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Category: Robert Farley

The Duck Abides

[ 60 ] September 4, 2013 |

Many of the readers here have probably noted the mild turmoil endured by the Duck of Minerva over the past couple of weeks. I have no interest in recapping that, other than to say that turmoil is very nearly a necessary component of any long-lived multi-author blog, and that LGM has been exceedingly fortunate over the years to avoid serious difficulties.

Unfortunately (although mostly not because of this turmoil), Dan Nexon is stepping back from the Duck for a while. In addition to his contributions at the Duck, Dan has long been a friend of LGM, as well as an occasional commenter. Fortunately, however, Duck is also adding some new members. I’m especially looking forward to Laura Seay’s contributions, but really everyone looks good.

The Duck is very nearly the epitome of what a political science disciplinary blog should look like; a core of solid posters, a wealth of (rotating) guests, and a serious interest in the nexus between theory and policy, public affairs, and popular culture. I admire what they’ve done at the Monkey Cage, but it’s always had a whiff of empire to it, while the Duck has remained a warm, welcoming, and altogether comfortable presence.

Foreign Entanglements: Syria Debate

[ 74 ] September 4, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Zack Beauchamp and I talk about the most frustrating aspects of the Syria debate:

Monday Book Review: Blueprints for Battle

[ 53 ] September 2, 2013 |

Blueprints for Battle: Planning for War in Central Europe, 1948-1968, edited by Jan Hoffenaar, Dieter Kruger, and David Zabecki (English translation) is a collection of essays on Soviet and Western plans for war in Germany in the first half of the Cold War. It includes good chapters on East German strategic planning, NATO intelligence, the Soviet operational concept, Bundeswehr plans for defending Germany, and the Dutch commitment to alliance planning.

Broadly speaking, the Soviets expected to cut through Western Europe in several days, pushing past the Rhine and to the English Channel before NATO could manage a very significant conventional defense.  Broadly speaking, NATO expected the Soviets to cut through Western Europe in several days, pushing past the Rhine and to the English Channel before NATO could manage a very significant conventional defense. The most optimistic Soviet assessment had forward elements arriving at the Channel on D+2 (!), and advancing at 100 km/day (!), predictions that even some Soviet military commanders publicly scoffed at. Nevertheless, virtually no one believed that NATO forces (even after the recreation of the German armed forces) could provide much more than a speed bump for the Warsaw Pact.

Still, presumptive conventional military superiority on the part of the Soviets didn’t impart as much security as you might expect.  Memory of the successful German attack of June 1941 gnawed at Soviet planners, who viewed the strategic situations as analogous in many ways.  The prospect of a NATO offensive into Eastern Europe that could destroy the Red Army and carry the war into Russia seemed outlandish to Western Europeans, but the Soviets felt they had seen a smaller, less capable force prevail through surprise once in recent memory.

NATO and Warsaw Pact planners disagreed to a degree about the effectiveness of battlefield nuclear weapons.  Both sides expected that they would be used by (after the mid-1950s) both sides in great numbers, but the Soviets didn’t believe that they would have a transformational effect on the conflict. The Russians still expected to dump several megatons worth of nukes onto defending NATO forces in the opening hours of the conflict.  NATO had more realistic expectations of the damage that tactical nukes could do, but wargames still indicated that the Soviets would overcome this disadvantage and win a decisive victory.

But then there’s “truth” and there’s “Truth.”  Initial British and Dutch plans for the war involved little more than organized retreats from initial positions, trying to save as much as possible from the Soviet onslaught.  Later, alliance commitments and reputational obligations would call for more robust efforts to defend Germany, even though both countries continued to rate the prospects of success as very low.

The potential for nuclear war demanded a great deal of truthiness.  NATO required the Bundeswehr to have any prospect of conventional success against the Soviets, but rehearsals suggested that even with the Germans the use of extensive nuclear attacks on West and East Germany would be required for a chance of success.  Such attacks would almost inevitably incur Soviet retaliation, further irradiating Germany. As the Soviet strategic nuclear position improved, the U.S. became more wary of nuclear escalation in the first days of a European War, a prospect which deeply alarmed European war planners (including the Germans!).

