On Technology and War (3)

Two weeks ago I tried to answer the question, how to use military-technological superiority when one has attained it. A week ago, to point out the things that technology does not change and will not change and cannot change. Today’s post is the last in the mini-series. I want to use it in order to ask: How is a new military technology received, and what happens to it once it is received?

Many of you will be familiar with the name of Giulio Douhet (1869-30). The Italian general who in 1921, published Il dominio dell’aereo, probably the most famous volume on the topic ever written. His portrait graced this column last week. But it is not this book I want to discuss here. In 1913 Douhet was a major on the general staff. In that capacity he produced an article on the above question, which I have used as my guide.

Stage A. A new technology is introduced. Normally this is done by the inventors and manufacturers who hope to make a profit and turn to the military as a potentially very large client. The idea meets with skepticism on the part of the officers who are sent to examine it. Though ingenious it is a mere toy, or so they declare. Good examples for this argument can be found in the Zeppelin; heavier than air aircraft; the submarine; and the tank. All of which were invented before 1914, and all of which initially met this fate. There is even a story about a British regimental commander, who receiving a couple of machine guns, told his men to take the “bloody things” to the wing and hide them.

Stage B. The manufacturers do not give up. They continue to push, sometimes by offering their invention to an enemy of the country they first approached. Sir Basil Zaharoff, though not an inventor but a merchant, was the undisputed master in this game, selling warships to both Turkey and Greece. Slowly and gradually, the military undergo a limited shift. They are now ready to see whether there is any way in which they can incorporate the new weapon or weapon system into the existing organizations without, however, acknowledging the need to change that organization in any fundamental way. At times indeed, they start adopting a new invention in order to prevent change; as the German Luftwaffe did when it developed the V-1 as a counter to the early ballistic missiles favored by the land army. Other good examples of the attempt to pour new weapons into old organizations are, once again, the heavier-than-air aircraft, and the submarine. And the aircraft carrier, of course.  

Stage C. Quite suddenly, the wind changes. As older officers die or retire, younger ones—those in charge of the new technologies and in favor of them—start shouting their virtues from the rooftops. Military history is making a fresh start! They (the new technologies) are about to take over! Everything else is ripe for the dustbin! And so on and so on. Douhet himself set the example. By the time he wrote his book he had convinced himself that armies and navies were about to disappear and that aviation, like the Jewish God in one of the prayers addressed to him, “all alone would rule in awe.” Similar claims on behalf of aircraft were made in the US by General Billy Mitchel; whereas in Britain another officer, Colonel John Fuller, was doing the same on behalf of tanks. Nowadays they are being made on behalf of artificial intelligence and autonomous killing machines among other things,

Stage D. It becomes evident that, useful as the new technologies are, they do not provide answers to all problems. As the defense becomes stronger, pilots find that their aircraft cannot simply bomb the hell out of whomever they want at any time they want. Submariners discover that, without support from the air (later, satellites), their ability to find their targets is very limited. Tanks are threatened by anti-tank guns and are, moreover, only useful in certain, well-defined, kinds of terrain. Carriers have to be escorted by entire fleets of anti-missile destroyers, anti-submarine destroyers, and supply ships. And autonomous killing machines kill indiscriminately. Briefly, the new technologies must be integrated with everything else: strategy, tactics, command and control, logistics, intelligence, doctrine, training and what not.

Stage E. Following the usual logistic curve, shown above, the process of reorganization has been driven as far as it will ever be and is now flattening out. Advanced, even revolutionary, weapons and weapon systems have become an integral part of the forces. Perhaps, as in the case of carriers from 1941 on, their lynchpin. By this time most of those who initially opposed the changes are gone. A new generation officers has risen and takes things as they now are for granted. And they start asking themselves: What has really changed?

Which, of course, itself is both cause and consequence why, as we have seen, so much does not change.

On Technology and War (2)

In last week’s post I addressed the following question: In view of rapid military-technological development that affects every aspect of war, how to best use military-technological superiority in order to win? Today, while remaining in the same general field, I want to look at the relationship between technology and war from a different point of view. In view of the speed and comprehensiveness of change, are there any aspects of war that remain essentially the same?

