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Shopping Around

[ 10 ] October 27, 2016 |
FA-50 Golden Eagle (Philippine Air Force, February 19, 2016).jpg

FA-50 Golden Eagle (Philippine Air Force, February 19, 2016). Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, Public Domain

Some thoughts on some of Duterte’s claims about widening Manila’s military procurement strategy:

What would Duterte want? The Philippine’s need for modern military equipment is substantial, although its resources are fairly meager.  In recent years Manila has concentrated on helicopters, light aircraft, light patrol boats, and a variety of munitions.  Much of this has come from the United States, although Japan has also played a role in supporting Manila’s maritime ambitions.  However, either Russia or China could ably fulfill these relatively modest requirements.  The Chinese JF-17 fighter would fit Philippine requirements nicely, as would refurbished MiG-29 models (Duterte has already criticized a deal to acquire modernized F-16s). Altogether, while capturing the Philippines military market would be only moderately lucrative, it would fall right into the wheelhouse of either the Russian or Chinese military-industrial complexes.


The Cubs Must Not Win (II)

[ 81 ] October 26, 2016 |

When last the Cubs won the World Series, the Romanovs ruled Russia.

The Romanovs seem to have emerged, along with a number of other important Russian families, from a minor 14th century noble named Andrei Kobyla. The Romanov branch of this large family came to prominence in the mid-16th century, when Anastasia Zakharyina married Ivan the Terrible. The marriage produced two sons, Ivan and Fyodor, who by tradition were considered part of the ruling Rurik dynasty. In 1581, twenty-one years after his wife’s death, Ivan the Terrible beat his daughter-in-law into a miscarriage, angering her husband Ivan. Ivan the Terrible then proceeded to (accidentally) beat his son to death as well. This left only Fyodor, the Fredo of the late Rurik dynasty, to ascend to the throne upon his father’s death. Fyodor’s relatively short and indifferent reign produced no heirs, but did see brutal competition between the Romanov and Gudonov families over succession to the throne. The Gudonovs, a family of Tatar origin, won the first round, and Boris became Tsar upon the death of Fyodor in 1598. The Romanovs were either murdered or dispatched to Siberia.

Seven years later Boris I died, leaving the throne to his sixteen year old son Fyodor II. Fyodor II was promptly murdered and replaced by Dmitri, who claimed to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. After several years, plenty of blood, and much confusion, the young Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar by a national assembly of nobles. Only seventeen at the time, Mikhail was a weak leader, but he managed two things that helped set the course of Russian history; he survived on the throne for 32 years, and produced a viable heir. Mikhail’s grandson, Peter I, came to be known as Peter the Great for his expansion of Russia’s borders and his modernization of the Russian state.

Unfortunately, the dynastic situation remained complicated. None of Peter’s sons survived to succeed him (in shades of Ivan the Terrible, he had one of his sons murdered by torture), so he installed his wife, Catherine, on the throne before his death. Catherine, a Latvian peasant, was herself succeeded by Peter I’s grandson, Peter II. The Romanovs would have done well to learn the lesson of the French Capetians (who were remarkable in assuring the production and survival of male heirs), as Peter II died of smallpox two years into his reign. A couple more Romanovs down the line, Elizabeth, daughter of Catherine and Peter the Great, ascended to the throne. Elizabeth steered Russia through the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War before dying in 1762. She was followed by Peter III, another grandson of Peter I. Peter III married a woman who was far smarter, more ruthless, and more capable than himself. This arrangement works out well sometimes, but not for Peter; his wife (probably) had him assassinated several months after he ascended to the throne.

Catherine II was a princess in a minor German noble family. Originally a Lutheran, she joined the Russian Orthodox Church shortly before marrying Peter III. Catherine’s 34 year reign would later be recognized as a golden age for Russia; in addition to further expanding Russia’s borders and consolidating the Russia state, Catherine proved a great patron of the arts. She claimed that her son, Paul, was the produce not of her marriage with Peter but rather of one of her many extra-marital liasons. This claim remains in doubt, as consequently does the relationship between the later Romanovs and Peter the Great. Paul succeeded his mother in 1796, and was assassinated in 1801. Under the leadership of Paul’s son, Alexander I, Russia survived the 1812 French invasion, and its armies later marched across Europe to put a bullet in the head of the zombie that the French Revolution had become. Although a liberal early in his reign, Alexander moved right as he grew older, and was replaced by his even more conservative brother Nicholas I. Nicholas I helped, in his own way, to undo the efforts of Peter and Catherine to remake Russia on a European mold. He was succeeded by the liberal Alexander II, who was succeeded upon the latter’s assassination by the conservative Alexander III.

