Nuclear “Decadence”

You know, sometimes I really admire Al Jazeera’s reporting. And other times to call out certain articles reminds me too much of picking on a small kid in gym class or the merciless vigilantism against Judith Griggs of “but honestly, Monica” fame.  But honestly, readers, this article that’s three months old – “Nuclear weapons as instruments of peace: The support for nuclear weapons found among top scholars in the field is a warning sign of American cultural decadence” – has been in the limited queue of AB for a while, and it’s an itch that I feel like scratching.

The meat of UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk’s argument is:

What shocked me about the panel was not its claim that violence was declining and war was on the brink of disappearing, but the unqualified endorsement of nuclear weapons as deserving credit for keeping the peace during Cold War and beyond. Nuclear weapons were portrayed as if they were positive contributors to establish a peaceful and just world, provided that they do not fall into unwanted hands (which means “adversaries of the West”, or more colourfully phrased by George W Bush as “the axis of evil”) as a result of proliferation.

He refers to nonproliferation as a “ploy” (vice a full commitment to disarmament) and suggests that scholars are “captivated” and have “succumbed to the demons of nuclearism.” I mean, yeesh, what do you expect from al Jazeera, but still.

I was told once by a vice commander of a US nuclear base that “we use nuclear weapons every day.” And in fact, the current mode of their employment is in fact the way that we should hope to always use them: passively. They sit, they wait, but they never launch because they don’t have to. Obviously nuclear weapons have proven of limited use when it comes to conventional conflict (though note that there have been few truly interstate wars since Korea, and only a single one in the short twenty-first century: the Russo-Georgian War in 2008), but their very existence is an argument against using them.

Yes, let’s reduce numbers; yes, let’s try to prevent nations from developing or obtaining nuclear weapons; and yes, let’s eventually get rid of them worldwide. But don’t tell me that in the world we live in nuclear weapons don’t serve a stabilizing purpose.

Today’s* Unsurprising News

This should come as a shock…to just about no one:

A top Chinese military official has confirmed that Beijing is building an aircraft carrier, marking the first acknowledgement of the ship’s existence from China’s secretive armed forces.

[…]

Qi Jianguo, assistant to the chief of the PLA’s general staff, told the newspaper that the carrier would not enter other nations’ territories, in accordance with Beijing’s defensive military strategy.

“All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers – they are symbols of a great nation,” he was quoted as saying.

Of course, the Chinese carrier will primarily be used for “training and as a model for a future indigenously-built ship.” If the sister ship Admiral Kuznetsov is any indication, the former Varyag will not be a particularly reliable platform for power projection abroad – Kuznetsov has been at sea for approximately 12 months in total since the year 2000. Along a similar tack as the Chinese, Kuznetsov has remained operational primarily “to preserve its school of deck aircraft pilots.”

Still, any kind of operational Chinese naval aviation platform is an interesting development, even if it has been a long time coming. But for real blue-water capabilities, the world will almost certainly have to wait for China to produce its first domestic carrier.

*It has come to my attention that the Defense News article is actually dated June 8, so not exactly today, per se. Blame Google Reader, I suppose.

Frenemies?

Two age-old adversaries finally joined forces in recognition of their weakened position today. Putting aside the divisions of the past and recalling times when they could reach across and work with each other in harmony, the two parties committed to a radical, unprecedented new arrangement.

No, Charlie Crist didn’t win, and Congress didn’t actually decide to start functioning. Instead, France and Good Britain signed a defense treaty. It’s pretty out there: provisions for a joint expeditionary task force and a timeshare arrangement of their aircraft carriers, which many had speculated on. At least now one will always be at sea, exorcising the specter of a naval aviation-less Great Britain. Also: joint nuclear research! Though not extending to actual issues of deployment, it seems to have supplanted the old Tube Alloys project between America and Britain as the new centerpiece of nuclear partnership.

Still, we have come a long way since the days of Viscount Gort and the BEF. Rule Britannia? Well, co-rule maybe.

OODAs of Noodles

Ah, Boyd. Master of all things. As a good friend once explained the cult of Boyd as “it’s like the Americans wanted to scream, ‘WE HAVE A MILITARY GENIUS, SEE!’ while losing in Vietnam.” But still, the underlying theory is sound, and this chart does a good job of breaking down all four letters.

I’m a little embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen it before (the original website dates it back to 2006). It really is an excellent overview of the OODA Loop, including all the cultural and individual particulars that inform a decision. Also, note the sheer number of ways to ‘observe. The chart can be expanded or condensed for as long as you need, be it split-second decision or drawn-out debate process. And if nothing else, you have a crucial tool to get all inside your enemy’s head.

There is a real risk, though, of reading too much into OODA. More guidelines than rules. And so forth.

Via zenpundit.

Wedding Crashers

What I at first thought was just a single issue as a gift turned out to be a full subscription to The Counter Terrorist. I’ve had one issue sitting around staring at me for months, and finally got around to cracking it. The first article offers some interesting lessons beyond those the author seems to have taken away. While the actual operation is pretty unequivocally badass, there seem to be a couple unnecessary elements towards the end.

