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Wilton Park Wrap-Up

[ 0 ] January 15, 2006 |

The Wilton Park experience was nothing less that outstanding for me, despite the fact that I suffered from lingering jet lag and a nagging cold for the entire week.

I was surprised to find myself as the only “pure” academic at the conference. There were other academics, but all had considerable policy experience. The majority of the attendees were policy makers, most from various NGOs and government agencies, and a few from military organizations. We had generals, serving and retired, from the US Army, French Army, Bundeswehr, and British Army, as well as a Royal Navy admiral. I picked the brain of the last for quite some time, on issues spanning from the Falklands War to piracy to the RN reaction to the attack on the USS Cole.

As I mentioned before, the discussions were held at a uniformally high level. There was none of the posturing that one normally finds at academic conferences; everyone seemed generally interested in being there. One participant expressed surprise that no journalists from the major defense news outlets were covering the proceedings, given that the future of NATO was being discussed by important folks. In the future, I don’t think that major foreign policy bloggers would find themselves out of place, assuming they could get someone to pay their way.

My one major complaint regards the weather. I don’t understand why conferences must be held during the nastiest months of the year, relative to their location. West Sussex in spring, fall, or summer would have been delightful, and I would have been able to climb up to Chanctonbury Ring without almost losing a shoe. The cold and damp probably played some role in the fact that nearly everyone at the conference had some degree of sinus congestion.

Stability Operations and Network-Centric Warfare

[ 0 ] January 15, 2006 |

The discussion here at Wilton Park has not made me any more optimistic about the commitment of the US Army to stability operations. The US continues to seem more committed to pursuing high tech transformation, embodied by Future Combat Systems, than to developing a serious low intensity capability.

I should say that there isn’t an inherent contradiction between network centric warfare and low intensity operations. Network centric warfare is about rendering the battlefield intelligible and therefore plastic. Commanders receive a tremendous amount of data about the battlefield in short order, and communications technology allows the interpretation and transmission of that data such that fire and force can be allocated in a very fast and efficient manner. The digital transformation holds great promise for high-intensity warfare, where knowing about the battlefield, communicating vertically and horizontally, and being able to direct firepower efficiently can lead to and extremely effective force. While the necessity to efficiently direct fire isn’t as important in low intensity operations (firepower isn’t as important), knowing more about the situation, and being able to communicate vertically and horizontally in an efficient way, are always good things.

However, network centric military units have drawbacks in low intensity situations. The sort of intelligence required to execute peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations differs from the intelligence needed in high intensity warfare. The primary difficulty in low intensity operations is differentiating the enemy from the environment, including, most notably, the local population. Technology is only of limited assisstance in this project. It is also thought that highly digitized military units will be easier for commanders to manipulate. In high intensity warfare this is a good thing; central commanders should know where there units are, what they can do, and where they’re going. In low intensity warfare, lower level officer initiative seems to be more critical to success, as only a limited amount of the sort of information critical to success (local morale and mood, for example) can be transmitted to high level commanders.

There are also some basic tradeoffs that may make digitized warfare unsuitable for low intensity operations. We only have soldiers for a limited amount of time, and they can only engage in so much training. High intensity, network centric operations require a great deal of specialized training, and its unclear where other types of training will fit in. Finally, digital units are expensive, which means that they can be deployed in lower numbers. This may be the biggest problem of all, given that there seems to be a consensus regarding the importance of numbers in stability operations.

Without going into too much detail (Chatham House Rule), it looks as if the major military organizations of the West are approaching the question of network centric warfare in low-intensity operations in different ways. The French seem fully aware that there is a contradiction, but are pushing forward with digitization in any case. The Germans are very interested in network centric warfare, but seem to believe that it enhance their low intensity capabilities. Indeed, at least some of them see digitization as the means of moving away from high intensity operations. I find this odd. The Americans remain committed to network-centric warfare, and appear to hope that it will work out well in low-intensity operations, although I didn’t see much to convince me that this would be the case.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Utah

[ 0 ] January 15, 2006 |

USS Utah (BB-31) was the sixth dreadnought battleship commissioned by the US Navy. She entered service in August of 1911. Utah and her sister Florida were the first two US battleships to use steam turbines, although some later battleships (New York, Texas, and Oklahoma) would revert to reciprocating engines. Utah displaced 22000 tons, carried 10 12″ guns, and could make 21 knots.