Similarly, it’s not clear how much of the Soviet High Command really believed in the possibility of maintaining operational momentum in the face of serial nuclear attack.  The belief that the Red Army could reach the English Channel in short order was required for bureaucratic and political reasons.  Red Army dominance from 1945 represented both the Soviet Union’s key deterrent capability, and the Red Army’s central political justification. Allowing the NATO tactical nukes could disrupt Soviet logistics (one plan called for the resumption of train service through Dresden twelve hours after a nuclear attack) or blast Soviet spearheads to pieces undercut this entire strategic-political rationale.  We should also recall that no one really knows how armies might operate under conditions of nuclear vulnerability; while one essay traces the disintegration of the U.S. Army’s “Pentomic” division concept, it’s nevertheless possible that the Soviets might have managed to keep things moving even in the face of nuclear weapons.

As suggested, the chapters on Dutch and East German military planning are extremely strong, and the general thread of how both forces conceived of nuclear conflict is quite productive. As others have noted, the chapter on the British Army is extremely weak, with virtually no sourcing. Chapters on NATO northern sector intelligence procedures and Dutch logistical preparations are a bit of a slog, however. The collection only goes to 1968, and consequently does not cover the period in which NATO became steadily more confident in its ability to resist a Warsaw Pact attack. Still, for those interested in the operational, strategic, and political problems on both sides of the European Central Front, this should be a very useful work.


[ 23 ] September 2, 2013 |

The entire August 2004 archive is now available.  We managed 78 posts, with distribution as follows:

  • 34 Farley
  • 20 Lemieux
  • 23 djw
  • 1 Loomis (early guest post)

We don’t have traffic stats for this period, but to the best of my recollection we were drifting around 10000 visits per day.  This would go up to about 25000 by November, then drop back to 8000 or so in early 2005. By comparison, August 2013 at LGM saw 303 posts with 570000 visits.

Over dinner and drinks at APSA, djw asked “does it hold up?”  The answer is… sort of.  The bulk of production concentrates on the 2004 election, and while some essays about long-ago-and-better-forgotten campaigns have enduring value, most do not. The authorial voices are clearly emerging, and in Scott’s writing it’s easy to detect the emerging contours of the blogger he is today. The archive is more interesting as a window into the blogosphere of 2004, with some still-fertile cross-pollination between right and left, and several cameos from writers who are still around (Digby), writers who have changed immensely (Ezra Klein), and writers who have blessedly passed beyond my consciousness (several of the more awful contributors at Tacitus). For this period of LGM, the month includes surprisingly few rants against either Ralph Nader or Mickey Kaus.

Five Questions

[ 18 ] August 28, 2013 |

At the Diplomat, I ruminate on some parallels…

In short order, the United States may go to war against Syria in order to send a message about the use of chemical munitions. I’ve written many times in this space about the difficulty of sending clear messages in international relations; there are always concerns about how to read notes delivered by artillery and cruise missile. I recently finished Stuart Goldman’s book on the Nomonhan incident, the decisive battle in the undeclared war between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1939. While the two incidents differ enormously in context and scope, there are some important parallels with regard to how states use military action to communicate.  I’ve broken these parallels down into five questions:

See also this on questions about the motivation for using chemical weapons.

Briefly on Syria…

[ 81 ] August 27, 2013 |

Some not well organized thoughts on Syria (twitter has ruined me):

