Archive for December, 2009

Eric Sayers, a student at RSIS, suggests that short to medium strategic planning shouldn’t triumph the long-term. Investment in conventional platforms should not be reduced as more is spent on irregular/asymmetric warfare. It takes time to build up conventional capabilities and the US certainly cannot afford to be caught wrong-footed decades from now.

This is a long running debate. And this strategic dilemma clearly reflects the age-old adage that militaries always fight the last war.

It would be interesting to look at how constructivists might analyse this situation. Many might argue there is an international norming against war, that conventional war, in general, is the new “taboo.”

In a globalised world, the need to conform to international norms may help augment existing deterrence capabilities, precluding the need to invest in newer platforms. China may indeed develop the biggest guns in the future, but can it use them without cost elsewhere? It certainly can’t afford to be a global pariah, and as it is, has enough on its plate with human-rights and unfair trade practices.

Small wars, strangely enough, seem to be OK though.

Gates’ Strategic Determinism: Will the future Mirror
the Present?
by Eric Sayers
RSIS Commentary No. 132
Click here to download Commentary


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CNN reports new camouflage fatigues for British troops.

What an observer of such developments will immediately notice is the new pattern isn’t pixelated, or “digital.” This is interesting, because it seemed the micro-square was going to be the new splotch.

Well, I suppose whatever does the job.

But personally, the splotch keeps with tradition so much better.

British troops to get first new camouflage in 40 years

London, England (CNN) — British troops will get new camouflage uniforms for the first time in more than 40 years, based on computer modeling of Afghanistan’s terrain, the Ministry of Defence announced Sunday.

The “multi-terrain pattern,” as the military has dubbed the new design, is the first new pattern from the Ministry of Defence since 1968, it said.

It is specifically designed with Afghanistan’s Helmand province in mind, the ministry said in a statement. The British military have suffered heavy losses in the southern province this year. More than 100 British troops have died in Afghanistan in 2009, making it the deadliest for UK troops in many years.

The new design was put together in six months, funded as an “urgent operational requirement” project worth £250,000 ($400,000).

“This new camouflage will help our troops blend into different environments in Helmand Province to stay hidden from the Taliban,” Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said in a statement.

The project included aerial and scientific photography in Afghanistan “to provide the right colors and their brightness,” the ministry said. “The colors were fed into a computer and computer modeling was used to represent the Green Zone, deserts and mixed environments in Afghanistan.”

Uniforms in the new pattern will be issued to 4 Mechanised Brigade troops deploying to Afghanistan in March, the ministry said. It will then be introduced across all three services starting in 2011.

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Weichong discusses a less talked about dimensions of the post-modern military – how to sustain one in an age of prolonged peace, and how to adapt to generational shifts in attitudes among the populations they serve. In this case, how the SAF can remain relevant and sustain itself, from an institutional perspective

Such militaries, lucky as they are because they are not used, are really like health insurance. Everyone is thankful they have it when they need it, but don’t like paying the premiums when they’re well!

Relevance of the Singapore Armed Forces:
A Journey into Singaporeaness

by Ong Weichong
RSIS Commentary No. 125
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Something that colleague Dick Bitzinger unearthed, some time back …

5 Myths About Torture and Truth
Myths About Torture and Truth
By Darius Rejali
Washington Post, Sunday, December 16, 2007; B03

So the CIA did indeed torture Abu Zubaida, the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to have been waterboarded. So says John Kiriakou, the first former CIA employee directly involved in the questioning of “high-value” al-Qaeda detainees to speak out publicly. He minced no words last week in calling the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” what they are.
But did they work? Torture’s defenders, including the wannabe tough guys who write Fox’s “24,” insist that the rough stuff gets results. “It was like flipping a switch,” said Kiriakou about Abu Zubaida’s response to being waterboarded. But the al-Qaeda operative’s confessions — descriptions of fantastic plots from a man who intelligence analysts were convinced was mentally ill — probably didn’t give the CIA any actionable intelligence. Of course, we may never know the whole truth, since the CIA destroyed the videotapes of Abu Zubaida’s interrogation. But here are some other myths that are bound to come up as the debate over torture rages on.