The battle squadron constructed by the United States between 1910 and 1921 avoided many of the problems of the Royal Navy, the High Seas Fleet, and the Imperial Japanese Navy. From Delaware on, the ships were all relatively heavily armed, armored, and consistent in speed. It was not difficult, therefore, for the fleet to operate as a unit. In contrast, the Royal Navy included battlecruisers, which, while useful for many operations, could not operate safely in the battle line. Also, the dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy varied widely in speed; this could be a handicap in battle, as faster ships could get separated from slower. The same problems existed in the High Seas Fleet and the IJN.

Utah, like many US ships of the period, engaged in her first combat action off Vera Cruz in April 1914. A contingent of sailors and marines were supported by offshore gunnery, and the men of Utah apparently distinguished themselves. Utah did not play much of a role in World War I, as she was not included in the squadron allocated to the Grand Fleet in 1917. Utah didn’t arrive in Great Britain until September 1918, acting as a convoy escort. Like all other US battleships, she saw no combat.

The interwar period was relatively eventful for Utah. Twice, Utah served as the flagship of a squadron engaged in a goodwill cruise of South America. The second cruise included President-elect Herbert Hoover. Utah underwent modernization in 1925, losing her aft cage mast and receiving more anti-aircraft guns. Most of the rest of the period before 1930 was spent as a training ship.

The 1930 London Naval Treaty moved a step beyond the 1922 Washington Treaty. The latter was intended to forestall a naval arms race, which many, especially in Great Britain, blamed for World War I. The massive battleship building programs of the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom were suspended in favor of a naval construction freeze and strict limits on the size of battlefleets. The United States was allowed to keep 18 battleships, including Utah. The London Naval Treaty sought to reduce the number of battleships in each fleet. The new limit for the US and the UK was 15, as opposed to 9 for Japan. This necessitated the elimination of several units from each fleet. Utah found herself on the chopping block. Rather than scrap Utah, however, it was decided to disarm and convert her into a target ship.

Utah served in this capacity for eleven years. On December 7, 1941, Utah was moored some distance to the northwest of Battleship Row. The Japanese torpedo bomber pilots were rather less than interested in Utah’s demilitarized status, and at 801am she was hit forward port by a single torpedo. Eleven minutes later, Utah rolled over and sank. Remarkably, only 64 of a crew of 471 died, with some sailors being rescued after their blowtorch-armed comrades cut through the bottom of the hull.

Utah was the oldest battleship to serve in World War II, but not the oldest to serve as a battleship, an honor which goes to USS Arkansas. Utah’s service in the war lasted about fifteen minutes. However, the service was not wholly irrelevant; the torpedo that hit Utah might have hit another US battleship, resulting in the deaths of more sailors. Utah remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor today, although she is visted far less frequently than Arizona.

Trivia: What was the first battleship sunk by the Allies during World War II? Hint: The Graf Spee was not a battleship.

Absurd Counterfactual Department: The Plains of Abraham

[ 0 ] January 13, 2006 |

Last night while drinking heavily, a Bloquiste and I mused about a few decisive moments in Quebec history. The discussion boiled down to two major counte-factuals. In the first, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham goes the other way and Quebec remains part of the French Empire. In the second, the US war effort in 1812 is less inept, and the United States manages to seize Canada from the British.

