israel insists it has definitive proof and apparently that is convincing many NATO members, including the United States. Moreover a Syrian general defected in late April and said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against rebels in the southwest recently, but fired shells with harmless chemicals instead. The general offered to reveal where he had buried the actual chemical shells.
Syrian nerve gas is stored at some fifty locations all over the country. A large number of troops are devoted to defending these stockpiles and some chemical weapons have been moved to avoid capture by the rebels. Officially Syria has no nerve gas, but the Assad government has recently made statements indicating that it is abandoning that fiction. Syria has maintained stocks of chemical weapons for decades as a last ditch weapon for any future war with Israel (which few Syrians believe could be won). Israel has prepared accordingly. Recently Syria announced that it never had any intention of using nerve gas against Israel. This all gets even stranger as Israel has recently advised the United States to stay out of Syria, even if nerve gas is being used. That’s apparently because Israel wants to take care of this problem itself, as its Israeli civilians who are likely to die if Syrian nerve gas is captured by Islamic terrorists (who still want to use nerve gas against Israel).
Photos of dead civilians the rebels claim were nerve gas victims do show signs of nerve gas in use (foaming at the mouth and contracted pupils). The only way to obtain conclusive evidence is for someone to bring out the bodies of victims (or blood samples) and soil samples from the area where the nerve gas was used. If the rebels want to prove their accusations of nerve gas use they just have to collect these samples and get them out of the country. Apparently that has been done, at least to the satisfaction of Israeli intelligence. The U.S. said it would intervene militarily if Syria used chemical weapons and demands conclusive proof (blood and soil samples) before deciding and acting. Now the U.S. has apparently been shown evidence of Syrian use of chemical and is debating what to do about it.
January 11, 2013
Lewis Page on the recently announced retirement of the Browning 9mm from British military service:
The new pistol is the Glock 17 Gen4, which fires the same NATO standard 9x19mm cartridge as its illustrious predecessor. However the Glock holds 17 rounds as opposed to the Browning’s 13 — and even more crucially the new weapon can be carried with a round in the chamber ready to shoot at a moment’s notice due to its modern safety mechanisms, a practice which was normally forbidden with the Browning.
[. . .]
The now superseded weapon was designed way back in the 1920s by the legendary weapons engineer John Browning and first manufactured by Fabrique Nationale of Belgium in 1935. It was known commercially as the “Browning Hi-Power”. It was first issued to British forces during World War II, and gradually replaced all other pistols then in service to become the UK’s standard military sidearm. In its day it was a great weapon, and pistol design has evolved only incrementally since then, but today’s handguns are measurably superior and it was surely time for a change — the more so as the existing Brownings must have been pretty worn out by now.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have enabled the British forces to slowly and belatedly sort out their dire personal-weapons situation of the 1990s. The crappy Royal Ordnance/BAE Systems SA80 (L85A1) rifle was rebuilt in German factories so that it is now a good weapon, and proper belt-fed light machine guns and 40mm grenade launchers were procured. Other popular pieces of kit such as the L115A1 sniper rifle (from the famous Portsmouth firm Accuracy International, perhaps better known under its commercial name Arctic Warfare Super Magnum), the new combat shotgun and the new 7.62mm Sharpshooter rifle have also appeared in response to battlefield needs. Now with the new Glocks, at last, pretty much all the personal weapons carried by British troops today can be said to be first-class.
The Browning 9mm was first handgun I ever fired, and is still one of my favourites:
January 7, 2013
In Maclean’s, Paul Wells looks deeply into the hidden meanings of the Prime Minister’s rare interview utterances:
The Prime Minister’s year-end interviews are always worth close reading. Partly because he gives few interviews. Partly because those interviews, widely spaced, show how his thinking changes as circumstances do. This year the changes are stark.
The part I’ve just quoted came when Friesen asked Harper about the possibility that Bashar al-Assad might use chemical weapons against Syrian opponents of his regime.
Would NATO intervene? “Well, I don’t want to speculate.”
Is the use of what we used to call weapons of mass destruction a “red line,” as the Obama administration has called it? That was the question that got Harper talking about risks and caution. “What we can continue to do, as I say, is try to work with elements of the opposition and others to try to push that country to a better solution and try to avoid further escalation of this conflict.”
This is what being Prime Minister does to you. A decade ago, when conversation turned to the use of chemical or biological weapons and the theatre was Iraq, it was Jean Chrétien talking about risks and caution and Harper urging red lines. I dare hope we’ll never get to test the hypothetical in Syria, but it was not only when it came to Assad that this year’s Harper was notably less cocky than previous years’. Chastened, one might say, by a year when the world turned out to be more complex than advertised.