1. Torture worked for the Gestapo.
Actually, no. Even Hitler’s notorious secret police got most of their information from public tips, informers and interagency cooperation. That was still more than enough to let the Gestapo decimate anti-Nazi resistance in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Russia and the concentration camps.
Yes, the Gestapo did torture people for intelligence, especially in later years. But this reflected not torture’s efficacy but the loss of many seasoned professionals to World War II, increasingly desperate competition for intelligence among Gestapo units and an influx of less disciplined younger members. (Why do serious, tedious police work when you have a uniform and a whip?) It’s surprising how unsuccessful the Gestapo’s brutal efforts were. They failed to break senior leaders of the French, Danish, Polish and German resistance. I’ve spent more than a decade collecting all the cases of Gestapo torture “successes” in multiple languages; the number is small and the results pathetic, especially compared with the devastating effects of public cooperation and informers.

2. Everyone talks sooner or later under torture.
Truth is, it’s surprisingly hard to get anything under torture, true or false. For example, between 1500 and 1750, French prosecutors tried to torture confessions out of 785 individuals. Torture was legal back then, and the records document such practices as the bone-crushing use of splints, pumping stomachs with water until they swelled and pouring boiling oil on the feet. But the number of prisoners who said anything was low, from 3 percent in Paris to 14 percent in Toulouse (an exceptional high). Most of the time, the torturers were unable to get any statement whatsoever.
And such examples could be multiplied. The Japanese fascists, no strangers to torture, said it best in their field manual, which was found in Burma during World War II: They described torture as the clumsiest possible method of gathering intelligence. Like most sensible torturers, they preferred to use torture for intimidation, not information.

3. People will say anything under torture.
Well, no, although this is a favorite chestnut of torture’s foes. Think about it: Sure, someone would lie under torture, but wouldn’t they also lie if they were being interrogated without coercion?
In fact, the problem of torture does not stem from the prisoner who has information; it stems from the prisoner who doesn’t. Such a person is also likely to lie, to say anything, often convincingly. The torture of the informed may generate no more lies than normal interrogation, but the torture of the ignorant and innocent overwhelms investigators with misleading information. In these cases, nothing is indeed preferable to anything. Anything needs to be verified, and the CIA’s own 1963 interrogation manual explains that “a time-consuming delay results” — hardly useful when every moment matters.
Intelligence gathering is especially vulnerable to this problem. When police officers torture, they know what the crime is, and all they want is the confession. When intelligence officers torture, they must gather information about what they don’t know.

4. Most people can tell when someone is lying under torture.
Not so — and we know quite a bit about this. For about 40 years, psychologists have been testing police officers as well as normal people to see whether they can spot lies, and the results aren’t encouraging. Ordinary folk have an accuracy rate of about 57 percent, which is pretty poor considering that 50 percent is the flip of a coin. Likewise, the cops’ accuracy rates fall between 45 percent and 65 percent — that is, sometimes less accurate than a coin toss.
Why does this matter? Because even if torturers break a person, they have to recognize it, and most of the time they can’t. Torturers assume too much and reject what doesn’t fit their assumptions. For instance, Sheila Cassidy, a British physician, cracked under electric-shock torture by the Chilean secret service in the 1970s and identified priests who had helped the country’s socialist opposition. But her devout interrogators couldn’t believe that priests would ever help the socialists, so they tortured her for another week until they finally became convinced. By that time, she was so damaged that she couldn’t remember the location of the safe house.
In fact, most torturers are nowhere near as well trained for interrogation as police are. Torturers are usually chosen because they’ve endured hardship and pain, fought with courage, kept secrets, held the right beliefs and earned a reputation as trustworthy and loyal. They often rely on folklore about what lying behavior looks like — shifty eyes, sweaty palms and so on. And, not surprisingly, they make a lot of mistakes.

