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[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Huh. I guess mine is of the Short Boxed variety? You know, a few years back DJW (who once possessed a Chin Curtain) and I tried to get Lemieux to grow a beard… I think he’d look good with some Friendly Mutton Chops…

Nothing is Unacceptable

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Matt hits the nail on the head with this:

It certainly makes sense as a negotiating tactic for the American government to appear open to military action. For similar reasons, efforts at diplomacy are probably strengthened insofar as Bush appears to be under domestic political pressure to use force. . .The trouble is that actually doing this stuff is a bad idea.

Right. Discussions of the Iran situation that fall on absolutes, such as the notion that Iranian nuclear weapons are “unacceptable” or that the United States should take whatever steps necessary to prevent a nuclear Iran are fundamentally unserious. A serious foreign policy analysis weighs that costs and benefits of a particular policy. We may decide that Iranian nuclear weapons are bad (I think they are, but feel free to disagree), but this does not mean that stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons needs to be the absolute final goal of US policy. The costs of such action may override any likely benefit that we can imagine; in fact, I’m inclined to think that this is the case.

An argument, like Bill Kristol’s, that treats a nuclear Iran as unacceptable is not an effort to open a discussion; it’s an attempt to close off a particular line of thinking. If Iranian nukes really were unacceptable, then a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iranian nuclear facilities and Iranian industrial targets would be entirely justified from a policy point-of-view. This is not, however, a position that even most self-appointed Iran toughs would express, at least in public.

Lexblogging: Rupp Arena

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Made my first visit to Rupp Arena on Saturday to watch the Kentucky Wildcats play the South Carolina Gamecocks for the 42nd time. Before Saturday, the Wildcats led the lifetime series 35-6.

The experience at Rupp was quite unlike the experience at the other two arenas in which I’ve watched college basketball. Rupp is larger than either Mac Court or Hec Ed, the former by a factor of about three. The energy level at Rupp, even in the absence of a traditional rival or an excellent team, was considerably higher than anything I saw at Hec Ed. This really isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that UW is more of a football than a basketball school. The comparison with Mac Court is a little bit more complicated, because Mac Court only seats about 8500, and Rupp seats about 23000. Thus, only the most energetic and committed fans go to Duck games, while a much larger slice of the fan base can be found at Wildcat games. Nevertheless, the energy level was comparable, although the attitude of the crowd was a little bit different. At Oregon, even in good years, the crowd is rarely arrogant; the prevailing feeling seems to be one of defiance and resentment. At Rupp, the crowd expects the Wildcats to dominate, and is not shy in showing its disappointment when they fail. I attended with George Herring, sitting in seats that he has used since Rupp’s opening twenty-eight years ago. I understand that getting season tickets is mildly difficult…

The Wildcats did not fail on Saturday, winning an outstanding game 80-78. The Wildcats tried to lose, and South Carolina opened up a twelve point lead midway through the second half. Excellent shooting put Kentucky back into it, however, and they managed to win on an off-balance three with 1.4 seconds left in the game. Both teams shot well, with Kentucky at 56% and South Carolina at 52%. They hit 23 three pointers between them.

Halftime featured the 1966 Kentucky team, which is apparently now playing the role of EVIL in Glory Road. Sadly, Pat Riley couldn’t make it. Perhaps he had other, better things to do.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: Bretagne

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

The construction of Dreadnought created a problem for the French Navy. The French had begun construction of a class of six advanced pre-dreadnoughts at almost the same time as Dreadnought. These ships were comparable in quality with the best pre-dreadnought battleships around the world, but they were no match for Dreadnought. Sadly, French naval construction proceeded slowly, and the six Danton class ships occupied all of the large French construction slips. Thus, the French arrived very late to the dreadnought game. The first French effort, the Courbet class, turned out well enough for a series of ships built in 1910. Unfortunately, they were not completed until 1914. The Bretagne and her sisters were an improvement on the Courbet class.

Bretagne, slowed by World War I, was commissioned in late 1915. She carried 10 13.4″ guns, displaced 29000 tons, and could make 20 knots. Her armor was somewhat lighter than foreign contemporaries. Bretagne was completely outclassed by the ships emerging from British, Japanese, and American yards. The Nevada class carried heavier guns, more (and better arranged) armor, and could make a higher speed. The British Queen Elizabeth’s could easily outgun and outrun the French ships, as could the Japanese Fuso class. At the time of construction, Bretagne would probably have proven more than a match for the Italian Giulio Cesare, but after the modernizations of both ships in the 1930s, Giulio Cesare was clearly the superior unit.