  1. The causes of war. Whether war is due to man’s nature (which is inclined towards evil from his youth on, as the Talmud puts it), or to structural problems inside human communities (as Rousseau and Marx, each in his own way, claimed), or to issues that arise between those communities (which seems to be the “realist” position), is moot. Nor is there any shortage of other explanations, including evolutionary ones such as are rooted in our biological nature. Which of them is correct I shall not presume to judge. What I do want to emphasize, though, is that not one of the has anything to do with technology; they are the same now as they were about fifteen thousand years ago when war, to the best of our knowledge, was firs invented.
  2. War requires an enemy. Without an enemy, no war. Many years ago, I had this fact brought home to me by a director general of the Australian ministry of defense with whom I had a conversation. He had succeeded he said, in formulating a strategy for a country that does not, or did not at that time, face any threat. With Papua-New Guinea to the north, Chile to the east, South Africa to the west, and penguins to the south, a difficult feat indeed! War, to put it in a different way, consists of the interaction between two (or more) belligerents. A single blow, delivered without opposition and over before it has even started, is not war.
  3. Strategy. Originating in ancient Greece (stratos means army, or host; strategos means general, strategama means stratagem, and strategia, generalship) strategy has become one of the buzzwords of our age. Definitions vary. The way I understand it, it is the art of waging a conflict between two or more opponents, each of whom has the right and the ability to pursue his objective while actively trying to prevent the other from doing the same. So understood, strategy is the same regardless of the environment in which war is waged (land, sea, air, space, cyberspace); the level at which it is waged, high or low; and the size of the forces that wage it. And also, nota bene, of the kind of technology in use at any particular place and time.
  4. War is the domain of uncertainty, friction, hunger, thirst, fatigue, deprivation, suffering, pain, and death. Also, last not least, sorrow. So it has been, so it is, and so it will remain. Such being the case, the qualities needed for waging war do not change. At the level of the individual they are courage in the face of death, determination, endurance, and perhaps a certain kind of callousness as well; fighting is no business for the soft of heart. At that of the unit or formation they include discipline, cohesion, and sheer fighting power; and at that of the commander, all of these plus the willingness and ability to bear the horrendous responsibility involved. All this was true at the time when Roman legionaries, carrying javelins, swords, helmets, body armor, and greaves conquered the oikoumene (known world). And all this remains true in the face of today’s most advanced and most powerful weapons and weapon systems.
  5. The difficulty of containing escalation. Starting a war may—perhaps—be a rational act. One that those in charge perform with a clear mind on the basis of cool calculation. No sooner does it break out, though, then things change. Whether for hormonal or for psychological reasons, the most elementary and most powerful emotions known to man emerge from deep inside the soul and start playing a major role. Among them are anger, fury, revenge, cruelty, and above all, hatred. Under such conditions making sure that war does not degenerate into a sheer orgy of violence, which is of no use to anyone, but continues to follow the direction of policy is certain to be very difficult, not seldom impossible.


See you next week.

On Technology and War (1)

As anyone who casts even an occasional and superficial view at the media knows, military-technological development, driven by hundreds of billions in R&D funding, is proceeding at a furious pace. Not a day passes without the announcement of some new and revolutionary weapons and weapon systems that have recently transformed the entire face of war or are about to do so in the near future. The objective is always the same: namely, to obtain that elusive and often ill-defined thing, military-technological superiority.

As one who has spent much of his life studying military history, specifically the interaction between technology and war, today I want to address the following question. Suppose you have got this kind of superiority. In that case, how do you go about using it?


  1. On its own, even the most novel and most powerful weapon or weapon system is useless. That is why it is essential to embed it in everything else that waging war involves. Including, at the very least, organization, logistics, training, doctrine, strategy and tactics. The officers responsible for all these fields must learn what the technology they are working with can and, above all, cannot do. Also, which is equally important, how the various factors interact and how to make them work together in a seamless team.
    A good example of what can happen if this is not done is provided by the rise of modern armored divisions. Come 1940, it was the French who had the most and the heaviest tanks. However, it was the Germans who, having learnt how to use them along with other technologies in an armored division, went ahead and won a victory so spectacular as to turn into a legend.
  2. Any weapon (except nuclear ones, against which the only defense is deterrence) can, in principle, be countered by one means or another. The enemy is not stupid. That is why, the longer the war the more likely this is to happen. Such being the case, the side with technological superiority has a strong interest in making sure that the war is as short as possible. And the other way around, of course.
  3. To shorten the war, it is necessary to take the enemy by surprise. To take the enemy by surprise, the new technology must be developed and introduced in secret, as far as possible. A technology whose existence and characteristics are known is a technology half-countered. But pay heed: maintaining secrecy comes at a price. It can lead to a situation where one’s own troops do not know the new technology as well as they should and where the integrated whole mentioned above is not achieved. A well-known example was the mitrailleuse, an early kind of machine gun. Come war in 1870, it was a revolutionary weapon the French alone possessed. Being large and heavy, though, it was misunderstood and misemployed as an artillery weapon. In World War II, the fear lest the Germans would use proximity fuses against the Allied bombers caused Washington to delay their operational use by about one year.
  4. Any new technology should be used en masse. Short of nukes, rarely if ever in war has any weapon been so powerful as to be capable of acting as a silver bullet. That is why new ones must be husbanded until there are enough of them around to make a real difference. The British in 1915-17 violated this principle. As a result, their armored attacks made little impression on the German defenses. Only towards the end of 1917 did things begin to change. As Guderian, the creator of modern armored warfare, used to put it during the 1930s: boot them, don’t tickle them.
  5. Following directly from this premise, the new technology should be used at the decisive point. In other words, at that point where it can do the greatest good to one’s own side and the greatest harm to the other. Again, 1940—the German breakthrough at Sedan—provides as good a case in point as may be had. French armor was so dispersed that entire units never saw any action at all. By contrast, the German armored divisions were concentrated against a single sector of the French front (so much so, in fact, that the queue of vehicles reached back a hundred kilometers all the way across the Rhine). Supposing there is no decisive point, a situation of which Afghanistan provides a particularly good example, not even the greatest military-technological superiority will be of much avail. The outcome is likely to be a long war which will finally be decided by attrition

Is that enough for today? See you next week.

What to Do?

While tensions in Korea have gone down, those in the Middle East, specifically along Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, are going up. As a flurry of consultations in Tel Aviv, Washington DC, and Sochi shows, they are higher today than at any time since Israel invaded Lebanon back in 2006.