It’s important to keep in mind that, throughout all of this, Russia probably had the least well-developed political institutions in Europe (and that didn’t compare particularly favorably with those of the Ottoman, Chinese, or Japanese empires). Unlike in most other countries, there was only a very limited cushion between the preferences of the Tsar and government policy. This is not to say that the Tsar’s could do anything they wanted; not even the absolute monarchs are absolute, as the state always has to compete with other societal groups. This is especially important to note in Russia, which due to size and institutional weakness has always been difficult to govern. But in terms of institutionalized means of insulating government from the preferences of the leader, Russia lagged.

In any case, on November 1, 1894, the 26 year old Nicholas Romanov succeeded to the title of Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russians, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland. He reign would not be pleasant. Under his watch Russia was defeated and most of its fleet destroyed in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which helped bring about the Revolution of 1905. Nicholas II survived the Revolution but was forced to create the Duma, a basic representative institution, and to issue several proclamations guaranteeing certain rights for subjects. In 1914 Russia became involved in the Great War, winning substantial early victories in Galicia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but suffering a catastrophic defeat against the Germans at Tannenberg. The war overtaxed the capabilities of the Russian state, and helped both create and empower a group of revolutionaries who were, if anything, more bloodthirsty than the autocrats they sought to replace. Nicholas II’s wife also became enamoured of a monk named Grigori Rasputin, who appeared to display remarkable abilities for treating Alexei, the hemophiliac heir to the throne.

In early 1917 the rubber hit the road, and the Tsarist state collapsed into revolution. On March 15 (Gregorian calendar) Nicholas abdicated in favor of his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail. Mikhail did not take the throne, however, and seven days later Nicholas and his family were arrested. In October the Bolsheviks seized power, and the situation of Nicholas and his family began to deteriorate. In March the family was dispatched to Yekaterinburg. On July 17 a forty year old Bolshevik named Yakov Yurovsky led a Cheka squad to the house in which the Romanovs were imprisoned. Yurovsky personally executed Nicholas, his son Alexis, and his daughter Tatiana, while the rest of the squad finished off the remainder of the royal family. Some people say Nicholas II got a bad break, but I consider him the luckiest deposed monarch on the face of the earth. Were I the last tyrant of a brutally oppressive, yet majestically opulent dynasty, I would rather be massacred with my entire family by revolutionary sociopaths than waste away in decades of exile. We remember Nicholas II and Louis XVI for a reason; who remembers how or when Kaiser Wilhelm II died?

Grand Duke Mikhail had been murdered a month earlier, leaving the succession in doubt. Over time, surviving elements of the family gathered around Cyril Vladimirovich, a cousin of Nicholas’ who had fled to France after the October Revolution. In 1938 the claim passed to Vladimir Cyrilovich, who held it until 1992. In 1969 Vladimir designated his daughter Maria as official heir. However, for various complicated reasons this succession is contested by another branch of the Romanov family, one that recognizes Nicholas Romanov as the legitimate heir. The issues differentiating the two are too complicated to discuss in this space; in a bygone age one would simply have had the other imprisoned or killed. Prospects for a return to the throne appear grim. Although the collapse of the Bolshevik regime opened space for the mobilization of public opinion for the restoration of the monarchy, this mobilization never manifested. The Romanovs remain relatively unpopular in Russia in spite of the measured support of the Russian Orthodox Church. Unless Vladimir Putin somehow manages to have himself declared a Romanov, it is unlikely that the family will return to the throne anytime soon.

Trivia: What dynasty went from being the target of one Crusade to being a participant in another in two generations?

Sad Fighter Planes

[ 17 ] October 26, 2016 |


Full disclosure: Somebody gave me the IDEA to write this, then PAID me for it!