Aaron Cohen on the cover of his book.

In “Undercover in Nablus” (an excerpt from his recent book Brotherhood of Warriors: Behind Enemy Lines with a Commando in One of the World’s Most Elite Counterterrorism Units), Aaron Cohen, an operative in an Israeli Duvdevan unit, describes an attempt to capture ‘Abu Jihad’, the “Hamas mastermind behind the Dizengoff Mall bombing.” The plan is simple yet intricate. Two operators posing as friends of the groom will snatch Abu Jihad from a wedding reception in Mishraim once the entire unit has eyes-on the target. But everyone prepares for the worst-case scenario, of course:

Rooftop snipers would surround the target location. We would have a dozen undercover cars with heavy weaponry on the perimeter, circling the streets of Nablus.

Cohen was posing as a sweet-corn vendor, with a heavily modified cart:

The cart also had a live-action camera feed… If a firefight were to break out, I had my SIG tucked at the small of my back and the bottom of the cart was custom lined with Kevlar. Flipped on its side, the cart would provide cover as a bulletproof barricade.

The actual snatch goes pretty well. Cohen gets eyes-on the target, followed by confirmation from the rest of the unit. Within six seconds the two operators inside the wedding reception grab Abu Jihad without drawing their weapons and hustle him into a waiting fake taxi.

Cohen and the others begin to just drift away, but it’s what happens right after the snatch that troubles me.

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Wait, What?

Every so often, I will have a mild revelation and ask myself, “Why are we still in Afghanistan?” It’s similar to the mental whiplash I developed in the run-up to the Iraq War, when all of a sudden the national conversation switched from one about Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan, and Tora Bora to yellowcake uranium and l’Affaire du Plame.

Despite his somewhat over-exaggerated blame (though sadly, his position grows a little more plausible each day), I found Howard Hart’s recent take on our efforts in Afghanistan a pretty convincing echo of my own thoughts. To wit:

Leaving Afghanistan would mean that the Taliban would officially take over the country – most of which they already control. So what? It has controlled Afghanistan before. America is under no moral or political obligation to re-make the country into some sort of “democratic” state. It would make it easier for Pakistan to deal with both its internal radical Islamic threat and with a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan (which Pakistan knows will be the end result of the war).

Difficult as it is for us freedom-and-democracy-loving Americans to admit, free elections will not be how the war in Afghanistan ends. Perhaps we are under some sort of moral obligation to attempt to stabilize the country, having brought war and destruction to it, but we’ve had nine years to work that out, and failed miserably. There are no positive outcomes. The only question is whether the Taliban returns sooner or later. And the longer we wait, the more it costs us.

Your depressing thought for the day.

Dive, Dive, Dive

An artist's rendering of the Virginia-class submarine.

Lance M. Bacon had an article out in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal warning us (surprise) about deep cuts to the submarine service that have “cripple[d] America’s sea superiority.” I tend to be skeptical of these Dr. Doom-style pronouncements, namely because a different one seems to appear in AFJ every month, and at least one must be wrong.

But with Bacon, I’m actually more likely to agree. More than anything, naval warfare of the future is likely to be fought beneath the waves, rather than atop them. And yet the submarine service’s downsizing flies in the face of what’s proving to be a relatively cheap form of sea denial and even an offensive weapon. Mike Burleson notes:

The small submarine is not just for weaker powers … It can also equip traditional navies to take the offensive against an enemy when its battlefleet is indisposed, such as after a surprise strike from missiles. The use of anti-access weapons in a future peer conflict might induce the US to use its submarine force, the only real stealth vessels it possesses, to lead a counterattack if its surface navy was somehow disabled early in a conflict. Not an unlikely scenario as we recall from Pearl Harbor, and afterward.

In addition to whatever budgetary limitations are imposed, there’s also the problem of simply manning what subs we do keep. Ever since the Navy started providing laser vision correction, there’s been a dearth of bespectacled sailors, who once upon a time would have had their dreams of naval aviation dashed and instead been consigned to subsurface naval warfare.

In one regard, this is not a terrible problem to have. The pool of potential pilots is now larger then ever, and thus more selective – those who eventually qualify will be the best aviators the Navy has ever seen. But it is reducing the quantity of sailors who would have voluntarily or otherwise served beneath the waves. With the Navy’s recent decision to ban smoking on all submarines, I would assume the number of volunteers would grow even smaller.

Of course, let’s not present the future of the Navy as a binary choice between more aviation or more submarines – as Chris Rawley points out, surface warships aren’t about to disappear anytime soon. But it would be wise not to lose sight of the significant benefits and capabilities that submarines provide for a reasonable price.

The Mask of the Bear: Soviet Deception in Operation Bagration

German columns advance past immobilized Russian tanks, July 1941.