That round, let me remind you, got underway when Hezbollah, apparently in the hope of freeing some of its prisoners who were being held by Israel, kidnapped some Israeli soldiers and killed several others. This led to what the Israelis call the Second Lebanese War, which ended with a smashing Israeli victory. Not because Hezbollah was finished—it was not—but because, for what is now more than a decade, it lost its will to take on Israel. And not because Israel’s forces performed particularly well—especially on the ground, they did not. But because their sheer firepower, mercilessly delivered over a period of some six weeks, taught Sheikh Nasrallah, his Hezbollah organization, and Lebanon’s population in general a lesson they did not quickly forget.

Now, with the Syrian civil war perhaps—perhaps, I say—finally starting to wind down, the situation is changing. Hezbollah’s recent victories against Daesh and other anti-Assad organizations have raised its morale and made it feel more confident in its own capabilities. Behind Hezbollah is Iran, which is intent on gaining some kind of presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and is using its anti-Israeli policy as a sort of battering ram to enter the Arab world. And behind Iran there is Russia. Like Iran, Russia wants a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Unlike Iran, it has no particular reason to oppose Israel, let alone engage in hostilities with it. Especially because doing so may very well cause complications with the U.S. On the other hand, it also has no particular reason to restrain Iran or Iran’s client, Hezbollah.

In my post of last week, My Meeting with Mr. X, I argued that never since 1945 have two nuclear powers engaged each other in earnest. Instead calm—albeit often a tense one—has prevailed. So, first of all, between the superpowers. So, later on, between the Soviet Union and China. So between China and India, and so, since at least the 1999 “Kargil War” (which in reality, was not a war at all, only a skirmish between minuscule forces over impossibly difficult terrain along an impossibly difficult border), between India and Pakistan. In all those cases, to quote Winston Churchill, some form of peace has become the sturdy child of terror. Hence the idea, presented to me in a half-joking, half serious, manner, of periodically assembling the world’s heads of state so as to show them the damage nuclear weapons can really cause.

So what to do? I am not worried about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. As I have argued before, there is excellent reason to believe that such an arsenal, far from leading to war between Israel and Iran, will force both sides to behave more responsibly than they do now. Not to speak of preventing Benjamin Netanyahu from ever realizing his threat to attack. Rather, the real crux of the problem is formed by the fact that Hezbollah, unlike Israel, does not possess a nuclear arsenal. Paradoxically, but as also happened during the October 1973 War (and, some say, the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falklands), it is precisely this fact which, in a certain sense, gives it a free hand and enables it to confront the Israelis without fear of nuclear retaliation and escalation.

So following the logic of my friend, Mr. X, here is what I propose. Let Israel, or anyone else who is feeling generous, hand Nasrallah a few bombs. Big or small, old or new, as long as they have the word NUCLEAR written on them in giant letters it does not really matter. Complete with their safety devices, so as to put responsibility for anything that may happen squarely on his shoulders. Without ifs and without buts.

And then, as the Jewish prayer has it, there will be peace upon Israel.

“Disaster Area”

Hanging in my kitchen I have a so-called “New Zealand Tourist Map of the World.” Like other humoristic maps of its kind, it carries a brief description of each region. New Zealand, painted green, is best of all. It occupies an entirely disproportionate part of the map and is marked as having such things as “the biggest fish,” “the muddiest mud,” and “the friendliest mermaids” in the world. By contrast, Australia is a “desert island populated by a backward tribe known as strines.” Japan has “earthquakes,” the US, “hamburgers,” and Africa, “wild women.” These are just examples; most of the world has more than one epithet applied to it. Not so the Middle East, which is summed up in just two words: “disaster area.”

Fun aside, for a hundred years now the Middle East has in fact been a disaster area, much to the loss of most of its unfortunate inhabitants. Nor, the recent agreement between Presidents Trump and Putin notwithstanding, does there seem to be any immediate prospect for the turmoil to end. In this brief article I propose, 1. To trace the conflicts themselves; 2. Explain, very briefly, the factors that have prevented peace; and, 3. Say a few words about the probable shape of the future.


Many of the problems in the Middle East go back far into the nineteenth century. For our purposes, however, a good starting point is formed by World War I (1914-18). In 1916-18 the British, coming from the Sinai as well as the Persia Gulf, defeated the Ottomans and overran the entire Middle East. Next they divided the spoils with their French allies. France got Syria and Lebanon, whereas Britain took the rest.

The aftermath of the war saw the establishment of the colonies—which later developed into independent states—of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, and Trans-Jordan (as it then was). Saudi Arabia, which was never occupied by either Britain or France, became independent by default. Last not least the Balfour Declaration, which was issued in November 1917, promised that His Majesty’s Government would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” As one Arab resident wrote to Winston Churchill, who as colonial secretary had been entrusted with fixing the various borders and toured the country in 1922, as long as the Declaration was not repealed peace would “never” return to that country.

Since then the peace to end all peace, as it has been called, has remained the source of endless trouble. First the British had to cope with Arab uprisings in Palestine and, on a much larger scale, in Iraq. No sooner were those revolts suppressed than trouble broke out on the border between Trans Jordan and Saudi Arabia, an entirely artificial line on the map that the local tribes refused to respect. In 1927-29 it was the turn of the French to cope with what is still remembered as the Great Syrian Revolt. Additional Arab revolts broke out in Palestine in 1929 and 1936-39 and in Iraq in 1940.

No sooner had World War II ended than Palestine witnessed another anti-British revolt, albeit that this time it was the Jews who revolted. The establishment of Israel in 1948 was immediately followed by an entire series of Arab-Israeli Wars that lasted until 1973. But trouble was not limited to Israel and its neighbors. The British having gone, during much of the 1950s and 1960 the Kurds in Iraq waged more or less open warfare against the central authorities in Baghdad, a problem that has still not been resolved. The Kurds also tried to break loose from Turkey, another problem that has still not been solved.