November 18, 2012
Strategy Page sums up the advice being provided to crews of merchant ships passing the Somali coast:
A decade of dealing with the Somali pirates has motivated merchant ships to adopt policies that make life very difficult for the pirates. To aid this process the NATO anti-piracy patrol emails advice to ships entering areas where pirates are active. The advice is based on experience with what works best to avoid getting captured by the pirates. If a vessel is captured, it costs the shipping companies (that own the vessel) millions of dollars, and it means the crew spends months (even a year or more) held captive on their own ship, often in squalid conditions. There is also the risk of injury, sickness or death, not to mention beatings and lack of medical care. So the crews have plenty of incentive to follow the advice.
The first item of advice is to keep a sharp lookout all the time. Radar will often reveal the larger mother ships, but the smaller speedboats carrying the pirate boarding party can only been seen by lookouts. If possible, supply these men with night-vision equipment. The pirates like to attack at night.
Stay away from unidentified ships, especially the small wooden cargo ships and ocean going fishing ships the pirates like to seize and use as mother ships. The pirates will not be able to deceive a determined identification attempt and the email advice gives plenty of tips on how to tell who is a pirate. If you identify a nearby ship as one seized by pirates, radio the anti-piracy patrol to check it out. Many mother ships are put out of action that way.
Avoid stopping at night, as this makes you a perfect target for pirate attack. When stopped at night use only the minimum number of navigation lights and otherwise keep the ship as dark as possible. If you must stop (usually outside a port) make sure the lookouts are alert and keep crew ready to quickly start the engines. Large ships can outrun and out maneuver pirates in their speed boats, but only if the larger ship is moving.
The anti-piracy patrol has also issued a list of things to look for when you see small wooden cargo ships and ocean going fishing ships and want to know if they have been taken over by pirates. The list describes the many telltale signs that these small ships have been turned into mother ships (and this reportable to the anti-piracy patrol).
October 14, 2012
October 13, 2012
In spite of the name, it had nothing to do with a crew booze-up in town:
HMS Conqueror is famous, some would say notorious, for sinking the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano. The nuclear-powered attack submarine, a type also known menacingly as a hunter-killer, that year became the first of her kind to fire in anger. The Belgrano was sent to bottom in short order, her ancient hull rent by two torpedoes: 323 men, many of them young conscripts, died. The Falklands war began in earnest that day, May 2 1982.
But the ship now in the crosswires was not the Belgrano. This was August, almost two months after the liberation of the Falklands, and on the other side of the world, in the Barents Sea, backyard of the mighty Soviet Northern Fleet. Conqueror was sailing as close to Russian territorial waters as was legally allowed — or maybe closer. Submariners, a tight-knit community, politely disdainful of their surface counterparts, joke that there are two types of naval vessel: submarines and targets. Wreford-Brown’s target was a spy trawler — an AGI in Nato parlance, meaning Auxiliary General Intelligence. Crammed with interception and detection equipment, they were a ubiquitous presence during the Cold War, shadowing Nato exercises or loitering off naval bases.
This one was special: Polish-flagged, she was pulling a device long coveted by the British and Americans, a two-mile string of hydrophones known as a towed-array sonar. It was the latest thing in Soviet submarine-detection technology and Conqueror’s job was to steal it. To do so, the bow was equipped with electronically controlled pincers, provided by the Americans, to gnaw through the three-inch-thick steel cable connecting it to the trawler. The name of this audacious exercise in piracy? Operation Barmaid.
September 17, 2012
Scott Rasmussen outlines the stark contrast between how ordinary Americans feel about their country’s defence establishment and how the politicians they elect fail to reflect those feelings:
As a starting point, Americans are proud of their country and hold its armed forces in high regard. Seventy-nine percent would rather live here than anywhere else, and at a time of deep cynicism about large institutions 81 percent have a favorable opinion of the U.S. military.
Yet this respect and admiration for the troops co-exists with doubts about the jobs they’ve been asked to do. Most voters now believe it was a mistake for the U.S. to have gotten involved in Iraq, and most now want to see troops brought home quickly from Afghanistan. Support for the military action in Libya peaked at 20 percent.
Americans are also in a mood to dramatically reduce our security guarantees for other nations. Less than half (49 percent) believe the U.S. should remain in its bedrock military alliance, NATO. Out of 54 countries with which Washington has signed mutual-defense treaty obligations, plus two others (Israel and Mexico) that receive our implicit backing, a majority of Americans supports defending just 12. Countries that don’t reach the 50 percent threshold include our oldest ally, France, along with Japan, Poland, and Denmark. The only four countries that 60 percent of Americans are willing to defend are Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel.