From the moment the first Wehrmacht tank crossed the Soviet border in 1941 until the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43, German victory in World War II seemed inevitable. The fighting on the Eastern Front took place on a scale never seen before or since, a colossal undertaking that consumed three-quarters of all combat forces in Europe, and cost the lives of over twenty-five million Soviet citizens.[1] The war could not have been won without the Soviet front, and even after the Red Army had successfully defended Moscow and Stalingrad, while holding out in besieged Leningrad, victory was far from certain.

The summer offensive of 1943, culminating in the Battle of Kursk—the largest tank battle ever fought by man—finally pushed the Germans onto the defensive. It was not until Operation Bagration, the 1944 summer offensive, that the German ability to conduct offensive operations was curtailed once and for all.

Operation Bagration won the war in the east, and that victory can be attributed to a practice at which the Red Army excelled—deception. The Soviet practice of maskirovka literally translates to ‘camouflage,’ but in the context of military doctrine has a wide variety of definitions covering everything from strategic disinformation to the effective  masking of an individual soldier’s foxhole. The official Soviet definition for maskirovka was:

The means of securing combat operations and the daily activities of forces; a complexity of measures, directed to mislead the enemy regarding the presence and disposition of forces, various military objectives, their condition, combat readiness and operations, and also the plans of the command … Maskirovka contributes to the achievement of surprise for the actions of forces, the preservation of combat readiness, and the increased survivability of objectives.[2]

The Soviets invented the art of maskirovka, and perfected it over the course of World War II. By the summer of 1944, it was second-nature, and the operational planning reflected this. In absolute secrecy, the Soviet High Command (Stavka) managed to position over 2.3 million men and the necessary supplies, all the while deceiving the Wehrmacht as to the actual objectives of the offensive.

It is no stretch to say that Operation Bagration would have unfolded far more poorly without the extensive deception operations, and as it marked an end to any chance of a German victory, the maskirovka so skillfully executed in the summer of 1944 in fact shortened World War II by a substantial amount.

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Urban Jungle Warfare

An American solider in Sadr City, Iraq, 2008. Photo: Zoriah.

Geoff Manaugh at the ever-fantastic and always impressive BLDGBLOG has a post up about Stephen Graham’s Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism and urban warfare in general.

The city is obviously going to be the defining social construct of the 21st century, but whether that happens in the benevolent, ‘new urbanist’ way that’s all the rage these days seems increasingly unlikely. From Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums:

The cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay.

One is reminded of John Robb’s take on cities and the coming urban warfare, along with his prescription against urban conglomerations. Cities are immensely important nodes in a country’s system, and taking them down is easier, more profitable, and much more effective than as was practiced in the first half of the twentieth century.The will to besiege a city that continued up through the World Wars at Leningrad, Liege, and Namur is no longer there, but that brute force method is no longer needed. And the material rewards – not to mention the political and social effects of urban devastation – are more promising than ever.

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Boot Camp or Fat Camp?

The current debate raging across the internet’s tubes is whether America’s obesity epidemic poses a threat to national security. A mysterious “group of retired officers” commissioned and released the report, which says:

9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military. The retired officers were on Capitol Hill advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation’s school lunches healthier.

Daniel Engber analyzes the numerical claims made in the study, and explains how their numbers are entirely misleading:

The Pentagon’s director of accessions, Curtis Gilroy, presented the same numbers to the House Armed Services Committee last March. He said that 35 percent of potential recruits are disqualified for medical reasons, with obesity being a major factor. Another 18 percent have drug or alcohol problems, 5 percent have criminal records, 6 percent have too many children; and 9 percent score in the prohibitive category V on the Armed Forces Aptitude Test.

It’s true that if you add those numbers, you’ll get something close to 75 percent. But that assumes no two of the above-listed groups are overlapping.

[…]

In the new report, the retired generals focus on just one sector of the pie chart—the 9 million young adults who are too heavy for military service. This number comes from the Census Bureau, and once again seems to discount the possibility that some fat people might be too stupid, morally corrupt, drug-addled or burdened by family to enlist in the armed forces anyway. As such, it’s a distortion of the facts to imply that every one of them might be in uniform, were it not for their excess weight.

While obesity may be the most obvious cause for rejection, the Army maintains a litany of potential disqualifications; aside from the usual asthma and heart conditions, ingrown toenails (if infected) and extra digits are also cause for rejection. The Army’s medical guidelines are no less than 148 pages long.

What the survey fails to consider is that some fat people have ingrown toenails, and some asthmatics also have weight problems. While it would be premature to declare obesity no problem for the military, it’s much less of a problem than it’s cracked up to be. With all branches currently exceeding recruitment goals, both in quantity and quality, there are presumably more important problems to worry about (not to mention that obesity rates might be leveling off).

Personally, I’m 6′ 8″ (just at the cusp of qualifying), weigh 330, and have ADHD and asthma. Three disqualifications right there, though Theodore Roosevelt is a good role model to emulate – the man beat his asthma, after all. But I’m disqualified from serving, much as I’ve been pondering the idea, as are vast swathes of the country.

Starbuck would like your thoughts – got any?