The first is interesting in the context of the American and French Revolutions. I am curious as to how a French controlled Canada would have affected British and French policy during the American Revolution. I wonder if the continued possession of a North American colony would have made the French more reluctant to support American independence; I doubt that French absence would have reversed the course of the war, but it probably would have extended its length by several years. The question would then become the disposition of Canada during the Napoleonic Wars. Would Napoleon have sold Canada to the US along with the Louisiana Purchase? Would the British have invaded Canada? If so, what would the reaction of the United States have been? I’m inclined to think that the latter, at least, is quite likely, given that Great Britain rolled up most of France’s other colonies during the wars. Such an action might well have served to bring France and the US closer together, perhaps bringing the US into the war before 1812.

The second counterfactual is interesting in terms of its effect on American domestic politics. The Bloquiste I was speaking with seemed to believe that Quebec would have done better in the United States than in Canada, which is a line of thinking that I found odd. I really have no idea how the United States would have dealt with the presence of a large French speaking minority within its borders. I doubt that Quebec would have been accorded the privileges that it currently holds under the Canadian system, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a significant degree of political tension developed between Quebec and the rest of the US. The impact on US domestic and foreign policy is also interesting. I suspect that Quebec’s presence in the US would have strengthened the hand of the North in the various struggles over slavery between 1820 and 1860. I have no idea what the actual impact of that would have been, though. On the foreign policy front, I wonder if James K. Polk would have felt as compelled to steal a third of Mexico if Canada had been freely available. The answer to that is probably yes…

[ 0 ] January 13, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Edgar

Blair Slaps His Kids Around

[ 0 ] January 12, 2006 |

Although I was mildly surprised that Tony Blair admitted on BBC 2 that he smacked his older children, that statement was hardly, to me, the most interesting part of the program. The most interesting thing to me about the conversation was that it happened at all.

In the United States, we are not conditioned to think of Presidents as people who speak off the cuff. George W. Bush may simply be incapable of doing so in a mixed audience; I don’t know. Bill Clinton certainly could have handled a difficult studio audience, but no one would ever ask him to do so. The night before last, while flipping between my six channels at Wiston Park, I came across a discussion program featuring Tony Blair, a tough audience of casually dressed Britons, and a fairly aggressive host. Blair was answering questions about legislation that allowed the eviction of “problem families” from certain homes. The questions from the audience were clearly unscripted, and Blairwas forced to answer questions about the program on the fly, including very detailed aspects of execution. The questions were not all friendly, with some of the audience members clearly blaming Blair for details of the program that he could not possibly have been in control of.

The question here isn’t whether Blair is smarter than Bush, although he probably is. I suspect that even Bush could handle SOME hostile questions, given that he has been in politics for a number of years and must have faced such situations. The questions is why Americans tend to expect so much less from their executives in terms of public discourse than Britons seem to expect from theirs. I’m inclined to think that the important difference may lie with the British monarchy; the monarch is a figure of national acclaim who, whether we like him/her or not, ought not to be forced to answer certain kinds of questions in particular contexts. In the American context, there is no such divide. The actual executive and the symbolic executive are the same. Putting the symbolic executive in a potentially embarassing situation with a group of common folk is simply not to be done.

This suggests to me an idea that I hadn’t really thought through before, which is that the monarchy really does serve an important purpose in a democracy. There certainly would be some value, in our current political context, to being able to separate a symbolic figure of leadership and patriotism from an actual figure of leadership. Undermining the argument that opposition to the current government equals opposition to the state is certainly a valuable project.

New Blogs

[ 0 ] January 12, 2006 |

The expansion of the blogosphere continues unabated. Check out The Reaction with Michael Stickings, and Blue Force, a defense blog including Armchair Generalist, Stygius, and others.

Cost and Benefit

[ 0 ] January 12, 2006 |

Yglesias on the Stiglitz study:

They make a solid case for a $700 billion to $1,000 billion direct cost plus some fairly uncertain macro consequences. Of course, on the one hand this seems like an odd way to think about a question of war and peace.

But on the other hand, the very high direct costs are something that has to be kept in mind when considering the humanitarian benefits of the war. This is a staggerly large sum of money that could have been directed at much more useful causes if people really felt that a $1 trillion humanitarian initiative was something they wanted to get behind.