5. You can train people to resist torture.
Supposedly, this is why we can’t know what the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” are: If Washington admits that it waterboards suspected terrorists, al-Qaeda will set up “waterboarding-resistance camps” across the world. Be that as it may, the truth is that no training will help the bad guys.
Simply put, nothing predicts the outcome of one’s resistance to pain better than one’s own personality. Against some personalities, nothing works; against others, practically anything does. Studies of hundreds of detainees who broke under Soviet and Chinese torture, including Army-funded studies of U.S. prisoners of war, conclude that during, before and after torture, each prisoner displayed strengths and weaknesses dependent on his or her own character. The CIA’s own “Human Resources Exploitation Manual” from 1983 and its so-called Kubark manual from 1963 agree. In all matters relating to pain, says Kubark, the “individual remains the determinant.”
The thing that’s most clear from torture-victim studies is that you can’t train for the ordeal. There is no secret knowledge out there about how to resist torture. Yes, there are manuals, such as the IRA’s “Green Book,” the anti-Soviet “Manual for Psychiatry for Dissidents” and “Torture and the Interrogation Experience,” an Iranian guerrilla manual from the 1970s. But none of these volumes contains specific techniques of resistance, just general encouragement to hang tough. Even al-Qaeda’s vaunted terrorist-training manual offers no tips on how to resist torture, and al-Qaeda was no stranger to the brutal methods of the Saudi police.

And yet these myths persist. “The larger problem here, I think,” one active CIA officer observed in 2005, “is that this kind of stuff just makes people feel better, even if it doesn’t work.”

Darius Rejali is a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the recently published “Torture and Democracy.”

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An abridged version of this article was reprinted in the Straits Times on 10 Dec 2009 as “Not Just a Concept But a Living Truth.”

Unfortunately, that version dropped the author’s comments on Malaysia’s version of Total Defence, Hanruh, and what ought to be done about it, instead focusing on what Singapore had done right with its Total Defence agenda.

This is the full version of Azmi Hassan’s Op-Ed as it originally appeared in Utusan Malaysia.  

Hanruh” or total defence concept through BTN


IT is indeed unfair to compare the defence system between Malaysia and Singapore because both have a different defence doctrines. Not only is the doctrine different, but also the defence allocation.

It cannot be denied that the military assets owned by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is desired not only by Malaysia, but also other countries which are more developed and richer than Singapore.

What is displayed by the SAF at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2009 (Lima 2009) is a clear manifestation of the difference in doctrine and allocation between Singapore and Malaysia.

But, what is more important is that the Singapore government is allowed to allocate up to six per cent of its Gross National Product for defence expenditure and it is not surprising that over the years, SAF has been getting a lucrative development allocation.

Unlike the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM), what is obtained is only a small percentage of the SAF allocation.

That is why, it is not a surprise when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said that the government would look into its financial capability before making any decision on the purchase of new assets to enhance the capabilities of the country’s defence , including helicopters to replace the Nuri.

It is nor surprising because ATM’s defence allocation, as explained by the Prime Minister, has to be in tandem with social economic development.

This makes the Singaporeans confident of their country’s security, defence and sovereignty, and if translated ina different perception, the self-identity of the Singaporeans is strong for a country with an area of 648 sq km and surrounded by bigger neighbours.

Unlike the general believe, the strong self-identity of the Singaporeans does not depend solely on the grand defence system of the SAF, but more on the comprehensive involvement of its people in matters pertaining to economy, social, politics, security or defence.

One thing attractive about the defence concept adopted by Singapore is how each issues confronting them is instilled in the minds of its people as issues and challenges to their defence and sovereignty.

The concept seems successful because the message to the people is for them to always be prepared is very effective.

This strategy adopted by Singapore since 1984 is contained in the defence concept known as total defence or Pertahanan Menyeluruh.

In fact , Pertahanan Menyeluruh is celebrated every year on Feb 15 to remind the people to always be prepared to face challenges.

It is not surprising when the Singapore people regarded the issue of water supply with Malaysia as an issue affecting their country’s defence and sovereignty because that is the strategy adopted by the concept of total defence. This is different from Malaysians who look at the water issue on a commercial platform, that is to obtain justice in deciding the price rate if water.