These findings highlight the central 21st-century gap between the citizenry and its political class. Three out of four Americans believe U.S. troops should never be deployed for military action overseas unless vital national security interests are at stake. Yet the last several presidents have adopted far less restrictive criteria for sending troops abroad. The military is often dispatched for humanitarian purposes or in the belief that the U.S. should police the world, but only 11 percent of voters believe Uncle Sam should play global cop.
August 28, 2012
According to this reading, lots and lots:
I finished Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War this weekend [...] and a few things struck me:
a. The successful Roman counterinsurgency campaign in Gaul took eight years.
b. The enemies against which Rome fought were not a unitary actor, and neither were Rome’s allies.
c. Rome’s allies one summer were often Rome’s enemies by winter. And visa versa.
But the two things that made the biggest impression on me were the following:
d. Caesar was the commander for eight full years, and he enjoyed similar continuity among his subordinate commanders.
e. Caesar very rarely sent green units into the offensive. By the fourth and fifth year of the campaign, he is still making those legions which were the last to be raised in Italy responsible for guarding the freaking baggage. He relies over and over again on those legions — most especially the Tenth — that have proven themselves in combat in Gaul.
With Caesar’s commentaries in mind, I read Doug Ollivant’s lament about Gen. Joe Dunford. Gen. Dunford will be the fifteenth commander of NATO-ISAF in eleven years of combat in Afghanistan and the ninth U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Each of his subordinate commanders have rotated on an annual basis. Gen. Dunford — who is, by all accounts, an excellent officer and highly respected by his peers — has never served in Afghanistan.
The cultures, politics, tribes and peoples of Afghanistan are at least as complex as those of ancient Gaul, yet we Americans are so arrogant to think that we can send officers there with no experience and, owing to our superior knowledge of combat operations, watch them succeed. We will then send units which have never deployed to Afghanistan to partner with Afghan forces and wonder why they do not get along.
H/T to Tim Harford for the link.
May 23, 2012
A post from Jan Boucek at the Adam Smith Institute blog:
What with the ongoing eurozone crisis, G8 summits and NATO confabs, politicians from around the world continue to dominate the headlines — but things don’t seem to be getting any better. Amid all that hot air, though, were a couple of nice pearls of wisdom in the past week. Both suggested salvation from beyond the world of politics.
At a press conference on the occasion of his receipt of the Templeton prize, the Dalai Lama blamed last summer’s riots on young people “being brought up to believe that life was just easy. Life is not easy. If you take for granted that life will be easy, then anger develops, frustration and riots.”
Indeed. Politicians spend a lot of time promising to make life easy, alleviate risk and absolve individuals from the consequences of their behaviour.
Meanwhile, in a BBC interview prompted by the government’s scrapping of nutritional regulations for school lunches, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver said “I’ve given up on politics. My focus for the next 15 years is business and people. That is where the hope is. Governments are too short term. They’re too transient… They really don’t understand. There’s a political agenda but when you make these changes there’s very physical things that happen that they know nothing about which is very dangerous.”
May 18, 2012
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been having a bit of an identity crisis for more than twenty years, as the original reason for its formation — the military threat posed by the Soviet Union and its subject nations in the Warsaw Pact — had almost literally fallen down in ruins. All those main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, fighter-bombers, helicopters, missile launchers, and other impedimenta of war were all pointing at a vast power vacuum. Doug Bandow has a post at the Cato@Liberty blog in advance of the upcoming NATO conference in Chicago, but he has a problem in his headline that needs to be fixed:
NATO Has Become a Form of U.S. Foreign Aid
Let me fix that for you, Doug:
Become Always Been a Form of U.S. Foreign Aid
The NATO summit starts Sunday in Chicago and will be the largest gathering ever held by the alliance. This is fitting given NATO’s desire to act around the globe. While U.S. officials say no decisions on further expanding membership will be made at the meeting, they explain that the door remains open. Adding additional security commitments in this way would be a mistake.
The United States has always been and will continue to be the guarantor of NATO’s military promises. In reality, NATO could not pay its bills without the United States, much less conduct serious military operations. American alliance policy has become a form of foreign aid. Nowhere is that more true than in Europe.
[. . .]
The United States cannot afford to take on more allies and effectively underwrite their security. It is not worth protecting Georgia at the risk of confronting Russia, for instance. Moreover, now is the time to end this foreign aid to wealthy European countries. The Europeans have a GDP ten times as large as that of Russia. Europe’s population is three times as big. The Europeans should defend themselves. If they want to expand their alliance all around Russia, let them.