Archive for February, 2012

I was just reading a fascinating article in the latest issue of the journal, Security Studies. The article is authored by Ryan Grauer and and Michael Horowitz, and it is entitled “What determines military victory” Testing the modern system”. The study is basically an attempt to quantitatively test the thesis that Stephen Biddle made in his very well-regarded Book, Explaining Military Power.

The Grauer and Horowitz article was as I said, fascinating, but also deeply troubling on two levels to me. By applying quantitative and positivist methods, they are trying to test a number of hypotheses that stem from Biddle’s Explaining Military Power argument.

The first thing that troubled me is the focus on military victory. I keep remembering the Harry Summers-NVA Colonel conversation – how NVA forces almost never defeated American forces in combat, but also that this was irrelevant. As I argued in an earlier article in the Journal of Strategic Studies, winning battles does not guarantee winning wars. As strategic analysts, I believe our core function should be to be able to explain strategic success or failure – victory or defeat in war, in other words.

The second thing that troubled me was the method of analysis. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good in positivist and quantitative methods, but to apply them to an extremely complex, dynamic and inherently unpredictable phenomenon like war … that I just don’t buy. Even at the level of battle! A single battle alone is already buffeted by some many unpredictable and unquantifiable elements – weather, the state of mind of the commanders, sheer dumb-arse luck and Murphy’s Laws of Combat, Clausewitzian fog and friction … How do we begin to construct a equation that can accommodate these imponderables of war???


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Something from the BBC, which can accessed here. I guess it probably is true, but I am not prepare to rule out altogether the prospect of strategic miscalculation from either side this time around.

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New colleague, Michael Raska, and his RSIS commentary, which can be accessed here, on the Chinese ballistic missile programme. Michael argues that Chinese ballistic missile technologies are improving qualitatively. If this is accurate, this will result in a China that, should it decide to throw its weight around, will be increasingly difficult to fend off.

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Interesting read, accessed here, from friends at The Diplomat. In a sense, the strategic links between India and some Southeast Asian states is fairly old hat already. India has been quietly ramping up its strategic links with selected countries in this region for over a decade already. I remember a couple of Indian naval visits to Changi Naval Base a couple of years ago, at a time when Chinese naval visits were almost unheard of.

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An interesting, if in my opinion flawed piece, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the Australian city of Darwin.

The article, which can be accessed here, uses the analogy of Pearl Harbour in the case of the Japanese attack on Darwin. But the parallels between Pearl and Darwin are in my opinion tenuous at best.

One can argue about the extent to which US intelligence had picked up signals of an impending Japanese attack on Pearl, but much of the arguments really lie in the realm of conspiracy theory (enough said!). Available reliable evidence makes it clear that elements within the entire US intelligence network had bits and pieces of evidence about the impending attack; what was needed was the centralisation of these intelligence outfits and the breaking down of stove-pipes between them. This was the argument for the creation of the CIA. But clearly, at the time of the attack, inasmuch as there was no such centralised intelligence outfit that could piece together disparate intelligence into a holistic picture, then one must accept that the US was indeed surprised by the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl.

The image of Pearl Harbour therefore, transplanted onto the Darwin episode, is therefore almost totally different. Australia could not claim ignorance of Japanese hostilities – after all, it was only 4 days after the fall of Singapore, and several months since Australian forces stationed throughout British colonies in Asia had been fighting the war against Japan. Inasmuch as the shock of the Darwin attack to Australians was therefore parallel to the shock of Pearl Harbour to the Americans, all I can say is that such shock, if it was indeed true, betrayed a gob-smacking complacency. There was no doubt that Australia was already at war with Japan, after all!

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carrying on from the previous post, another BBC article, accessed here, this time on the importance of getting the economy on a proper war footing.The analysis specifically is about ammunition production in the First World War, and how the British out-produced the Germans here.

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On this day, incidentally the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore and Britain’s worst military disaster, two readings remind us not only of the issue of national defence, but also the unchanging nature of warfare. The first is a recent commentary from colleague Ong Wei Chong, commemorating the fall of Singapore. The second, accessed here, is actually the story of a British Army Gurkha, Corporal Dipprasad Pun, fighting in Afghanistan who was awarded Britain’s second highest medal for conspicuous gallantry. In his words, having killed more than 30 Talban fighters single-handedly, “I thought I was going to die, so I tried to kill as many as I could.” When he ran out of ammunition, he used his machine-gun tripod to beat back a Taliban who was trying to scale the wall he was defending.

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