In fact, it is not extreme to predict that should there be issues involving Malaysia or other neighbours, the perception of the Singapore people is that they are related to their country’s defence and sovereignty.

Malaysia also has its own total defence concept which is known as “Hanruh”, introduced in 1986. Although it has existed for more than two decades, majority of the Malaysians are still not familiar with Hanruh because the strategy has never been put into practice.

In principle Malaysian’s Hanruh consists of five components – national vigilance, solidarity and unity of the community, public vigilance, economic fortitude and psychological resilience.

Although the Hanruh strategy is not practised directly among Malaysians, but indirectly, the concept is found in courses organised by the National Civics Bureau (BTN).

It is saddening that of late, there have been claims that the BTN courses could create racial disintegration among Malaysians.

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang has called for the BTN to be closed on grounds that it is responsible for the building of a united Malaysians.

In this matter, it is a relief when Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz said that the Cabinet has decided to revamp the BTN course curriculum.

It is not important whether the decision by the Cabinet is made earlier or because of pressure, but is is critical that the curriculum for BTN courses be revamped to portray the concept of 1Malaysia.

But, a new problem may surface because there will be accusation by the same people that the new curriculum is more of a propaganda by the Barisan Nasional government because there are certain groups who simply do not want to understand the concept of 1Malaysia.

It is better if the revamp encompasses the five components in Hanruh because then there willnot be any accusations that the BTN courses are tools to promote the Barisan Nasional political agenda.

BTN which has an organisational structure and experience, having been set up in 1974, is seen as the best approach to instil the concept of total defence, not only among civil servants and university students, but also Malaysians in general.

With the huge allocation for BTN (RM74 million for 2010), for certain the programme to encompass all the five components in Hanruh for Malaysians could be implemented without any hitches.

The new BTN component ned not necessarily follow the Singaporean’s total defence concept because the republic has a different agenda with Malaysia.

Although Malaysia is not confronted with critical security or defence problems, the concept is actually more effective if implemented during peaceful time than during emergency.

The time has come for the country to implement Hanruh through BTN, Otherwise it will be a loss to the country.


The writer is a Geostrategist Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and Visiting Fellow at ISIS Malaysia.

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So Joint Warfare, melting pot or tossed salad?

Bernard weighs in.

The pitfalls of joint warfare: Conjoined or Separated?
by Bernard Loo
RSIS Commentary No. 123
Click here to download Commentary

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Recently, the SAF’s Military Police Command began talking about how it had to set “service standards” as it is a service provider. It reminded me of the ISO certification that some SAF units underwent about a decade ago. I’m not sure if certification continues today, but as a young man serving my National Service in one such unit, it seemed downright weird and out of place.

Supporters said the creation of norms and standards was a good thing. ISO standards would indicate efficiency, and be markers to hold personnel accountable for their actions. If anything went wrong, the organisation would know why and where, and how to remedy it. More mundanely, if anyone within the organisation needed anything done, he or she would know exactly how to, or who to approach. It was an organisational best practice, learnt from the private sector. After all, managing a military in peace is similar to managing a MNC.

But can you overdo the bureaucratisation? Does it create an inflexible culture that worships paperwork and the “right and proper ways of doing things by the book,” one that is no good, or is indeed counter-productive, when the military actually goes to war? More specifically, does it create officers who are extremely risk-averse and will only proceed forward if their backs are covered by the “black and white”?

Jonathan J. Vaccaro’s NYT Op-Ed argues the US military’s bureaucracy anal conformity to protocol may actually be hindering COIN operations in Afghanistan. 

If bravery is a much celebrated martial value that soldiers should have, why are so few willing to stick their heads out within the bureaucracy? Is red tape a new ribbon that should be worn proudly on one’s uniform?

This phenomenon is not new. In fact, it’s really old. Almost two hundred years ago, General Andrew Jackson, fighting Native Americans in the First Seminole War, had his request for ammunition rejected by a young ordnance officer because it had not been sent through the appropriate channels. General Jackson informed the young bureaucrat that if he did not get the ammunition, he would have him arrested and hung.