In the 1960s Yemen was devastated by a civil war (as, at present, it is once again). In 1970 the Syrians briefly invaded Jordan which was just then engaged in civil war against the Palestinians in its territory. Six year later civil war broke out in Lebanon, and six years after that Israel launched a massive invasion of the latter country. It took until 2006 ere another massive Israeli blow finally brought hostilities in southern Lebanon to an end—and even so there is no guarantee that they will not break out again at any time.

The 1980s saw a massive war between Iraq and Iran. No sooner had it ended than Iraq made a grab for Kuwait and had to be expelled by the United States and its allies (1991). In 2003 hostilities in the Persian Gulf resumed. This time not only Iraq’s armed forces but its government was smashed, leading to chaos that, fourteen years later, shows hardly a sign of abating. Worst of all is the situation in Syria where civil war broke out in 2011. As of this writing it has succeeded in turning much of the country into a wasteland from which t will take decades to recover, if indeed it ever does.


How to account for all this trouble? Perhaps the most important answer is the extraordinary complexity of the region. A complexity which the new states, lacking firm roots in the population as they did, never succeeded in controlling. There are, of course, Egyptians and Syrians and Iraqis and Saudis and so forth. But there are also Israelis and Palestinians. And Arabs and Kurds. And Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Copts. There are Sunnis and there are Shi’ites (and there are Allawi’s, whom some do not recognize as Muslims at all) and there are Druze. There are also many kinds of Christians. True, the Christians’ overall role in the region is declining into insignificance. But how strong the hatreds among them are can be seen on major feast days when monks belonging to different denominations at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher regularly take up cudgels and bicycle chains and go after each other.

Had the men—there were no women among them—who made the modern Middle East back in 1915-22 been as saintly as Christ and as wise as mandarins, they would have been hard-put to take all these complications into account. Let alone bring them to an end. If anything, the contrary. Operating on the old, old principle of divide et impera, as when the French separated Lebanon from Syria and the British in Egypt favored the Copts, often they did what they could to accentuate them.

Next, poverty. Early in the twentieth century the countries of the Middle East were, without exception, poor and undeveloped. So much so that, by one estimate, per capita income in what later became Israel, which even then was starting to emerge as one of the more developed regions, stood as just four percent of the US figure (currently it stands at 56 percent). Israel apart, no country in the Middle East has managed to cross the threshold into a mature industrial, let alone post-industrial, society. An antiquated social structure, based on extensive ties between extended families and clans, acts as both cause and effect of this fact.

True, over the last century agriculture has declined and urbanization spread. Yet most of the urban population remains very poor indeed. Nor do most of these people have the kind of education needed to create and maintain a modern economy. As a result, what wealth there is owes its existence mainly to the primary sector. Chiefly oil and related products such as natural gas.

But not all Middle Eastern states possess significant reserves of the precious black liquid. Both in those that do and those that do not, income is so unevenly distributed as to act as the source, not of progress but of conflict, some of it armed. These conflicts in turn are tied to the fact that, again with the exception of Israel, no Middle Eastern country has ever succeeded into converting itself into a true democracy. Meaning one characterized by popular elections, a freely elected parliament able to supervise the executive, human rights anchored in law, and an independent judiciary. Iraq and Syria until they were torn apart by war, and Jordan and Egypt right down to the present day, were or are run by a team of four: namely the head of state, the ruling party, the army, and the secret services. Security of life and property exist, if at all, only to a very limited extent. And liberty is a very occasional guest.

To the internal factors must be added external ones. From antiquity on, the Middle East has always been an extraordinarily important region, geopolitically speaking. The reason is because through it passed the lines of communication leading from north to south and from west to east. With the discovery of oil early in the 20th century, which led to some of the greatest concentrations of wealth in history on one hand and to the most intense competition on the other, its role became even greater. Going back at least as far as 1918 and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, not for five minutes has the Middle East been free of foreign intervention.

At first, as already explained, the leading role was played by the British and the French. After 1945 it was mainly the Americans and the Soviets who called the shots. Both superpowers sought to extend their own zone of influence and expel the other. Now by treaty, now by economic aid, now by assisting a rebel group to mount a coup and overthrow a government, and now by having their respective clients fight one another. Nor were the US and the Soviet Union, later succeeded by the Russians, the only ones with a finger in the pie. As is exemplified by the fact that, currently and at any rate on paper, no fewer than 68 countries are officially committed to fighting Daesh.

Many of the countries in question are at odds not only with their local rivals but with each other too. Take, as an example of the resulting complexity, the case of Syria whose regime has been fighting its own citizens for the last six years. In Syria alone there are said to be some fifty different militias, some fairly large, others very small. Though all or most seem to have this in common that they hate President Assad’s government, many also reflect various religious, ethnic and local interests. The Russians, the Iranians and the terrorist organization Hezbollah (which has its roots in Lebanon, and is made up of Shi’ite fighters operating in Syria, which is mostly Sunni) have all been consistently supporting Assad.

The Turks claim to be fighting terrorists, but in reality they are more interested in keeping the Kurds down and the Iranians, out. The Saudis, bent on bugging Iran wherever they can, are determined to get rid of Assad and provide the Syrian rebels with weapons by way of Jordan. Ostensibly to prevent the war from spreading to that country, the US has stationed troops there. It is also bombing both Assad and his opponents, Daesh. To not much avail, as far as anyone can see. With the US are, as so often, some of its NATO allies playing the role of the jackal. As for Israel, up to the present it has managed to keep out of the conflict. But this does not prevent it from constantly calling on others to topple Assad and so, hopefully, pulling its own chestnuts out of the fire.