Why does a cost-benefit analysis seem like an odd way to think about a question of war and peace? Every decision about whether or not to engage in a war (either offensive or defensive, really, but particularly in the case of wars of intervention), is about purchasing some probability of some good at some probability of some expense. The good may be peace, security, democracy, whatever, and the expense will include blood and treasure. Evaluating whether the expenditure of blood and treasure is worth the achievement of the good in question seems to me to be a perfectly natural, and appropriate way of deciding to engage in a war.

I’m not trying to pick on Matt, because his is not the first implication I’ve seen that the decision on whether to go to war shouldn’t follow a rational decision-making calculus (whether it actually is historically descriptive or no), and he comes to the correct answer. Nevertheless, I’m curious why people find this formulation even mildly troubling.

Wiston House

[ 0 ] January 10, 2006 |

The Others freaks me the hell out, even after the fourth or fifth viewing. Part of this has to do with the creepy little girl theme, perfected in Kubrick’s The Shining. The English gothic, with the mist and the grey and the big house and so forth, however, also plays a part. You can imagine my consternation, then, when I showed up a Wiston House, hopelessly sleep deprived and easily frightened. Wiston House, home of the Wilton Park conferences, is an old English manor.

There has been a manor at this location since before the Conquest. The House that stands today was built in the 16th century, although the original structure was much larger and differed in other important respects. The foundations of the church next to the house date back to Norman times, although the building is considerably newer. The graveyard dates back almost to the Conquest. This is a view of the manor and the church from the east. The drive up to the manor was a good deal creepier on the day I arrived, because a low mist hung over the entire area. The fields around the manor are crowded with sheep.

The manor house was altered considerably during the 19th century. Since that time, it has played host to, most notably, the Canadian Army during World War II, which used Wiston House as its headquarters during the D-Day invasion. Wiston House is now home to various conferences and similar events. I imagine that this tree must look less freaky in the summer; it has apparently been hit by lightning half a dozen times, but continues to grow and to bloom in the spring. The tree dominates the driveway up to the manor. I’m staying in a cottage off to the left of the main house and behind the church.

The hills surrounding Wiston House include Chanctonbury Ring, which is a grove of trees planted around a 7th century BC hilltop fortress. The Romans built a temple n the fort around 300 AD, although apparently very little remains. During free time tomorrow, I plan to walk up an investigate. Tomorrow or Thursday I’ll drift down to the village of Steyning, which was apparently a happening place in the 11th century.

Whither NATO?

[ 0 ] January 10, 2006 |

Every session at this conference revolves around the question of what NATO’s future should look like. One speaker pointed out that this is not a new question; it has been asked in one way or another since the earlier 1950s. Concerns about the relevance of NATO have arisen in response to the re-arming of Germany, the withdrawal of France, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the establishment of Ostpolitik, and, of course, the end of the Cold War. Remarkably, NATO hasn’t really “re-invented” itself in response to any of these, with the exception perhaps of the last, and even that did not produce a significant structural change.

In my view, NATO is and ought to be a collective security organization of limited regional scope, one that is committed to defending the values and physical security of the North Atlantic community on a regional basis. This mission should include the establishment of stable democracies within and on the borders of the NATO alliance. I do not hold to the view, put forth by Jose Maria Aznar, that NATO ought to dramatically expand its geographic scope. The proposal doesn’t really make much sense to me; adding Japan, Brazil, India, and other major democracies would certainly emphasize the values of aspect of NATO’s mission, but at a cost of giving up its regional focus. Moreover, the administrative structure of NATO would make no sense in the context of adding these large democracies; why would Japan be interested in seriously investing resources in an organization where it held no more official power than Belgium or Portugal? This is not to say that some formal organization including the world’s major democracies is undesirable. It is to say that such an organization ought not start with the NATO framework.

