Archive for the ‘France’ Category

I’ve been reading Bruno Latour’s Aramis, or the Love of Technology, a postmodernist account of the failure of a massive French project to develop a Personal Rapid Transit system. Latour’s book contains chunks of fiction, interviews, historical documents, and authorial comment, broken out by the typography – the experience is more like reading a long blog post containing blockquotes from different sources and snarky comments on them than anything else.

It’s a fascinating exploration of the politics of the project, the nature of projects themselves, and the sources of project failure; running from 1969 to 1987, the scheme went from conceptual paper studies to a major prototype by 1973, and eventually built a large-scale test implementation in the mid-80s, before being suddenly cancelled while an intensive test campaign intended to qualify it for deployment was under way. Latour is primarily interested in how the overall concept and much of the technology stayed the same, although its objectives, planned deployment, and resources changed constantly throughout the project.

He argues that, eventually, the crucial issue was that a project is a fundamentally political concept – it has to recruit the support of people and of interest groups in order to progress, and Aramis was a side-project for nearly everyone involved except for two groups – the engineers working on it, and the French Communist Party. Unfortunately for the first group, the contract for large-scale tests was signed as the last act in office of the Communist transport minister before the party pulled out of the Mitterrand government.

This is of course true; a project needs to create its own tribe and its own culture. However, I’m quite ambivalent about the whole concept; not really about its technical or economic aspects, but rather about the idea of urbanness that was built into its core assumptions. PRT emerged in the 1960s as a technological fix to what its American proponents thought was the steady decline of cities – the big idea was a form of high-capacity public transport that would provide point-to-point service without intermediate stops, in a private environment, rather like a car, but without traffic jams or exhaust fumes or road accidents.

The flip side of this comes up again and again in Latour’s interviews with Matra and RATP executives, regarding their assumptions about the passengers and the user-experience studies that were carried out later in the project. Passengers, apparently, wanted more than anything else to be transported from point to point, “without transfers, without thinking“, without other people. Not that any passengers had actually been asked what they thought at this point. Clearly, the political assumptions built into Aramis from the beginning were that moving around a city was basically unpleasant, and specifically because of the presence of other people. Huge amounts of effort were expended on the contradictory task of building a vehicle and a broader networked system that was both user-controlled and designed to keep the user from engaging with it in any way.

Very significantly, when user studies were actually carried out, the public was notably cool on the idea and found the cabins (patterned, on the inside, on the Renault Espace) unnerving and uncanny – rather than being protected from a sinister and menacing urban jungle, they felt isolated in sealed capsules controlled by automated systems, in which they could still be confronted with strangers. The paranoia and declinism that originally motivated the PRT concept was accurately preserved in its architecture and communicated to its potential passengers.

Of course, if you were to ask me about this on the Northern Line or the 271 bus tomorrow evening, I’d probably be significantly more sympathetic to the idea; it’s much easier to enjoy public transport when it isn’t operating at overload-plus. This was also a criticism of Aramis – the RATP managers found it hard to imagine a system working that didn’t use standing passengers as a buffer for peak demand, which is telling in itself. And the PCF’s interest was presumably in the idea of a communal and high-modernist rival to the car that would also be a major technical boost for French industry.

Another interesting but under-discussed angle is that of failed consilience.

While the most active phase of Aramis development was on, other groups of engineers were solving the problems of routing discrete packets around a dense scalefree network, preventing them from colliding, and providing congestion control, load-balancing, and controllable routing metrics. They were, of course, the IEEE-802 and IETF work groups building the Internet. The engineers down the road at Alcatel working on GSM could probably have told them a thing or two, as well. The analogies between the longest prefix match/shortest path wins logic of BGP and the problems of routing Aramis cars are very close, although one problem that doesn’t come up in internetworking is how to return the empties and make sure there is a sufficient free float of vehicles to maintain the service. (You regularly see small vans redistributing the Velib bikes around Paris in order to deal with just this problem.)

Part of the explanation, and another interesting angle, is that there was clearly a massive culture clash between the Matra defence-electronics managers, the RATP railwaymen, and the software developers subcontracted in to eventually write the routing and speed-control systems. Matra representatives repeatedly mention that there was a need for a revolution in microprocessors, although that is precisely what happened every 18 months throughout the project.

Apparently, a related system is under test around Heathrow Terminal 5, due to go live in “spring 2010”. Anyone taking bets?