Niels Bohr, the Nobel-Prize winning Danish nuclear physicist, is supposed to have said that prediction is difficult, especially of the future. The Talmud concurs, saying that “the gift of prophecy is handed out to fools.” One does not, though, need divine insight to understand that, the abovementioned agreement between Trump and Putin notwithstanding, the Middle East is indeed a “disaster area” and likely to remain so for a long time in the future. To proceed in reverse order, one reason for this is foreign intervention which has often aided and abetted local conflicts. Then there is the absence of democracy, representative government, and human rights; all of which, along with the frequent presence of thuggish rulers, are rooted in societies most of which have never succeeded in overcoming their tribal character. Thuggish rulers—in truth, it is hard to see how anyone but a thug could govern the countries in question—are responsible for the fact that free economies could not develop and the distribution of wealth is as unequal as it is.

These facts and many others like them explain many things. They do not, however, explain everything. Some years ago I had the pleasure of coming across a book by the aged doyen of “oriental studies,” Bernard Lewis. Titled What Went Wrong and first published in 2002, it tried to explain how and why the brilliant civilization of the Middle Ages had declined until, finally, it reached the point where the epithet “Arab” is positive only when applied to a horse.

Though I read it twice, I still do not know.

The Punk(s)

Now that Vice President Mike Pence has finished glaring across Korea’s demilitarized zone and things have calmed down a little, it may be time to take stock. Neither North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, nor his father, nor his grandfather, are or were nice people. The first established, the second and the third led, regimes as horrible and as totalitarian as any in history. To recall what Socrates once said about tyrants, had it been possible to open their souls it would have been found to be full of scars.

All three have often been called a danger to world peace, and Un himself has been described as a “punk.” Ever since the Korean War ended in 1953, the North has in fact been responsible for countless incidents, some of them dangerous indeed, along its border with the South. The number of people killed in these incidents runs into the hundreds. However, in Pyongyang favor it must be said that it has not fought a single war in or against any of its neighbors. Let alone countries far from its borders.

During this same period of sixty-four years the great, benevolent, apple pie-eating, mother-loving, and God-fearing American democracy, invariably inspired by the dream of liberty, equality and justice for all, has:

– Tried (and failed) to invade Cuba in 1961;

– Blockaded Cuba in 1962 (this particular act of war, probably the most dangerous in the   whole of history, almost led to a nuclear holocaust);

– Sent its troops to Vietnam (1963), where they waged war until 1973;

– Invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965;

– Invaded Cambodia in 1970;

– Sent troops to Lebanon in 1982;

– Invaded Grenada in 1983;

– Invaded Panama in 1989;

– Invaded Iraq in 1991;

– Invaded Somalia in 1993;

– Invaded Haiti in 1994;

– Bombed Bosnia in 1995;

– Bombed Iraq in 1998-99;

– Waged war against Serbia in 1999;

– Invaded Afghanistan in 2001;

– Invaded Iraq in 2003;

– Bombed Libya in 2011;

– Raided Yemen in 2017;

– Bombed Syria in 2017.

This list does not include US support, some of it military, to revolutions and counter-revolutions in countries such as Iran (1953), Indonesia (1965), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1979-90), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003, the Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Directly or indirectly, Washington’s praiseworthy deeds have led to the death of millions of people.

With one exception (Afghanistan in 2002) all the bombings, invasions and interventions took place in countries that, with the worst will in the world, did not have what it takes to endanger to the mighty US. Without exception, they took place in countries that were small, weak, and often so far away that the average US citizen had never heard about them. Proving that, if you are a small, weak country, even one located on the other side of the world from the US, and plan to disobey Washington’s will while avoiding its oh-so tender mercies, the first thing you need are nukes and delivery vehicles to put them on target.

So can anyone please tell me who the punk)s( are?

Just Published!

Martin van Creveld, More on War, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017

When the chips are down, the survival of every country, government and individual is ultimately dependent on war. That is why, though war may come but once in a hundred years, it must be prepared for every day. When it is too late—when the bodies lay stiff and people weep over them—those in charge have failed in their duty.

In almost every field of human thought and action, good philosophers abound. They have examined their subjects, be they aesthetics or ethics or logic or the existence of God, and dissected them into their component parts. Next they re-assembled them, often in new and surprising ways that helped students to expand their knowledge and gain understanding. Some even helped improve the ability of the rest of us to cope with real-world problems. Yet in two and-a half millennia there have only been two really important military theoreticians: Sun Tzu (544-496 BCE) and Carl von Clausewitz (1779-1831). All the rest, including quite a few who were famous in their own times, have been more or less forgotten. Today they are of interest, if at all, almost exclusively to the military historian.

Both Sun Tzu’s the Art of War and Clausewitz’s On War have had praise heaped on them by generations of soldiers and scholars. With very good reason, needless to say. Nevertheless, both are marked by serious problems. In part, that is because there are entire fields which they address hardly if at all. Including the causes of war, the relationship between economics and war, the technology of war, and the law of war. This even applies to naval warfare, an age-old but critically important topic that neither of them mentions in a single word. In part, it is simply because they are old. Being old, they have nothing to say about the many forms of war that have emerged since they were written and whose role in contemporary conflict is often decisive. Such as nuclear war, air- and space war, cyberwar, and asymmetric war.