The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition, staged at the end of the Cold War, yielded a pair of remarkable fighter designs. The United States would eventually select the F-22 Raptor, widely acknowledged as the most capable air superiority aircraft of the early twenty-first century. The loser, the YF-23, now graces museums in Torrance, California and Dayton, Ohio.

How did the Pentagon decide on the F-22, and what impact did that decision have? We will never know, but going with the F-22 Raptor may have saved the Pentagon some major headaches.


The Cubs Must Not Win (I)

[ 117 ] October 25, 2016 |

When last the Cubs won the World Series, the Hohenzollerns still ruled Germany.

The Hohenzollern are first mentioned in the eleventh century. Holding lands in southern Germany and the Black Forest, the family slowly expanded its territory until it acquired Brandenburg in 1415. The center of Hohenzollern power moved north, and Berlin became the chief city of the realm. The Hohenzollerns took advantage of the decline of the Teutonic Knights to expand into east Prussia. In 1525 Albert I converted to Lutheranism, took the lands of the Teutonic Knights, and assumed the title Duke of Prussia. A later Duke converted to Calvinism, and House Hohenzollern became known for its religious tolerance. Frederick William I, also known as the Great Elector, helped build the army that Prussia would become renowned for in later years. In 1701 Frederick William’s son Frederick declared himself King ofin Prussia, which helped sever the ties between Prussia and the Kingdom of Poland. Frederick II, or Frederick the Great, used the army to good effect against overwhelming odds in the First and Second Silesian Wars, the War of Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years War. Frederick the Great also patronized Voltaire and Kant, and granted Jean Jacques Rousseau refuge from France.

In the 1860s Otto Von Bismarck, Chancellor to King Wilhelm I, engineered wars against Denmark, Austria, and finally France. Victory in the last catalyzed German nationalism, bringing Wilhelm the title Emperor. After the ninety-nine day reign of Frederick III, Wilhelm II assumed the throne. Although Wilhelm II wasn’t the only source of Germany’s militaristic approach to the international system, he certainly didn’t help the situation. In 1890 he fired Bismarck, and through the last decade of the nineteenth and the first of the twentieth he lent heavy support to German plans for colonial and naval expansion. Trauma during birth left Wilhelm II with a withered arm and may have caused some brain damage. Nevertheless, Wilhelm cannot be held solely responsible for World War I; there’s enough blame to spread around liberally.

Germany’s situation began to deteriorate rapidly in November 1918. With revolution in the air and the Reichswehr at the breaking point, pressure grew on Wilhelm to abdicate. Although he realized that holding that Imperial crown might become untenable, he hoped and believed that it would be possible to remain King of Prussia. One can sympathize with this feeling; having lost the war, Wilhelm at least hoped not to undo all of the work that his family had accomplished over the last five centuries. Nevertheless, under the advice of Paul Von Hindenburg, a committed royalist, Wilhelm abdicated both crowns and fled to Holland. Wilhelm II’s most significant redeeming quality was a loathing of Adolf Hitler, although he did send Hitler a congratulatory note after the conquest of France in 1940. Of Nazi policy toward the Jews he may have written “for the first time I am ashamed to be a German,” although the source of that quote remains questionable. Although the Allies had requested the Wilhelm be turned over for prosecution, Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands refused. Wilhelm II died on June 4, 1941, and was given an honor guard of German soldiers, an act which almost resulted in the firing of a general by an angry Adolf Hitler. Although Hitler wanted to bring Wilhelm’s body back to Berlin for a state funeral, the former Emperor had explictly provided that his body not return to Germany prior to the restoration of the monarchy.

The actions of Wilhelm II should not prejudice us against Georg Friedrich, the current head of House Hohenzollern. He seems like a very nice young man. Great great grandson of Wilhelm II, Georg Friedrich does not claim the imperial throne, but does use the title Prince of Prussia. He served two years in the Bundeswehr, and has travelled extensively. An anglophile like his great-great-grandfather, he finished college in the United Kingdom, later studying business economics in Germany. Chances for restoration appear extremely grim, as there is almost no sympathy for the monarchy in the contemporary German political scene. Georg Friedrich is, however, 150th in line to the British throne.


