Archive for the ‘Military Conflict’ Category

This was a fascinating piece (available here) I found on the BBC, about how even al Qaeda is lowering the bar as far as new recruits is concerned.

For some time now, the US military has been experiencing problems in maintaining recruitment levels – both in terms of the absolute numbers of people joining the military as well as the relative quality of these people). This has been an on-going and fairly long-standing problem (see, for instance this report; or this report). A more detailed study of the problems in US military recruitment patterns is available here. The executive summary of a RAND report on this is also available here.

This problem is not unique to the US mlitary. A report (available here) suggests that the problems that the US military has been facing are replicated in the case of the Chinese military as well. A Canadian report expressed concerns about the declining quality of new recruits into the Canadian military.

So now even terrorist groups are starting to find similar problems in finding enough of good-quality recruits. Is this something of a global trend> Certainly worth further examination.


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Our thanks to reader Roslyn Wilson for this infographic, the original of which can be accessed here.

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A fascinating study of an admittedly macabre and politically and morally very problematic issue in the history of warfare can be found in The Economist (available here).

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Tanks have been the king of the battlefield for much of the 20th Century, and, to badly paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of its demise have thus far been grossly exaggerated. The emergence of precision-guided anti-tank weapons in the early 1970s led to quite a few expectations of the impending demise of the tank, especially after the initial shocks of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when Israeli tank forces were shown to be vulnerable to Egyptian anti-tank guided weapons. That being said, a return to simple combined arms operations soon rectified that problem for the IDF.

Now comes this BBC report, which re-examines the role of tank forces, especially in terms of the tank-on-tank battles that were witnessed in Kursk in World War Two and in the Sinai in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

A pertinent observation made in this BBC report is that in a sense, an armoured knight on horseback, charging in a dense pack towards a another dense pack of heavy infantry, is the historical precursor to today’s armoured forces. It is no accident that some armies refer to their tank forces as cavalry.

My own take: warfare will always exhibit a pendulum swing between offensive and defensive capabilities. World War One witnessed the dominance of defensive capabilities, but once the ‘principles’ of cavalry were adapted into tanks, offensive capabilities regained their lustre. I don’t see any reason why this pendulum swing should ever end.

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an interesting read from Tom Ricks’ blog, The Best Defense.

By A. A. Cohen

Best Defense intellectual pugilistics correspondent

Warrior-profs Gian Gentile and John Nagl, the two best-known heavyweight contenders in the national security debate surrounding irregular warfare, squared off a few weeks ago at Grinnell College in the wilds of Iowa on the merits of counterinsurgency and the future of Afghanistan.

The moderated 60-minute debate was kicked off with a three-word question: “Is COIN dead?”

In this corner, Gentile, who has for years passionately opposed the very notion that counterinsurgency worked in Iraq (the “Surge,” along with Petraeusism, seem to be his two pet peeves), let alone in Afghanistan, fired at his rival from the position: “The idea that nation-building can be achieved at a reasonable cost of blood and treasure is dead.” Translation: COIN is not feasible for America — ergo, COIN is dead.

Gentile propped up his argument by attacking what he describes as the “COIN narrative” of the past decade, about which many “gripping tales” have been written, but without any of these amounting to true, objective, “good history.” Gentile charged that there was no significant change in generalship or strategy between George Casey and David Petraeus in Iraq, and that the level of violence there was bound to drop when it did, regardless of the change of command and of the deployment of some 30,000 additional troops. Nagl parried by citing RAND and other research that concludes the contrary. Recall as well that General Casey was intent on drawing down U.S. forces, not surging them as Petraeus sought to do in order to establish a semblance of order and security prior to withdrawing from Iraq.

Nagl’s first response to the moderator’s question was an expected zinger: Counter-insurgency cannot be dead for as long as insurgency is alive and well. Obvious perhaps, but this full-body slam was a good reminder that shedding the capability would not make future needs for it disappear. Alas, what I wish he had mentioned, too, was that in this debate again, military doctrine was being deliberately confounded with matters of foreign policy. The United States has not conducted a nuclear (atomic) strike since Nagasaki, and the intention to strike again in such a fashion is absent, but the United States continues to maintain a nuclear capability and doctrine.

Gentile scored his few real points, I believe, on the issue that counterinsurgency operations on their own do not yield lasting strategic results. True, but those operations constitute an important piece of the puzzle. It is the role of statecraft to bring about stabilizing watersheds. And what Gentile may wish to acknowledge is that counterinsurgency operations, costly as they may be, will often be required to afford the time, the space, and the conditions that are needed to enable statecraft to run its course.

While Gentile and Nagl disagreed on many points of evidence, ultimately, their conclusions did not appear to be altogether different. Both contenders agreed that the invasion of Iraq was a strategic error, and that the price of a fully resourced counterinsurgency campaign will rarely (Gentile: will never) justify the unsatisfying prize. Nagl takes the match on style and substance… and of course, because he cited Galula.

Gentile’s obsession with naysaying is certainly understandable; we can all relate to his fear that should the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq go down in history as a victory, it will be tempting for our elected leaders and their advisors to wish to repeat similar adventures again. But the point is moot; history indicates that engaging in counterinsurgency warfare is seldom a predetermined choice.

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This is a theme that we have visited on occasions in the past, and certainly a theme in my own writings elsewhere.

Now comes an interesting piece, written by Harlan Ullman (of Ullman and Wade, the shock and awe guys), courtesy of Defense News.

As Ullman puts it in his first paragraph, “If there is one strategic weakness or Achilles’ heel in American geostrategic thinking, it is a fixation on winning battles and not winning wars.” This was a point I once made at an ARF HDUCIM (Heads of Defence Universities, Colleges and Institutions Meeting) conference organised in Singapore quite a few years back, where I made the somewhat controversial point that military organisations like to think tactically, they do not like to think strategically.

Ullman argues, “Killing one’s way to victory rarely works.” This was in reference to America’s war in Vietnam. I agree with him that annihilating the enemy in the case of the Vietnam War was strategically oxymoronic, but under other conditions, I would imagine annihilation being the pathway to strategic success.

The problem, I suggest, is that every war neccessarily comes with its own conditions, and its own strategic logic thereafter. Clausewitz, after all, taught us that!

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For our readers who might be focusing on the Korean peninsula security dynamic as it continues to unravel (or at least appear to unravel), a series of analyses from a variety of sources of North Korea’s threat to the region:

From the BBC:
Andrea Berger from RUSI (available here), and her recent analysis of what drives North Korea’s military threats to South Korea, the United States, and indeed just about ANYBODY Pyongyang does not like;
The threat that North Korea’s missile programmes and nuclear programme poses to the Asia-Pacific region (available here), and possibly to the United States (although the article pretty much rules that out as technologically impossible for North Korea); and
North Korea’s missile programmes analysed in detail (here).

From The Washington Post:
North Korea’s declaration of war (delivered very recently ), the analysis (available here);
But declaring war is one thing, being able to wage is a completely different thing for North Korea, so what kind of military plans can Pyongyang scrape together? A possibility is outlined here;
And if North Korea possesses no capacity to wage war, does this mean the current rhetoric is all just one huge strategic bluff? An answer can be found here.
And if all this was not enough, a suggestion (here) that the pictures circulated by North Korean official news agencies may have been doctored (gasp!)

My own take: its all bluff and bluster. North Korean policy makers aren’t that dumb, they know they cannot afford to piss off their Chinese backers, and doing anything to piss the United States off will consequently piss the Chinese off as well.

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