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Archive for May, 2012

Two very interesting pieces on the strategic utility of drones and unmanned platforms to perform tactical missions. One, coming from the New York Times (accessible here) outlines the Obama administration’s propensity for relying on drone strikes to attack al Qaeda and other terrorist facilities or members. The second, from the BBC (accessible here), examines the potential ramifications of drone strikes. The moral and ethical and legal implications of drone strikes remains contentious, at best.

The issue of the increasing utilisation of drones and other unmanned platforms is something that P.W. Singer covered in his book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (New York: Penguin Press, 2009). A colleague, Professor Christopher Coker, has written extensively on such issues. See in particular, his somewhat prescient Humane Warfare (London and New York: Routledge, 2001). My simple mind just keeps going back to the underlying premises of the Terminator series of films, and the 21st Century re-imagination of the 1970s cult Battlestar Galactica. I can see the political utility of drone strikes: being seen by your electorate to be ‘doing something’ about security threats, minimum political fallout from losing a drone as to losing a combat pilot and having said pilot appear on hostile TV as a hostage of war. However, I am still unconvinced about the strategic utility of such tactics.

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A thought-provoking piece, courtesy of Today, accessible here. I am certainly sympathetic to the nation-building argument that National Service contains. As the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee once said in Parliament, “There is another important aspect of our defence effort. This is a contribution it can make to nation-building. Nothing creates loyalty and national consciousness more speedily and more thoroughly than participation in defence and membership of the armed forces.” Elsewhere, Dr Goh noted, “In Singapore, we are not yet a close-knit community; so many of our people are of recent migrant origin. All this goes towards creating a sense of values which is personal, self-centered with anti-social tendencies … We cannot hope to remove them overnight, but in the process of creating a stronger national consciousness among our people, we will find that military service will play an increasingly important role, as it has played in other nations and in other ages.”

But we also ought to remember that fully half of our Singaporean population does not directly experience National Service, so does that mean that the Singaporean identity is less entrenched in them? We could, I suppose, argue that indirectly they experience National Service as well, as our sisters, aunts and mothers, who have to see their sons, brothers, cousins and nephews leave the relative comfort of their homes to dedicate two years of their lives to an inherently dangerous service. But surely, there are other ways to experience that Singaporean-ness.

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An interesting piece, courtesy of the BBC, and accessible here, on the strategic utility (or lack thereof, in some cases) of aircraft carriers, large and small. I would argue that if the state has far-flung interests, then aircraft carriers may become at least very attractive if not downright necessary strategic options. In a sense therefore, it may be perfectly understandable for China to be interested in this capability, given China’s growing interests in the African continent, its utter dependence on oil supplies and sea lines of communication. Britain? Maybe not so.

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Something rather different from the more usual postings, but a story I still urge our readers to take a look. It comes courtesy of the BBC, accessible here, and it is a story that focuses on how the descendants of Nazi war criminals have had to cope with their family names and histories. In all cases, it is a heartrendingly painful burden that these people have had to bear.

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Interesting story, courtesy of the BBC and accessible here, on the establishment of a missile defence shield for Europe, in particular NATO. The analysis asks important questions about the probability of a missile threat to NATO, and the technological feasibility of such a missile defence.

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Associate Research Fellow Kelvin Wong conducts this brief overview of the military’s interest in nuclear power, which goes beyond weapons of mass destruction and its use in naval vessels. Since the first application of nuclear power in the Second World War, both the United States and Soviet Union pursued nuclear technology in hopes of powering long-range strategic bombers, as well as generating power on the battlefield for ground installations and fuel for vehicles. While these superpowers succeeded in producing workable examples, cost and technical limitations ultimately stymied those ambitions. However, with the rising cost of petroleum fuel and uncertainty of global supply, US defence scientists are now flirting with the idea of nuclear technologies for contemporary operations. However, global sentiments on nuclear power is at an all-time low after a number of nuclear-related incidents in both civilian and military spheres. Can nuclear power go mainstream for the military?

The commentary can be accessed here: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/publications/Perspective/RSIS0842012.pdf

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Senior Fellow Richard Bitzinger looks at the state of the global defence industry in this commentary, and how it had failed to fully deliver on promises to transform the military sphere. He notes two distinct patterns of innovation – a disruptive one which produces radical leaps in performance, and a sustaining one which characterises incremental and gradual change. He argues that the promise of RMA innovation by industry in the United States have fallen short of results, whilst in Europe there seems to be no developments in terms of innovation. This deceleration may pave the way for new challengers such as China to catch up with the leaders.

The commentary can be accessed here: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/publications/Perspective/RSIS0802012.pdf

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