Ooh, more Iran-war nonsense, this time from none other than mouthpieceful Russia Today, via this thread. There seems to be a meme floating around that there was a war between Russia and Georgia because the Russians intervened to prevent the Americans using Georgian airbases to attack Iran (obviously, a war with Iran is the universal explicator for everything). Quote:

Shortly after that, a phone call came from a college friend who had just come back from Kandahar in Afghanistan, where he had seen American battle tanks being unloaded from a Ukrainian-registered Antonov-124 “Ruslan”, the heaviest and largest cargo airplane in the world. The friend asked if I had any idea what tanks would be good for in Afghanistan, and I said I didn’t. It’s an established fact from the Soviet war in Afghanistan that tanks are no good for most of the country’s mountainous territory. They are good for flatlands, and the main body of flat land in the region is right across the border in Iran.

Later in August there was another bit of unofficial information from a Russian military source: more than a thousand American tanks and armored vehicles had been shipped to Eastern Afghanistan by Ukrainian “Ruslans” flying in three to five shipments a day, and more flights were expected.

Wrong! For a start, the Canadian and Danish armies brought their Leopard 2 tanks to Afghanistan. But far more importantly; there are 26 active An-124s in the world (not counting ones operated by the Russian air force). You could load, at the very most, two M1A1 Abrams tanks in one plane. To move a thousand tanks – if the US Army has that many spare, which sounds unlikely – you’d therefore need 500 flights, or 19 sorties for the complete available fleet.

You couldn’t get the complete fleet anyway, as it has regular contractual commitments; if you could round up 12 An-124s for the job…well, with 122 tonnes of cargo, the plane has a still air range of 2,335 miles. This means it will need to make multiple stops between Kabul and anywhere in the US; at a cruising speed of 490mph, each hop would be about 4h 45mins long, so at least a 13 hour haul, which implies you’re only going to get one trip every two days. So that would be about 83 days’ work. At a cost of about $20,000 an hour that’s $478 million in air chartering alone.

So this is evidently drivel. But why would Russia Today be pushing it? Perhaps this story in Le Monde might tell us something. Despite all the buffoonery, the Russian government has decided not to break off an agreement permitting NATO to send supplies through Russia to Afghanistan, and will further be providing 4 Mi-8 helicopters for EUFOR in Chad. Now that it’s all out of the papers, both parties are paying the price for their harder statements by trimming back their actions. Although, you have to wonder what Sarko offered or threatened to get them out of Poti.

There hasn’t been much progress on my long-term beef with Martin Kettle for a while. But it’s worth remembering that if the Guardian has a major leading article that isn’t a business/economics story, it’s probably him. And Saturday’s second lead (behind a rather competent finance story) bears the Kettle hallmarks.

Forty years ago the Royal Navy came up with a wheeze to persuade the government to buy a new fleet of aircraft carriers – it claimed that they were actually “through deck cruisers”. There was no need for pretence this week when the £3.9bn order for two superships was signed in Govan. The vessels, to be named after the Queen and her son (another naval wheeze – would any government dare axe Her Majesty?), should come into service from 2014 as the oceanic embodiment of British power.

Well, he could have mentioned that the “new fleet of aircraft carriers” weren’t designed as aircraft carriers, either; the Invincible class originally only carried 5 fighters, intended to chase off Soviet Bear reconnaissance planes rather than to provide serious air defence, and their main mission was as a base for anti-submarine helicopters. The Invincibles’ role as light fleet carriers was originally a desperate hack for the Falklands, which the Navy realised could be built upon.

(And if you want a good story about the CVA-01 decision, why not mention the fact the RAF promised they could provide air cover to British forces anywhere on earth, producing a map to support this on which Australia was about 300 miles north-west of where conventional wisdom would suggest?)

The government is proud, the navy thrilled and the army jealous. The problem is that no one seems to know exactly what the ships are intended to do or how they will be paid for.

Wrong; they will provide fleet air defence, the same for British or allied landing forces, close air support for troops ashore, and a significant air strike capability, with secondary ASW, command and control and logistic roles. They are budgeted for in the defence equipment programme. That is a cheap criticism, though. If Kettle means that we won’t ever need the use of an aircraft carrier, or that they are morally appalling in all cases, why doesn’t he say so?

Nor is it clear what sort of plane, if any, will fly from their decks: the Joint Strike Aircraft, which they are designed to carry, will not be ready in time (and will cost a further £12bn), even if the United States goes ahead with the necessary vertical takeoff version, which is not certain. In the meantime the navy will have to make do with its ageing Harriers.