Bretagne’s career was relatively uneventful. She spent most of World War I in the Mediterranean, preparing for the possible break out of the Austrian Navy. In World War II she escorted some Mediterranean convoys from North Africa to France, but Italy did not enter the war until just before France’s surrender. After the surrender, Bretagne found herself with a French naval squadron at the port Mers El Kebir, not too far from Oran in what is now Algeria. The French fleet had, by and large, escaped the Fall of France unscathed. The world, and especially London, now wondered what the disposition of the fleet would be. Shortly after the armistice, Winston Churchill decided to stop waiting.

On July 3, 1940, a Royal Navy task force paid a visit to Mers El Kebir. The task force consisted of the battleships Valiant, Resolution, and Hood, along with the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and several smaller ships. The visit was not friendly. Winston Churchill had determined that the French fleet was a threat to the United Kingdom. Two Royal Navy admirals bitterly disagreed with Churchill on this point; they felt that destroying the French fleet would be a political disaster. French ships in other locations were forceably seized, but this was not an option at Mers El Kebir. The French fleet consisted of Provence, Bretagne, Strasbourg, Dunkerque, and six modern destroyers. Provence and Bretagne were old, slow battleships that could contribute little to either side; they lacked the speed to operate with the main battle line of the Italian Navy, and the British already had an excess of old, slow battleships. Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and the six destroyers were the real prizes. In Axis hands they would have the speed and firepower to stiffen the Italian battlefleet. The same qualities made the two battlecruisers valuable to the Royal Navy; in British or Free French hands, they might have been used to hunt German raiders (imagine them at the Battle of Denmark Strait, with Hood and Prince of Wales), or stiffen British forces in the Pacific.

The British ultimatum was simple. The French could join the British and continue the war against Germany. They could sail their ships to British ports and allow them to be taken over by the Royal Navy until the end of the war. Finally, they could sail their ships to the West Indies where they would be demilitarized or turned over to the care of the United States. The French response to this ultimatum was, more or less, “Can’t we all just get along?” The British reply came in the form of salvos of 15″ shells.

The French fleet was not prepared for combat. Provence and Dunkerque were each struck by several 15″ shells, but managed to beach themselves and escape serious damage. Bretagne was not so fortunate. Her armor was not up to modern standards, and one of the 15″ shells apparently penetrated a magazine before exploding. Bretagne exploded and rolled over thirteen minutes into the engagement. Strasbourg and five of the six modern destroyers escaped the harbor with only minor damage, making their way eventually to Toulon. The British fleet attacked Dunkerque later that week, inflicting minor damage but not preventing Dunkerque from also moving to Toulon under her own power.

The attack at Mers El Kebir must be seen as a political and operational disaster of the highest order for Great Britain. Having decided to attack its erstwhile ally, the British brought insufficient force to do the job, and allowed the most powerful French ships to escape with minimal damage. Moreover, the deaths of 1300 French sailors (roughly 1100 on Bretagne) were a massive propaganda victory for the Germans, and undoubtedly made the job of Charles Degaulle and the Free French much more difficult. Much of the blame must lie with Winston Churchill, who fundamentally misunderstood the French political situation in 1940. Even after Mers El Kebir, the French did not hand their fleet over to the Axis, and in fact scuttled most of their ships at Toulon in 1942, in order to avoid German capture. Had Mers El Kebir not happened, those ships might have found their way to Gibraltar or Malta, instead of to the bottom.

Trivia: When the German Bismarck was commissioned in August 1940 she became the largest battleship in the world. What ship held this title before Bismarck, and what ship held it after?

BSG Blogging IV: The Cylon Way of War

[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |

BSG Blogging I

BSG Blogging II

BSG Blogging III

In PLA conversations, the phrase shashoujian has come to represent a set of strategies designed to defeat the United States. Specifically, these strategies concentrate on the idea of using the inferior to defeat the superior. In the context of war against the United States, this means either neutralizing or reversing the advantages of the US military. In practice, this can mean anything from concentrating on low cost options for destroying capital intensive US weapons like aircraft carriers, to disrupting American computer and information systems with the purpose of leaving US forces surprised, confused, and helpless.

Shashoujian essentially represents a type of asymmetric warfare, one that is available to mid-level powers, if not to terrorist or guerilla groups. The structure of the international system invites asymmetric warfare, as it will be some time before a peer competitor emerges who could fight the United States on the same level and win.

What does this have to do with Battlestar Galactica? Apropos of recent discussion abotu network centric warfare, BSG (2003) takes a position on the role of advanced warfare technology unnervingly similar to the position adopted by the People’s Republic of China. In essense, the Cylons win by turning Colonial military technology against itself. The Cylons act as both a peer competitor state and a terrorist organization, and win through a combination of conventional assault and unconventional subversive warfare. In a sense, the Cylons manage to represent both China and Al Qaeda at the same time; they are both the inscrutable yet powerful peer competitor, and the tiny, bodiless terrorist organization.

