Archive for August, 2006

Apparently if Iran gets a nuclear weapon,

A nuclear Iran is likely to give or lend nuclear weapons to terrorists, resulting in an undeterrable nuclear strike against an American city or cities.

And the answer to this dread scenario? Why,

a credible threat of force.

Eh? Employing a credible threat of force is only useful if the party you threaten cares about it – in which case they will either be compelled to do something or deterred from doing something. Which adds up to the same thing. If they are undeterrable, a credible threat won’t cut it – only the force itself will. Deterrence is a way of seeing strategy that assumes a world of realpolitik. In the title of the classic textbook, it’s all about people, states and fear.

Traditionally, this is why the Realist school of thought loves deterrence. There is a lot to be said for Classical Realism, even though this does not make one popular on the left (ask Justin of Chicken Yoghurt fame) – for a start, one of the key insights from it is that starting wars is usually very stupid. Another really important point about realpolitik is that the crucial assumptions are that people and states are actually very alike. We are all human, fallible, and terrified. And we all seek to be less terrified.

Compare the worldview in which there are some people who not only cannot be appeased, they cannot even be deterred. That is to say, they don’t even share the human emotion of fear. Even Hitler was deterred from a few things – he didn’t use chemical weapons on London or the Red Army, chiefly for fear that we’d “drench Germany with poison gas” in Winston Churchill’s words, and he didn’t attack Malta, though it would have been a big strategic gain, for fear of losing the Parachute Corps.

There’s a long tradition of this stuff – people who have no respect for their own lives, Asiatic hordes, barbarians, ultramontanes. Mao even applied it to his own side. Blue ants, he said. What a lot of the historical instances have in common is that it usually comes before an attempt to exterminate the people so described. After all, if they are a horde without fear, who cannot be deterred, they aren’t really people..are they?

Iran, for its part, already has a strategic deterrent capability. It’s called oil. As well as its own exports, it has a very significant missile capability (to say nothing of all those hordes of suicide bombers the war party claims) designed to sink tankers and attack Saudi and Kuwaiti oil loading infrastructure. In current market conditions, I would seriously wonder whether a 2 kiloton or so nuclear explosion would not do less damage to the West than an extended disruption of Gulf oil shipments. There’s also an operational level deterrent – remember those 140,000 US soldiers and marines in Iraq? They are mostly concentrated around Baghdad and to the north-west, with a main supply route running out of this concentration through the Shia heartland parallel to the border with Iran. The US Army and Marines in Iraq are formed to a flank operationally, and heavily dependent on the British Army down south to hold the line and the SCIRI to stay quiet.

But the war party does not seem to be worried by this. Why aren’t they deterred? They are irrational! Maybe we should..

Another point, in passing. Why would anybody think that a state, having just achieved a gigantic national project employing the best of its scientific-technical elite, the undivided attention of its military-industrial bureaucracy and vast sums of money, in the teeth of the world’s great powers – would instantly give the thing away? States don’t behave like that. No states do. Pakistan didn’t. Neither did North Korea, and if you think North Korea is any less crazy than Iran..

Slightly confused?

J-Ro on airpower. RPVs and CPVs (computer piloted vehicles) Oh My!

J-Ro on airpower. More on the limits of airpower

I’ve never taken the West Lothian question very seriously (how many men have we lost because of it?), and I usually don’t engage with it. But there is something I’d like to fork over about the semi-federal nature of Britain. One may recall that, not so long ago, Dave from PR and other Tories were complaining about the hypothetical situation where a Labour government is elected with a working majority UK-wide, but a minority of MPs in England, implying that it depends on Scottish MPs to continue in office. They argued that, as Scotland has self-governing powers on many issues, it would be wrong for the government to legislate on anything purely English unless it had a majority of English MPs (put it another way, unless the Tories said so).

This would, in practice, create an administrative potmess of epic proportions as the government followed its own policies in all-UK matters and those shared with Scotland and Wales, the Tories’ policies in England-only matters, and God knows what in cases of doubt.

But that isn’t my real beef. The problem is the idea that if one area of the UK elects a lot of MPs of the other party, it’s perfectly fine to chop it off so the Conservative Party can hoist a flag on the rest. I propose, then, the West Yorkshire question.