What is needed, in other words, is a new theory of war. One that is succinct, comprehensive, and easy to read and understand. And one that, by taking a contemporary approach, filling the gaps, and expanding into new fields can take the place of the above texts both in military and civilian life, both in- and out of the classroom.

The purpose of More on War is to provide just such a theory.


“Van Creveld is incapable of writing an uninteresting book.”

Prof. Lawrence Friedman, Foreign Affairs.

Blaming Obama

As Aleppo has finally fallen and a new Republican administration, supported by a Republican Congress, is about to take over, everyone is pointing fingers at outgoing President Barak Obama. He left America’s allies in the lurch. He did not stand up to Assad, Hezbollah, Khameini, Putin, and other wicked people. He should have done this and he should have done that. He was hesitant and he was inactive and he was ineffective. He has left the US weaker than it was when he entered office. He was a second Carter (the worst thing, in this view, anyone can be).

The charges are baseless. What they overlook is the fact that, at the time the Syrian civil war broke out in May 2011, the U.S was just emerging from its involvement in two disastrous wars. One in Afghanistan, the other in Iraq. Between them these two wars cost the U.S tens of thousands of casualties, including thousands of dead. They also cost fortunes so large as to be almost incalculable. Yet neither of them has achieved anything except increase the mayhem in Central Asia and the Middle East respectively.

The man who created the situation that led to this mess was not President Obama. It was his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush, it seems, entered office without any particular agenda. That may have been why, once 9/11 had taken place and almost three thousand Americans had died, he reacted instinctively and ferociously by sending his troops into that graveyard of empires, Afghanistan. Initially almost no one could quarrel with his decision and almost no one did. With good reason, it should be added; a Superpower, if it wants to remain a Superpower, cannot afford to take a spectacular act of war such as 9/11 lying down without mounting an equally spectacular one in response.

What spoilt the party was the fact that, during the first weeks and months, the campaign seemed to go better than anyone had expected. Encouraging Bush and his evil geniuses, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, to extend what had started as a punitive expedition into a sustained effort to create a more or less stable, more or less democratic, Afghanistan—an unattainable objective if ever one there was. By early 2003 it ought to have been clear, as in fact it was to a growing number of people, that Afghanistan was not a minor wound in America’s side. Instead it was a rapidly growing, extremely malignant, cancer that was frustrating the efforts of Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney to deal with it.

However, the evil trio refused to look reality in the face. Drunk with hubris, they decided to take on Iraq as well as Afghanistan. First they invented, and forced their intelligence services to “discover,” non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” to justify their decision. Next they launched a massive invasion much larger than the one in Afghanistan. Again the opening moves went well, encouraging the evil trio and providing them with all the back wind they could have wanted. Again, though, within a matter of months things started going sour.

When Obama entered office early in 2009 he did so with an explicit mandate to end the agony. Two years later it was these facts, and not any weakness on Obama’s part, which prevented him from doing more to help the Syrian militias topple Assad. Had he tried to do so, neither Congress nor public opinion, let alone those weathervanes, the media, would have supported him. Had he used his position as commander in chief to overrule them, and had the bodybags started coming in, they would almost literally have crucified him. So he did the maximum he could, which was to send in weapons—by way of the Saudis, who provided the financial muscle—as well as drones.

Drones, no doubt, are useful machines. Particularly because, being unmanned, they save casualties. Like the manned aircraft which they are increasingly replacing, though, on their own they do not win wars and will not win wars and cannot win wars. The more so when the armed forces that use them are increasingly made up of feminized, traumatized, politically-correct, pussycats; and the more so when those forces are backed up, if that is the term, by a country rightly tired of pouring out troops and treasure in useless wars that result in nothing but casualties.

And so the seeds of the present mess were sown. Perhaps I should add that all this did not take place against a domestic background of economic prosperity, as had been the case during World War II. Rather, even as the U.S vainly struggled with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq it was hit by the worst economic crisis in seventy years. The causes of the crisis do not concern us here. It is, however, worth pointing out that, entering the White House at a supremely difficult juncture, in economic matters as well as foreign-political/military ones Obama did the best he could. Not entirely without success, as the decrease of U.S military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq on one hand and the recent raising of interest rates on the other show.

Let the Republicans go on sticking pins into Obama’s effigy. Now that he is leaving the White House and Trump is coming in, all one can hope for is that the new president will do no worse than the old one did.

Neither Heaven nor Hell (I)

Part I

Recently I have been devoting a lot of thought to what life in the rest of the twenty-first century might be like. No doubt that is because, like so many old folks, I find myself playing with vague ideas about vague topics. Or perhaps it is the ideas that, floating in the air, are playing games with me? Anyhow. Some authors, looking forward to global peace, the suppression of poverty, advancing medical science, moral progress (yes, there are people who believe it is actually taking place) and similar goodies believe that the future will be heaven. When I was much, much younger, writing an essay about the “ideal” future and my hope of living to see it come about, I myself took this view. Others, perhaps more numerous, keep warning us that it will be hell. As, for example, when we run out of resources, or when growing economic inequality leads to violent disturbances culminating, perhaps, in war.

So here are some thoughts on the matter. spread over this week and the two following ones. They are framed in terms of tentative answers to ten critical questions, arbitrarily selected and here presented in no particular order like fruit in a salad. Enjoy the feast!