[ 24 ] October 25, 2016 |
Arihant 4.jpg

By Gagan11111 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link



Will INS Arihant and her sisters provide stability in South Asia, or increase the dangers of a crisis? A recent article in the Washington Quarterly suggests the latter. Diana Wueger argues that, contrary to the experience of the Cold War, the development of a sea-based deterrent will probably not contribute to the stability of the South Asian nuclear balance. Instead, it could lead to a dangerous spiral between India and Pakistan, or between India and China.



Presidential Campaigning Involves Politics

[ 325 ] October 22, 2016 |


So the latest appallingly stupid NothingBurger to come out of the Wikileaks dump appears courtesy of Lee Fang:

Shadowproof connects the dots:

The campaign pushed out content with the #ImSoEstablishment hashtag through Clinton, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and a “diverse array of bloggers and progressive people out in the world.” Shonda Rhimes, Ricky Martin, and Julianne Moore, each considered “non-political surrogates,” were enlisted to respond.

More remarkably, the campaign coordinated with bloggers and columnists to create the perception that Sanders’s comments were racist or detrimental to women. As Peterson put it, they were asked to “write about this from a racial justice and reproductive rights perspective, including a few people who joined us on a call to talk about the “Bernie Backlash” that was unfolding even before his remarks last night.”

Peterson named Sady Doyle, Gabe Ortiz, Elianne Ramos, Jamil Smith, and Aminatou Sow, as writers who were urged to publish pieces that would be helpful to the campaign. Jessica Valenti, according to Peterson, already was in the process of writing a column on the matter.

As several of the bloggers mentioned above are party to one or more of the endless, dreary, pointless twitter feuds that emerged around the 2016 Democratic primary campaign, the remnants of the Bernie Brigade went predictably ballistic:

So, a story.

As I have noted a couple of times, earlier this year I briefly served in an informal capacity as a foreign policy advisor to the Sanders campaign.  My role was extraordinarily small, largely because of mutual disinterest, but in the context of the above “news” it’s worth relating one anecdote.

In the process of agreeing to advise the campaign, I was asked about my willingness to be identified as a public advocate, or whether I would prefer an informal role.  I was happy to go public, but it turned out (I was told) that abolishing the Air Force was too spicy of an enchilada for Bernie to publicly associate himself with (revolutions ain’t what they used to be).

Not long after this (in late February), I received the following e-mail from an individual associated with the Sanders campaign (happy to release name if I receive permission, otherwise no):



I accepted the suggestion for the following reasons:

  1. I write two weekly columns, and always welcome new ideas.
  2. Although I often find myself on the more hawkish side of the left blogosphere, I had serious reservations about the role that Clinton played in the decision to intervene in Libya.
  3. I have long believed that the US political conversation needs sophisticated, robust voices on the left; not “liberals who like blowing stuff up,” but rather leftists who are knowledgeable of and engaged with the major debates on US national security. Working with Sanders generally, and writing the article specifically, supported this desire.

The person I worked with forwarded along several talking points to emphasize. I wrote the article, which I submitted to the National Interest (not generally regarded as a pro-Clinton outlet).  They never published; it’s possible that the article simply wasn’t very good, but NatInt was undergoing a bit of editorial turmoil at the time, and it’s possible the piece simply got lost in the shuffle.  I didn’t feel strongly, and so I didn’t push it.  I thought about publishing here at LGM, but had qualms about posting what amounted to an attack on the likely Democratic nominee. The “likely” was key here; if I had believed that Bernie Sanders had any chance at all of winning the nomination, I might well have pursued it further. I have no idea whether anyone else received similar e-mails.

Let me be utterly clear: THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH ANY OF THIS. It violated no meaningful norms or ethical standards, and invoke no specific moral qualms.  My reticence to engage came wholly and purely from concern that something I wrote would become a hit piece against the likely Democratic nominee. The Sanders campaign noted what it believed to be a key vulnerability of Hillary Clinton.  It reached out to writers who also believed that Clinton had made problematic decisions.  It suggested that these writers take advantage of a notable news story on the topic in question. In short, the Sanders campaign attempted to win an election by making an active effort to publicly highlight a difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It took active steps to develop a narrative, and to push that narrative forward in the media.