If it is unacceptable for a government with a parliamentary majority in the UK, but not among English MPs alone, to legislate for England, why is it not also unacceptable for a government with a majority of English MPs – but not if a strongly supportive region such as West Yorkshire were excluded – to legislate for the rest of England?

Update: Charlie’s comment induces me to restate the problem. The Tory understanding of the WLQ is that, roughly, either there should be a new England-only level of government or that there should be an effective Conservative veto on England-only legislation. But why does this argument not also hold for, say, West Yorkshire? England-only legislation could be passed under such an arrangement by a government with no majority of MPs in Yorkshire, depending on their strength elsewhere. If this is wrong at the UK level, it’s very odd to consider it entirely right at the level of England.

My conclusion is that this is purely self-serving. The Tories like West Lothian because it offers the (distant) possibility of gerrymandering a large number of Labour, Liberal and nationalist voters out of much of the parliamentary agenda. They don’t draw the further inference because it would deny them the same privilege. For bonus points, consider this. WLQ assumes that the UK is a confederation, in which the centre cannot overrule the members. Devolution assumes that it is a federation, in which powers are divided among levels of government in one entity. Why do the Tories reject the European Constitutional Treaty, which would have created a confederal structure for the EU, on the grounds that it weakens the UK as a national state, whilst arguing for confederalism at home?

Niall Ferguson

It’s late, but this snark attack on Niall Ferguson must not be missed. Click through and read Rob Farley’s review of Colossus, too.

After suffering through some of his earlier writing, I’ve always imagined Niall Ferguson sneaking into the Imperial War Museum in the dark of night. Certain that the coast is clear, he rips off his black track suit to reveal a replica of the uniform that Lord Raglan wore during the Crimean War. Ferguson stands behind a cannon, raises his faux marshal’s baton, and exclaims, “Lads, let’s send these blighters back to the Seven Hells from whence they came!”

Heh. I actually studied the history of the British Empire at one point, and I recall that Niall Ferguson, despite his recent fame, was astonishingly insignificant in the historiography. You just didn’t encounter very much of him. Compared to John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, David Cannadine, Ronald Hyam et al he was non-existent. Perhaps we were just weird, but I suspect this reflects a deeper truth.

Now it’s all over, what was all the shooting about?

To answer that question, we’d first need to know something of each side’s aims. Hezbollah’s were reasonably clear, at least as far as the decision to take the two soldiers prisoner went: put pressure on the Israelis to release their remaining Lebanese prisoners, and not incidentally demonstrate they were still Gangster Number One. After all, Hamas had managed to pull off the capture of Gideon Shalit and the destruction of a tank only days before, so something needed doing to maintain respect.

What they didn’t reckon with, basing their perceptual framework on Ariel Sharon’s 2004 decision to exchange prisoners, was the Israeli freakout that followed. Once that began, Hezbollah’s aims were to hold on to as much as possible whilst keeping their army in being, and score prestige triumphs like rocketing Haifa harbour and flying drones into Israel. Simple enough.

What were the Israeli aims, though? Just get the soldiers back? Negotiation would have done that. And, in the end, it doesn’t seem to have worried them very much. The Israelis seem remarkably unconcerned that two of their soldiers are left in Hezbollah hands – still! Demolish Hezbollah? Well, they seem to have liked the idea. But, if you look at the situation maps, their actions do not correspond to such grandiose goals. Quite simply, they did not go very far into Lebanon, ever – despite the talk of going to the Litani, they only went there as a token presence. Secure the north from rockets? This would have meant going well beyond the Litani, perhaps to the Awali river line, which would have put the great bulk of the rockets out of range for as long as they stayed. But they spent so much time talking of a two mile deep security zone – which would help not a jot.

There are a couple of explanations. One is that they would have marched to the Litani but Hezbollah (and the Shia Amal, and the Communists) beat them. I’m not sure. They certainly put up an impressive defence, but whether they could have prevented Tsahal from breaking through if it had been bent on doing so is another matter. In all, four Israeli divisions were employed, and at no time was a manoeuvre bigger than brigade strength launched except perhaps at the very end. Another is that the Israelis were trying to avoid the 1978 scenario, where Hezbollah just retires behind the Litani in an affair of outposts, by trying to draw them on to their positions in the south. Another is that they were conflicted and unsure of aims, and that there was effectively no overall strategy. If 1982 was a war for psychotics, with its obsessive blitz ever further north and climatic massacre, this was one for neurotics.