1. Will war be abolished? Whether war is due to the fragmented nature of human society, which never in the whole of history has been subject to a single government, or to the fact that resources are always limited and competition for them intense, or to tensions within the various war-waging polities, or the aggression and will to power that are part of our nature, I shall not presume to judge. Probably all these factors are involved; as indeed they have been ever since the first band of nomadic hunter-gatherers, wielding clubs and stones, set out to fight its neighbor over such things as access to water, or quarry, or berries, or women, as well as things vaguely known as honor, prestige, deterrence, etc.

One and all, these factors are as active, and as urgent, today as they have always been. That is why all previous hopes and efforts to put an end to armed conflict have come to naught. In the words of the seventeenth-century English statesman and jurist, Francis Bacon: There will never be a shortage of “seditions and troubles;” some of which will surely lead to politically-motivated, socially-approved, organized violence, AKA war.

2. Will we run out of resources? The fear that the point is arriving, if it has not done so already, where we humans exhaust the earth’s resources has been with us at least since the Christian writer Tertullian in the second half of the second century CE. And not without reason, as it seemed. At this time about one quarter of the population of the Roman Empire died of plague, perhaps reducing the total number from 80 to about 60 million.

Bad as it was, the crisis did not last. Over the two millennia since then the number of people living on this earth has increased about thirtyfold. No other plague, no war however destructive, has succeeded in permanently halting growth. During the same period the amount of resources extracted and/or consumed each year has grown by a factor of a thousand or more. Tet thanks to techniques such as saving, substitution, recycling and, above all, broadly-based technological progress, world-wide more people can afford to buy and consume a greater variety of resources than ever in the past. Recently the growing use of fracking for extracting shale oil has brought about a situation where even energy, which for over four decades has bedeviled the world by its ups and downs, has become available at a reasonable price and looks as if it will continue to do so; instead of peak oil, it seems that prices have peaked.

In brief: Tertullian, Malthus and their countless fellow prophets of economic doom, major and minor, are wrong. Local and temporary bottlenecks have always existed. One need only think of the shortage of wood and charcoal that led to their being replaced by coal, helping usher in the industrial Revolution in England. They will, no doubt, continue to do so in the future too. Pace Al Gore and his fellow “environs,” though, shortages so serious as to disrupt global economic life for any length of time are not in the cards. One could even argue that, given the background of continuing economic recession, many raw materials are underpriced; just look at what happened to the shares of Anglo-American from 2008 on.

3. Will poverty disappear? Some people think so. Pointing to the fact that, over the last two centuries or so, the standard of living in the most advanced countries has increased about thirty-fold, they expect prosperity to spread like ripples in a pool. It is indeed true that, except when it is deliberately manufactured as part of war, famine, famine of the kind that used to be common even in Europe before 1700 or so, has largely become a thing of the past.

That more present-day people can afford more and/or better food, hygienic facilities, clothing, warmth, housing, transportation, communication, entertainment, and many other things than ever before is obvious. No ancient treasure trove, no Ali Baba cave, could offer anything like the wares on display in any large department store. Even the Sun King himself did not enjoy many of the amenities which are now standard in any but the poorest French households.

There are, however, three problems. The first is that poverty is psychological as well as material. Of the two kinds, the former is much harder to eradicate than the latter. This is brought out by the fact that, even in Denmark which has the lowest poverty rate of any OECD country, just over five percent of the population say that they cannot afford food.

Second, poverty and its opposite, wealth, are not absolute but relative. People do not look just at what they themselves own, earn, consume and enjoy. They are at least as interested in the same factors as they affect their neighbors, role models, and enemies.

Third, the scale along which poverty operates is not fixed but sliding. When new products appear they are almost always luxuries, at any rate in the sense that, before they did so, no one felt any need for them. As time passes, though, luxuries have a strong tendency to turn into necessities. The histories of automobiles, personal computers, and mobile telephones all illustrate this very well. Each one caused life to re-structure itself until it became absolutely indispensable. Once this happened anyone who could not afford the product in question would define himself, and be defined by others, as poor; even if his economic situation was satisfactory in other respects.

Quite some economists go further still. They claim that inequality is growing. Also that, unless some pretty drastic measures, such as a 100 percent inheritance tax, are implemented, serious upheavals are going to upset even the richest and most advanced societies. But such a tax itself is likely to cause quite as many upheavals as it was designed to prevent. In brief: wealthy as future societies may become, there is no reason to believe that poverty will be abolished.

How is that for a starter? See you next week.

Guest Article: Sarajevo in the Baltic?


Karsten Riise*


Ever since Russia took over Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014, Western analysts have often pointed fingers at Russia and its leader. Then US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton even compared Putin with “Hitler.” Enough of that; here I want to point out the strategic dilemmas Russia is facing and the consequences that may result.

New Sarajevo - NATO - RussiaTo start with, it ought to be clear that Russia cannot live with the fact that Ukraine is becoming an instrument in the hands of NATO. Russia could, should it want to, launch deep military pincer operations with the objective of taking control of that country. In my view, a Russian-inspired regime-change in the Ukraine must and will come.

The Baltic Countries May Become a Threat to Russia

NATO cannot possibly counter a Russian regime-change operation in Ukraine. However, it is also necessary to analyze the military pressures which NATO can build up against Russia in other theaters, especially the Baltic. The following are some of the possibilities:

  1. NATO, with bases in the three Baltic countries, can block international shipping and air traffic to St. Petersburg;
  2. NATO can blockade and starve-out Kaliningrad;
  3. NATO can build up its forces in the Baltic so as to threaten a coup de main-type attack against Minsk, which is only about 125 km from Lithuania.