We have no idea of the actual military strength of the Cylons. They have some number of capital ships (basestars), but there is no indication of how many. Two, at least, have been destroyed by the Colonials. We can surmise, however, that Cylon military capacity is not overwhelmingly superior, in terms of numbers of ships, to that of the Colonies prior to the surprise attack. If the Cylons had possessed massive superiority, they would likely not have waited as long to attack. Also, we are led to believe that the Cylons possess only one world, compared to the twelve Colonies. We know that the Colonial Fleet possessed roughly 120 battlestars at the beginning of the war. We have reason to believe that an individual basestar is superior in combat to Galactica, but Galactica is one of the oldest and weakest of the battlestars. We don’t know, for example, whether the gap between Galactica and Pegasus (a newer battlestar) is better described as the difference between Michigan and Iowa, or as the difference between Arkansas and California.

This didn’t mean all that much, because the Cylons undertook a mission of subversion and infiltration that successfully rendered much of the Colonial Fleet useless. Specifically, the Cylons infiltrated Colonial computer systems, with the impact of both giving the Cylons complete information dominance on the battlefield and directly undercutting the effectiveness of those Colonial military vessels dependent on advanced computer technology. The Galactica survives only because of its aging technology and curmudgeonly Commander.

The disruption of conventional Colonial forces through subversion and Fourth Generation Warfare is followed by a very conventional and brutal high intensity assault against Colonial military and civilian targets. The Cylon attack is both conventional and terrorist, and it does not discriminate between civilian and military targets. It is also quite genocidal. The primary weapons for destroying both civilian and military targets are nuclear weapons, adding an additional dimension to the Cylon threat portfolio.

In short, the Cylons manage to encapsulate all of the potential forms of threat that the United States might face. They are terrorists who look and act like us. They are a peer competitor capable of matching and defeating us in open battle. Finally, they succeed in upending our advantage where we hold it most dear; in our advanced technology. In the BSG miniseries, the failure of technology is reacted to with a sense of stunned betrayal; in this, if nothing else, we feel ourselves secure.

…I can’t say that I cared for tonight’s episode, though.


[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |


[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Sophie, Midnight, Snowball, Frankie


[ 0 ] January 19, 2006 |

Portsmouth was worth the trip.

HMS Victory was in excellent condition.

As was HMS Warrior, at least on the outside.

HMS Illustrious was in for a refit.

And Lord Nelson remains confident.

Rob was pleased.

Book Review: The Fall of France

[ 0 ] January 19, 2006 |

On the plane ride from London I finished Julian Jackson’s The Fall of France. While I was disappointed with the first chapter, I was very pleased with the volume as a whole.

It is common to assert that France fell because of inadequate tactical and operational doctrine. The story goes something like this; bright young German officers read a really smart pair of Britons named JFC Fuller and BH Liddell Hart, came to appreciate the importance of tanks, concentrated their relatively small number of tanks into Panzer Divisions, and used those divisions to smash holes in the lines of the idiot French, who felt that tanks should be distributed in support of infantry. This is the line that you most often hear on the History Channel, for example.

The only difficulty with this is what I call the historical coherence problem. In short, nothing about this story coheres even vaguely with empirical reality. It’s unclear that Guderian and the other important Germans read Liddell Hart and Fuller at all, much less that they were influenced by them in any meaningful way. The central aspects of what came to be known as “blitzkrieg” were worked out in 1917 on the Eastern Front and between 1927 and 1933 at a place called Kazan, in the Soviet Union. While German tanks were concentrated at a divisional level, French armor was, if anything, more concentrated at the battalion level. The initial German break-through, in the Ardennes, was produced almost entirely with infantry, just as the large German breakthroughs in 1918 had been produced. The role of armor was to enhance the ability of the Wehrmacht to exploit those breakthroughs, as armor is particularly effective against unprepared defensive positions (and particularly ineffective against prepared ones). French tanks were deployed and used in a very sensible manner, given the operational decisions made by the French and British high command.

The failure of France in 1940 was caused, essentially, by an operational level error. The Germans found and exploited a particularly weak French sector, punched through, and surrounded the bulk of the French and British armies in Belgium. The German Army of 1918, with no armor at all, would have made the same breakthrough, although it would have been more difficult to exploit and complete the encirclement. The line put forth by BH Liddell Hart is almost entirely wrong, although his self-serving histories of discussions with German generals would suggest otherwise.

Jackson repeats this inacccurate line in the first chapter of his book, which caused me to toss it away in disgust. Having nothing else to do (I was awake at 3am, recovering from jet lag) I picked it up and continued to read. The situation improved considerably, and, in contrast to the content of the first chapter, Jackson ended up giving a brief but sound military history of the campaign. Jackson tends to fall in the same direction as Ernest May regarding the military situation of 1940, although he believes, as I, that May goes to far in painting a portrait of German military insecurity.