  • I don’t expect that the military action that’s likely about to happen will have any meaningful effect on the course of the Syrian civil war.
  • I do suspect that the U.S. will strike a variety of targets (most likely with TLAMs) that are associated in some way with the deployment and control of chemical weapons.
  • I think that the move of other air assets into the region (both by U.S. and U.K.) is largely a precaution against Syrian government reprisal.
  • Given Syria’s lack of response to recent Israeli airstrikes, I doubt we’ll see much beyond a rhetorical condemnation from the Syrians.
  • I worry that the Syrian rebels will over-interpret these strikes as support for their position, and begin to engage in risk-acceptant behaviors intended to provoke the government.
  • Beyond upholding the taboo against chemical weapons use (which I think has some value), it’s not easy for me to sort out the connection between means and ends.
  • I think the Obama administration made its “red line” commitment in the belief that there was virtually no chance that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons (or, indeed, survive this long). The administration seems to be struggling to escape a trap of its own making.
  • I hope that the reluctance to become directly engaged on the part of the administration will limit the dangers of entanglement.  However, such dangers always exist.
  • On balance, I think it’s a bad idea to engage.  But I also doubt that it’s a mistake of any significant or enduring consequence.


The Book Has an Anthem

[ 25 ] August 26, 2013 |

Well, this is just awesome:


[ 15 ] August 26, 2013 |

Colonel Michael Bob Starr and I have gone another iteration on the Air Force. First Colonel Starr:

Paradoxically, if the criteria for organizational independence are to have a distinct mission set and to promote flexible national security options, then the Air Force has the strongest claim to existence of all the military services. America needs a strong Army and Navy, and it most certainly needs a strong Air Force. What America does not need is more defense analysis stuck in a pre-World War I mindset.

Then my response:

Col. Starr might prefer that we forgive “the most optimistic expectations of air power pioneers” in favor of an appreciation of what strategic bombing can do for us here and now. This is fair, but surely it is also fair to evaluate the accomplishments of strategic bombing against what its advocates promised (at the time) was possible.

Hopefully both are helpful. You can follow more of the debate at the Grounded twitter feed.

Foreign Entanglements: Crackdown in Egypt

[ 0 ] August 26, 2013 |

On last week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt spoke with Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation about the crackdown in Egypt:

Sunday Book Review: Sierra Hotel

[ 29 ] August 25, 2013 |

Sierra Hotel: Flying Air Force Fighters in the Decade After Vietnam, by C.R. Anderegg, covers the history of tactical air power (particularly fighter aircraft) from the Vietnam War until the early 1980s and beyond.  Sierra Hotel (slang, dontcha know) is a detailed account of what precisely went wrong with the Air Force in Vietnam, and how the fighter pilots of the USAF went about trying to remedy those problems in the post-war decade.

The USAF was not, in doctrinal, training, or equipment terms, prepared to fight the Vietnam War. The fault for these problems lay mainly with the service’s continued obsession with strategic missions, including bombing and interception.  Century-series fighters were designed either to kill Soviet bombers or deliver nuclear ordnance, not fight MiGs.  Training did not emphasize dogfighting or other air superiority skills. US pilots were not trained to fight dissimilar opponents, and a MiG-21 looked and acted nothing like an F-100 or F-4.  Equipment (including missiles) was designed for strategic rather than tactical missions.

The problems with missiles were multifold.  The missiles were designed to hunt and kill not tiny MiG-21s and MiG-17s, but lumbering bombers that could not maneuver fast enough for evasion. Competent PAFVN pilots developed tactics to push the missiles beyond their fuel and maneuver limits. USAF pilots were not properly trained regarding the launching sequence of the missiles, or the tolerances under which the missiles could operate.

According to Andregg, training over-emphasized safety concerns at the expense of skill and readiness.  There are always, of course, trade-offs between safety and realistic training, but Andregg makes a good case that the needle had drifted too far to the former. The “universally assignable pilot” policy, which held that any USAF pilot should (with sufficient training) be able to fly any USAF aircraft was also problematic.  First, sufficient training (especially air-to-air) wasn’t always available.  Second, the aptitude of pilots for fighter aircraft varied (as it will in any given population), and dropping lower on the aptitude chart invariably reduced overall effectiveness.

It’s easy to overstate the problems of the USAF in Vietnam, of course; it still achieved a positive kill-ratio against North Vietnamese forces, and conducted several exceptional tactical engagements (such as the trap, led by Robin Olds, that destroyed nearly half of the PAFVN’s MiG-21 inventory). Nevertheless, given the material advantage that the USAF held over its opponents, and also given the relatively greater success enjoyed by USN aviators, the general sense from the early years of Vietnam was of tactical as well as strategic failure.