Briefly, NATO, by reinforcing its military presence in the Baltic, can answer a Russian regime-change in the Ukraine by strangling Kaliningrad and threatening Minsk, the capital city of Belorussia, Russia’s closest ally. In the long term, NATO can also use its foothold in the Baltic to build up growing military pressure on St. Petersburg and Pskov. Seen form Moscow’s point of view such moves would be unacceptable, perhaps unbearable.

Western media, politicians and “experts” are forever pointing fingers at Russian “provocations.” They conveniently overlook the provocations which NATO itself is carrying out right now, as well as those it may want to carry out tomorrow. We should not be naïve. Back in the days of President Reagan the US carried out numerous simulated nuclear bombing attacks deep into Soviet territory. Had this become known at the time, the US would have denied it. NATO thinking is that these simulated nuclear attacks were helpful in causing the Soviet Union to break down.

Needless to say, what worked for the USA against the Soviet Union is something NATO would like to repeat against Russia today. Indeed it is possible that NATO is even now secretly continuing Reagan’s policy, using its forces in the Baltic to launch simulated air, sea and land attacks on Russia. Even if it does not, it may be only a matter of time before NATO has gathered enough strength to do just that.

Time for Russia to Take on the Baltic Countries is Running Out

A RAND study, completed in 2016, shows that NATO does yet not have sufficient forces in place to protect the Baltic countries. It would take Russian forces a maximum of sixty hours to reach the capitals of two of the countries in question. Such a Russian move would leave NATO with some bad, very bad, options.

Though NATO has begun to significantly upgrade its forces in the Baltic, its position there remains very insecure. Partly because the three Baltic countries are geographically isolated, and partly because, should there be a confrontation, NATO reinforcements passing through the straits of Denmark into the Baltic Sea could be interdicted by Russia. But Russia should not expect the window of opportunity to remain open for very long.


Baltic Membership in NATO is Destabilizing

When both sides have good reason to feel insecure, the relationship between them becomes unstable and something dramatic may well happen. This is currently the case in the Baltic where Russia may feel an understandable need to take action to remove the future military threat from the three Baltic countries before proceeding to liquidate its unfinished business in the Ukraine.

Any Russian operation in the Baltic will have to take place before NATO’s growing presence there makes it too dangerous. By NATO Treaty, such an operation will be considered an attack on all NATO countries, the US included. But honestly: In such a case, will the US and Europe risk a nuclear war? Probably not. Thus Russia may bet on a limited conventional war; one which would lead to the end of NATO.

On 17 May 2016 one of Denmark’s largest newspapers, Berlingske Tidende, published an article by a retired NATO brigadier general. The article was written with some typical NATO rhetoric. But under the rhetoric the Danish brigadier general seemed to be genuinely scared. He fears that something violent may take place in connection with NATO’s maneuver, BALTOPS 2016, schedules to take place in the Baltic Sea from 3- to 19 June, as Russia’s window for action in that region may become smaller in the future. As I just explained, his worries are in line with own my analysis.

Russian Interest in (Temporary) Stabilization in Syria

The Russian operations in Syria bear strong similarities to those of the German “Legion Condor” during the 1930s Spanish Civil War. They enabled the Kremlin to test and train its most advanced weapons—and watch them working perfectly well. The lesson to NATO? Beware!

For a conflict in the Baltic, Russia will prefer to have all of its air force back after its success in Syria. Land operations in the Ukraine are better undertaken in the summer time, and a Baltic operation will have to take place before NATO builds up too many forces in the Baltic. Therefore Russia has an interest in reaching a settlement (at least temporary) with the West on Syria; one that may allow it to bring the rest of its military aircraft home. As NATO’s build up in the Baltic accelerates, Russia may only have short time left to act

A Sarajevo Effect?

A 2014 study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Business Assessment (CSBA) shows that China has enough missiles to wipe out all ports and airports on Taiwan, and destroy Taiwan’s air force on the ground. Several RAND studies, including a US-China military balance assessment published in 2015, show that the US no longer enjoys an advantage over China in the Taiwan Strait. America’s overall advantage over China is also shrinking. Accordingly, why should China not exploit a US involvement in a European conflict in order to take over Taiwan? And why should Israel not use such an opportunity to strike at Iran’s nuclear installations? And why should Turkey not use it to invade Syria and northern Iraq? Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and India, may also try to solve some issues the hard way. Insurgents in various North African, Central Asian and Southeast Asian countries may also seize the opportunity.

The price of oil has already started rising again. In a world such as the one we have just described, it may not stop at 50 or 100 or 150 dollars. It may go up all the way to 200 dollars, with gold rising in proportion. Stock markets have already peaked. If they cannot go higher, an insecure world will cause them to go off the cliff. And what about the dollar? The US can only finance its huge +3% foreign deficit and big public spending as long as its capital markets are safe and attractive, and the country itself is seen as a world-heaven of security.

Should the US turn out not to be strong enough to be on top of the situation, if conflicts explode in Europe, Asia and the Middle-East, trillions of dollars may flee the US, totally “reconfiguring” a world economy at war.

Welcome to the 21st century.

image001*Karsten Riise, M.Sc.(Econ) with a degree in Spanish, is former CEO of DaimlerChrysler Holding in Scandinavia and CFO of Mercedes-Benz in both Sweden and Denmark. Today he writes about international security, economics and politics.