Within the narrow focus that I suggest, NATO can still do good work. For all of its problems, the Kosovo operation was a success. Critics rightly point to the difficulties of coalition warfare, but in my view there is no Kosovo War without NATO; critiques of execution are beside the point. NATO played a critical role in convincing the major players that a problem existed, and in maintaining consensus for the duration of the operation. A NATO that maintains its regional focus can carry out other, similar projects along its borders, as well as maintaining and encouraging stability in developing democracies. For operations outside this purview, other options will always exist; simply because NATO will not be involved does not mean that an operation cannot be undertaken.

Wilton Park Conference

[ 0 ] January 9, 2006 |

I’m currently at a Wilton Park conference on the future of NATO. The Wilton Park conference series began in the late 1940s, and focused on fostering a democratic culture among German POWs. As far as I can tell, there are no German POWs here now… This conference is being held at Wiston House, a lovely old English country home that is creepy in a The Others sort of way. Pictures tomorrow…

Sessions thus far have been good. The first was on the role of technology in stability operations. The Pentagon has added stability operations to its main portfolio of missions, yet retains a commitment to a technologically advanced fighting force. I have two main concerns about this. First, I’m unconvinced that technology can really provide an answer to counter-insurgency. Second, I’m inclined to think that advancing US military technology is going to produce real interoperability problems with NATO allies, not to mention less advanced military organizations.

These questions weren’t answered today, but they were discussed in a serious fashion by serious, knowledgeable people. The rest of the conference should be fun.

Imperial War Museum

[ 0 ] January 9, 2006 |

Visited the Imperial War Museum yesterday, before almost passing out. If you like war, imperialism, and museums, accept no substitute.

This is the entrance of the IWM. The left gun is from HMS Ramillies, and the right from HMS Resolution. The British 15″ was one of the finest weapons ever installed on a battleship, and it’s pretty nifty to see a pair of them together, in turret style. The gun on the right was also installed on the monitor HMS Roberts, which provided shore bombardment on D-Day.

The main hall on the first floor of the IWM contains artifacts from various 20th century British wars. They have about half a dozen tanks, plus armored cars, artillery pieces, and aircraft. The weapon come from both British and foreign stocks. This is a T-34/85, probably the finest all-around tank of World War II. The 85mm gun was big enough to kill even the heaviest German tanks, assuming you could hit them in the right place. The T-34 was the best tank not because it was the fastest, or the best armored, or the hardest hitting. Rather, it had good tank qualities, good survivability, was very easy to mass produce, and very easy to repair. The Soviets realized early on that a tank with a battlefield life expectancy of 3 weeks did not require an engine that could last for 5 years. They also realized that tanks that could move from battlefield to battlefield on their own power, rather than on railcars, were valuable. The T-34 could also take a hit, which differentiated it from the American Shermans.

The Lawrence of Arabia exhibit cost extra, and I didn’t have a lot of time, so I missed it. The best of the other exhibits was the extensive reproduction of a World War I British trench system. The WWI and WWII exhibits were quite extensive, although a bit more general than I had hoped. It was nice to see a lot of kids there, though. There are also some exhibits dedicated to post-WWII conflicts, including Suez, the Falklands, and Gulf War I. I suppose that there will someday be an exhibit devoted to Gulf War II.

The IWM also maintains the HMS Belfast, a WWII light cruiser. Belfast carried 12 6″ guns, making her a light cruiser in name, if not in fact. After Japan and the United States exhausted their quota of heavy cruisers in the interwar period, they began to compete in light cruiser construction. Heavy cruisers carried 8″ guns; legally, anything carrying lighter guns was, by definition, a light cruiser. The Japanese and Americans responded to this legal environment by building ships that were as large as heavy cruisers, but carried 15(!) 6″ guns. The Belfast and her sisters were the British response, and were generally more balanced ships. Belfast participated in the sinking of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst on December 26, 1943. The Tower Bridge is in the background.

Incidentally, the last of the big American light cruisers was the General Belgrano, transferred to Argentina after World War II. General Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine in the Falklands War.

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