In any case, the central value of this book comes in its discussion of the French decision to surrender. This is a question that particular interests me, so much so that I have decided to assign one of the chapters of the Jackson book to my National Security class. France in May of 1940 faced a desperate security situation. German conquest of metropolitan France was inevitable. The French reaction to this problem, however, was not determined. The French government could have moved to North Africa, kept the fleet out of German hands, and continued the war. The French decided instead to conclude an armistice with Germany that neutralized their fleet and colonial possessions. This had very bad consequences, but that’s beside the point; what’s interesting to me is how the French policymakers of the time weighed the question of whether or not to surrender. The German victory laid bare the debate on national values and national interests in France, and all of those values became contingent.

The French example reminds us that their can be patriots on either side of any security question. Petain and Laval were disgusting creatures, especially Laval, but they were both French patriots, as much as Degaulle. They simply understood France and French values in a different way. Laval’s allies believed that the Americans and British were as much a threat to core French values as the Germans were. Rebuilding what was great about France meant rebuilding the France that preceded the Revolution, and discarding the ideals of 1789. This wasn’t all, of course; Laval and Petain also believed that the physical security of the French people could best be protected by accomodation with, rather than resistance to, Nazi Germany. The decision to surrender must be understood in the context of the brutal political divisions that existed in France in the 1930s. Many believed, quite literally, that defeat at the hands of Germany was the only way to solve the political problems left over by the revolutions of 1789 and 1871.

The point isn’t that Petain and Laval shouldn’t be condemned by history; they clearly should. However, they cannot be condemned for a lack of patriotism. This is a lesson that needs to be learned and re-learned by Americans. There is no core value that cannot, in an extreme situation, be traded away. At the same time, what we believe our core values to be deeply informs how we think about securing them.

All Things Iran

[ 0 ] January 19, 2006 |

The Baroness Alexandra and I are having a friendly back and forth on Iran at All Things Beautiful. Check it out.

Germany and Conscription

[ 0 ] January 18, 2006 |

At Wilton Park, a German general made the case for conscription. Germany is more or less prohibited from maintaining a purely professional military force, so it isn’t really all that surprising that the general would make a virtue out of necessity. Nevertheless, at least one part of his argument was particularly interesting; he suggested that conscription actually improved the quality of the Bundeswehr.

Now, this is not an argument that is typically given on behalf of conscription. Lots of people argue that conscription can help solve shortfalls in recruitment, and the German general echoed this claim, specifically referencing the difficulties that other Western European nations have had in filling recruting quotas. Conscription is usually described as a trade-off between numbers and quality; conscripts are believed to perform at a lower level of expertise and with less enthusiasm than volunteers. The US Army certainly holds to this belief, and various commentators have implied that conscription explains the relatively poor performance of the Army in Vietnam. This is absurd, of course; the difficulties the Army faced were at the tactical and operational planning levels, rather than at the level of tactical execution. Poorly trained conscripts are also blamed for the failure of Russia’s army in the first Chechen War.

The general rejected the idea that conscription requires a trade-off. Instead, he argued that conscription (which takes only a percentage of eligible German males in any case) allows the Bundeswehr to appropriate a cross-section of the skills it needs to operate as an organization. Instead of relying on volunteers to fill its ranks, the Bundeswehr can simply take what it needs. When those personnel are in the army, they can be offered particularized incentives for becoming professional soldiers, at least for a time. Thus, conscription allows the Bundeswehr to maintain a higher level of human capital among its personnel than a similar volunteer army. The general suggested that this was particularly important given the increasing technical demands that digitization puts on soldiers.

This argument is particularly interesting coming from a German, because the experience of the German Army in the 20th century has consistently defied the argument that conscripts damage military quality. Throughout the 20th century (and before, back to Prussian times) the German Army has managed both widespread conscription and extremely high quality, all the way down to the level of tactical execution.

To be clear, I’m not calling for conscription in the US. I do, however, think that some arguments against conscription are nonsense, and I suspect that the “quality” objection may be one of these. The experience of Germany and other Western European nations with conscription should also serve to dispel the notion that a draft makes a country more militaristic, violent, or conservative; there would appear to be virtually no evidence to back up these claims.

America’s Biggest Boondoggle

[ 0 ] January 18, 2006 |


Has a state ever wasted so much money on so pointless a project? Even if the interceptors worked, they would be useless; at best they would convince the Russians and Chinese to develop more and better missiles, at a fraction of what we’re spending. And if a missile shield isn’t 100%, or very near, it does not break us out of the deterrent relationship with even a small nuclear power like North Korea.

Yet we continue to pour the money down the rathole…

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