This is called politics.  I do wish that folks weren’t so committed to pretending that Hillary Clinton invented politics, or that the practice of politics is somehow dirty.

The X-32 Flying Manatee

[ 35 ] October 21, 2016 |
Boeing X-32B Patuxent.jpg

Boeing X-32B. By Carl Lindberg – Own work, CC BY 2.5

People here may not like the F-35 very much but at least we were spared the X-32:

One thing is for certain; the X-32 was a ridiculously ugly aircraft. It looked like nothing so much as the spawn of an A-7 Corsair and a hideously deformed manatee. The F-35 is no prize from an aesthetic point of view, lacking the sleek, dangerous lines of the F-22, but the X-32 made the F-35 look positively sexy by comparison. How much should this matter? Not a bit. How much did it matter? Good question. Fighter pilots don’t like to fly aircraft that look like they could be run over by Florida speed boat.


[ 11 ] October 16, 2016 |
"Overwhelming Majority" CIA Bestiary of Intelligence Writing

“Overwhelming Majority” CIA Bestiary of Intelligence Writing

Some thoughts on buzzwords at the Diplomat:

Buzzwords exist because they have utility and cease to exist when they are no longer of use to anyone. They are a form of the specialized vocabulary found in any profession, although the imprecision of the “national security analyst” community necessarily makes defense buzzwords less precise than they might be. The fuzziness of the community (and the associated buzzwords) stems from the fact that it extends across a wide range of organizations and specializations, from the military to the academy to the think tank family to the halls of Congress.

Nazi Bomb!

[ 78 ] October 15, 2016 |
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1995-042-37, Schwerer Bomber  V1.jpg

Messerschmitt Me 264 By Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1995-042-37 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de


Latest counter-factual at the National Interest:

In the early years of World War II, it looked as if Germany might have the luxury to spend its time developing a new generation of super-weapons. The Nazis haphazardly pursued the idea of building an atomic bomb, with an eye toward eventual conflict with the United States. However, the immediate demands of war, combined with Western Allied sabotage, undercut the program, leaving it at the basic research stage by war’s end.

But what if the Germans had devoted more attention to the program, or had lucked into more substantial breakthroughs?  What could the Nazis have done with an atomic weapon?

Foreign Entanglements: The Diplomats!

[ 1 ] October 14, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, retired Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh speaks with Max Abrahms about Clinton, Trump, and the election:

Never Forget!

[ 41 ] October 14, 2016 |

1050 950 years, and we still don’t know who killed King Harold.

Damn, math is hard.

Houthi What?

[ 25 ] October 13, 2016 |
Flickr - Official U.S. Navy Imagery - A helicopter approaches USS Nitze to land..jpg

By Official Navy Page from United States of America MC3 Alex R. Forster/U.S. Navy – A helicopter approaches USS Nitze to land., Public Domain,

For those not really paying attention, this morning the destroyer USS Nitze hit three coastal radar installations in Houthi-controlled portions of Yemen. The strikes were in response to land-based cruise missile attacks against USS Mason, another USN destroyer operating in the area. The Mason came under attack on Sunday, and again yesterday, from two missile salvos (believed to be C-802s), and defended itself with SM-2 Standard and ESSM Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles.  At this point it remains unclear whether the counter-measures were effective, or whether the cruise missiles simply crashed into the sea of their own accord.

Word is that the initial Houthi attacks are meant as a response to the big Saudi strike that killed a large number of people at a funeral last week.  The Houthi may have gotten the missiles from Iran, although other suppliers are possible.  The strikes on the coastal radar installations are intended to blind the missile launchers; without radar to identify targets, sending off a cruise missile is a pretty hopeless endeavor.

Escalation?  Sure, but fairly measured at this point.  The US attacks aren’t intended to send a “message,” but rather to cut out a critical part of the recon-strike complex. If the Houthi continue to launch such attacks on US or neutral shipping, or if they undertake other kinds of attacks (the small boat swarm that took out the former HSV-2) then the USN might pursue less limited options.

The broader context is ongoing US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which is predicated almost entirely upon the need to not make the Saudis feel sad and lonely after the Iran nuclear deal. I can understand the strategic logic of this support, but there really should be limits to how many people we’ll let the Saudis kill just so that they continue to feel loved.

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