But only the first part of Andregg’s story focuses on the experience of Vietnam.  He’s more concerned with what came after, as the USAF began to distill the lessons of the conflict.  In the 1970s, the Air Force would introduce new air-to-air missiles, new air-to-ground ordnance, new aircraft (most notably the F-15, F-16, and A-10), and perhaps most importantly new, more realistic training procedures. Indeed, Anderegg gives a fantastic account of the differences between the F-15 and F-4, emphasizing not only the clear technical superiority of the former aircraft but also how tacit knowledge accumulated during the Vietnam era helped shape design priorities.  Anderegg also gives careful, detailed accounts of the value of particular precision-guided munitions, discussing what exactly they could contribute to operations and how they changed the ways in which pilots flew.

Most interesting, perhaps, is Anderegg’s discussion of the development of Red Flag, which introduced training intended to remedy many of the problems discovered in Vietnam.  Red Flag concentrated (although not exclusively) on air-to-air engagements, most fought against dissimilar aircraft (either T-38 Talonsor F-5 Tigers). Later, captured or purchased MiGs would be introduced into the mix.   The experience of Red Flag undoubtedly increased the air-to-air expertise of US fighter pilots.  The introduction of bomber, attack, and SEAD missions to the mix also helped revolutionize doctrine in those areas.

Many good histories of the USAF abstract much of what happened during this period, covering the effects of the rise of the “Fighter Mafia” without detailing precisely what happened and why it happened.  Anderegg produced a detailed history that is long on specifics but well written and readable for those with only a passing knowledge of the subject.  For those interested in airpower history, Sierra Hotel is a critical part of the picture.


Horrible Things That Return From the Dead

[ 73 ] August 25, 2013 |

Nuke it from orbit.  Only way to be sure.

Now this ageless dilemma will be presented to a whole new crop of milennials, as NBC has purchased the rights to develop Reality Bites into a single-camera sitcom, presumably for the fall 2014 season. Ben Stiller, who directed the original and also wore a suit as Hawke’s rival suitor to Winona Ryder (a.k.a. the One Who Showered), will be producing through his Red Hour shingle. Helen Childress, who was a 25-year-old phenom when she wrote the screenplay, will be back in the fold to write the script. In keeping with the to-shampoo-or-not-to-shampoo binary of the original, it’s probably best to consider this news from two distinct perspectives.


[ 81 ] August 24, 2013 |

I don’t think there’s really much to this Max Boot-Daniel Flynn kerfuffle; with no appreciation of the relative stylistic merit of the two pieces, the preference of one author over another on the part of the WSJ doesn’t seem particularly problematic.  It IS fascinating, however, to see the emergent right wing narrative on football:

“Another thing he might mention is this absurd concussion lobby, which consists of these researchers in Boston and other assorted grant-grubbing academics and worry warts who are all trying hard to push this nanny state narrative,” Walker wrote. “The quarterback of that team is, of course, the NYT — but we wouldn’t want to mention them in the piece.”

The Left is at war against horrific brain injuries in football. The Left has always been at war against horrific brain injuries in football. Hell, there’s probably a union out there planning to make trouble, too.

And then this:

“He also misses out on some strong arguments in football’s favor,” the editor added, and went on to list four points in defense of football, including the lower brain-damage rate among younger players, the changes already taking place to protect players’ health, the fact that risk was an inherent part of life, and the fact that football “is a consciously AMERICAN game… part of our national identity—as much as, if not more so, than baseball.”

The “consciously AMERICAN,” is very interesting here, because of course in some sense it’s true that baseball is becoming less “American,” in the way that he’s using the term here. The development of baseball in Latin America and Asia is rendering the game more global, with all that the term implies for cultural diffusion and receptivity. Those influences are feeding back (unevenly, to be sure) into MLB, in a way that I can imagine right wing culture warriors could easily find uncomfortable. Football, despite growing popularity in Europe, remains an area of virtually uncontested American domination.

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