The drawing-on tactic is possible, I suppose, but for an army as tank-oriented as the Israelis against an enemy made up of small mobile ATGW teams, very unfavourable. It would have amounted to parking a lot of tanks in southern Lebanon as targets. It might have had some appeal to a command torn between the will to wound and the fear to strike, though, unwilling to plunge north but under pressure to confront the enemy. It might also have appealed to the airpower theorist, Halutz, as a way of flushing Hezbollah fighters so his aircraft could attack them – but three-man rocket teams are not good targets, and the decision not to charge north meant that they wouldn’t collect at the bridges like good little sheep. (This may be the result of learning the wrong lesson from Kosovo.)

That the IDF simply didn’t have a strategy is perhaps supported by the fact a key commander, the head of the northern command, was sacked. Everyone will now draw whatever conclusions they want from the war – the 4th Generation Warfare crowd will point to the rocketing of the Haifa port and the village reserve groups with their rockets as more evidence for their side, the neo-cons will cry Iran, the Quai d’Orsay will positively purr, and the Lebanese will in all probability conclude that the more tank-hunters between them and the Israelis, the better.

I prefer the Colonel’s analysis, which is that Hezbollah is just at the turning point from a guerrilla force to an army in Maoist revolutionary war theory. They are known to have studied Vietnam extensively, after all. For the laughs, meanwhile, Col. Lang described the Hezbollah first line of defence as the Tabouleh Line, with the next being the Shawarma Line. I disagree. I think the talk of bunkers and tunnel complexes is overrated – every front-line account I’ve seen speaks of small groups of tank hunters shooting and moving, hiding out in the open, and practically all the Israeli losses came from them. It’s more accurate to say that Hezbollah drew the Israelis into a hoummus.

I sincerely hope this is a final situation map. Sorry about the last one going missing.

Lunchmap, 11/08

Is here.

A fuller analysis post will follow, as will much more from this week’s blogqueue.

Lunchmap, 11/08

Is here.

A fuller analysis post will follow, as will much more from this week’s blogqueue.

Lunchmap, 10/08

Today’s updated Google Earth overlay is here. It seems that the right flank march, long predicted here, is now underway. A new Israeli armoured division has appeared in the north and is moving north through Khiam (yup, where the UNTSO guys were until that unfortunate contretemps with the six-hour artillery barrage) and Marjayoun. This is the fourth division to be employed, therefore a one-third increase in force. However, note that it’s not (at the moment) heading west down the Litani Valley to envelop the Hezbollah force in the south – it’s going north, into the upper Litani valley.

There are two possible explanations for this. One is that the Israelis have decided to go down the river on the north bank as well as the south, and they are seizing the start-line for this movement, perhaps also doing the rumoured move towards Nabatiyeh to get rid of rocket teams said to be firing from this area. The other is that they are going much further into Lebanon, either up the river into the Beka’a or else over the Druze Chouf mountains towards Beirut. Either of these would require more than one division, and the other in the Kiryat Shmona area will be needed in part as a flank guard in the Litani bend (note that the Golani brigade has been pulled out to rest).

The first would make more sense, but then, nothing in this war makes much sense.

Lunchmap, 10/08

Today’s updated Google Earth overlay is here. It seems that the right flank march, long predicted here, is now underway. A new Israeli armoured division has appeared in the north and is moving north through Khiam (yup, where the UNTSO guys were until that unfortunate contretemps with the six-hour artillery barrage) and Marjayoun. This is the fourth division to be employed, therefore a one-third increase in force. However, note that it’s not (at the moment) heading west down the Litani Valley to envelop the Hezbollah force in the south – it’s going north, into the upper Litani valley.

There are two possible explanations for this. One is that the Israelis have decided to go down the river on the north bank as well as the south, and they are seizing the start-line for this movement, perhaps also doing the rumoured move towards Nabatiyeh to get rid of rocket teams said to be firing from this area. The other is that they are going much further into Lebanon, either up the river into the Beka’a or else over the Druze Chouf mountains towards Beirut. Either of these would require more than one division, and the other in the Kiryat Shmona area will be needed in part as a flank guard in the Litani bend (note that the Golani brigade has been pulled out to rest).

The first would make more sense, but then, nothing in this war makes much sense.





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