The ordnance officer was James W. Ripley, later Brigadier-General, and Chief of Ordnance in the Union Army during the American Civil War. One historian called him a master of “bureaucratic obstructionism” for his role in blocking the adoption of rapid-fire, magazined repeating rifles in the Union army, a rifle that in one Confederate general’s estimation, could have won the Union the war within a year. Instead, it lasted four.

December 8, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor

The Next Surge: Counterbureaucracy


THE Taliban commander was back in the village. Our base roared to life as we prepared to capture him. Two Chinook helicopters spun their blades in anticipation in the dark. Fifty Afghan commandos brooded outside, pacing in the gravel. I was nearby, yelling into a phone: “Who else do we need approvals from? Another colonel? Why?”

A villager had come in that afternoon to tell us that a Taliban commander known for his deployment of suicide bombers was threatening the elders. The villager had come to my unit, a detachment of the United States Army stationed in eastern Afghanistan, for help.

Mindful of orders to protect the civilian population, we developed a plan with the Afghan commandos to arrest the Taliban commander that evening before he moved back into Pakistan. While the troops prepared, I spent hours on the phone trying to convince the 11 separate Afghan, American and international forces authorities who needed to sign off to agree on a plan.

Some couldn’t be found. Some liked the idea, others suggested revisions. The plan evolved. Hours passed. The cellphone in the corner rang. “Where are you?” the villager asked urgently. The Taliban commander was drinking tea, he said.

At 5 a.m. the Afghan commandos gave up on us and went home. The helicopters powered down. The sun rose. I was still on the phone trying to arrange approvals. Intelligence arrived indicating that the Taliban commander had moved on. The villagers were incredulous.

This incident is typical of what I saw during my six-month tour in Afghanistan this year. We were paralyzed by red tape, beaten by our own team. Our answer to Afghans seeking help was: “I can’t come today or tomorrow, but maybe next week. I have several bosses that I need to ask for permission.”

The decision has been made to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, is expected to speak to Congress this week about his strategy for the war. Our troops can win the war, but they will be more effective if the bureaucracy is thinned.

In my experience, decisions move through the process of risk mitigation like molasses. When the Taliban arrive in a village, I discovered, it takes 96 hours for an Army commander to obtain necessary approvals to act. In the first half of 2009, the Army Special Forces company I was with repeatedly tried to interdict Taliban. By our informal count, however, we (and the Afghan commandos we worked with) were stopped on 70 percent of our attempts because we could not achieve the requisite 11 approvals in time.

For some units, ground movement to dislodge the Taliban requires a colonel’s oversight. In eastern Afghanistan, traveling in anything other than a 20-ton mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle requires a written justification, a risk assessment and approval from a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and sometimes a major. These vehicles are so large that they can drive to fewer than half the villages in Afghanistan. They sink into wet roads, crush dry ones and require wide berth on mountain roads intended for donkeys. The Taliban walk to these villages or drive pickup trucks.

The red tape isn’t just on the battlefield. Combat commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed. Small aid projects lag because of multimonth authorization procedures. A United States-financed health clinic in Khost Province was built last year, but its opening was delayed for more than eight months while paperwork for erecting its protective fence waited in the approval queue.

Communication with the population also undergoes thorough oversight. When a suicide bomber detonates, the Afghan streets are abuzz with Taliban propaganda about the glories of the war against America. Meanwhile, our messages have to inch through a press release approval pipeline, emerging 24 to 48 hours after the event, like a debutante too late for the ball.

Curbing the bureaucracy is possible. Decision-making authority for operations could be returned to battalions and brigades. Staffs that manage the flow of operations could operate on 24-hour schedules like the forces they regulate. Authority to release information could be delegated to units in contact with Afghans. Formatting requirements could be eased. The culture of risk mitigation could be countered with a culture of initiative.

Mid-level leaders win or lose conflicts. Our forces are better than the Taliban’s, but we have leashed them so tightly that they are unable to compete.

Jonathan J. Vaccaro served as an officer with the United States Army in Afghanistan from January 2009 to July 2009.

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