It’s perfectly clear. Harrier until the F-35 ISD in 2014, thereafter F-35. You’ve just said so yourself. Further, note that Kettle is complaining that the Fleet Air Arm’s Harriers are “ageing” and also complaining about replacing them, within the space of two sentences. Is he even aware, I wonder, that there are Harriers in the RAF as well? And that they are no newer? The argument that the cost of replacing Harrier is all the fault of the Navy is dishonest; the Harriers will wear out, whether they are flying from Illustrious and Ark Royal, the future Queen Elizabeths, or land bases.

And if you’re worried about the Army (they are “jealous”, remember), you should be aware that the Harrier force’s central mission is to support the infantry. The aircraft itself was designed back in 1969 as a specialised close support aircraft, a sturmovik as the Russians would say, one that would be small, manoeuvrable, with a lot of space for weapons, and no requirement for airfields at all. This was why the US Marines, probably the most CAS-minded air force in the world, bought them. Letting the Harrier force go isn’t an option – because we already cut half the RAF’s CAS aircraft two years ago when the Jaguars were decommissioned, and the press didn’t really notice.

For a government facing a tricky byelection in Glasgow, led by a prime minister from Fife, it is easy to understand the attractions of ships built partly in Govan and Rosyth. Last year’s Commons statement giving the go-ahead was greeted by MPs cheering news of work going to their constituencies. What was lacking – and has been since the 1998 strategic defence review set out plans for the vessels – was a discussion of why the ships are needed, or how they can be afforded

And you’re not going to get one here. Viz:

No one doubts the importance of carrier fleets in certain circumstances – Britain could not have fought the Falklands war without Hermes and Invincible. Floating off some future conflict zone or humanitarian disaster, the new ships will prove valuable. But so might many other forms of military resource, some of which will be sacrificed to pay for these aircraft carriers. The army lacks secure patrol vehicles and helicopters, but the Future Lynx helicopter programme looks likely to be scrapped in order to bail out a defence budget that is already overspent and must now fund naval gigantism.

Many other forms, eh. Fortunately the Matra-BAE Dynamics Ideological Handwave appears to be cheap and available off the shelf. The FLYNX project ought to be scrapped anyway, because it’s a procurement zombie – it’s been going on for ten years, not a single helicopter has been procured, but no less than three different sets of capability requirements have been written, at astonishing cost, and the current solution is to buy another lot of the same helicopters, which don’t actually cover the LIFT element of the requirement (which is the bit about racing to the succour of the wounded in Afghanistan, Minister), and are rather large and expensive for the FIND element, which is about sneaking about spying, and could better be done by robots, more smaller and cheaper helicopters, or by ones big enough to cover the LIFT requirement with the spooky gear bolted on.

Regarding the “secure patrol vehicle” thing, here’s Armchair Generalist. Sure, everyone would like to see more of them. But they are relatively cheap, and in fact the government keeps buying more of them. Which is a pity, because they are completely useless for anything other than Iraq and some missions in Afghanistan (the ones where you don’t need either heavy metal, or mobility). But politicians love them because they show We Care. As far as Army procurement goes, the generals are more concerned about the FRES project, which is costed at £14bn and has already spent hundreds of millions of pounds without building a single vehicle. Many people think it is actually physically impossible.

Further, the Invincible class lasted 30 years; HMS Fearless was laid down in 1964 and managed to launch Chinooks full of SBS men into Afghanistan in 2001. Will we be in Iraq or Afghanistan in 4 years, let alone 14 or 40?

So we didn’t get a serious discussion of why the ships are needed, did we? Oh well, space constraints. What about the solution?

This does not mean Britain should not have access to carriers; only that it cannot afford to build and support two new ships, three times the size of its current ones, without doing harm to other capabilities. The answer would have been to share the cost of construction and operation with France, which has just pulled back from expanding its own carrier fleet. Talk of this last month led to silly tabloid headlines about an EU navy. But a shared fleet and a capable military to back it up would do much more for global security than two big British ships and a cash-strapped army – even if it meant that the red ensign had to fly alongside the tricolour.

What does “access” to carriers mean? I hate this “access to” meme – it’s a long standing government way of saying “something other than what you need”. Rather than poverty, unemployment, or a terrible diet, your problem is that you “struggle to access finance, employment, and fresh foods”. I fully expect to hear a government minister explain how they “are taking forward an initiative to improve our counter-terrorist capability’s access to ammunition”.

More seriously, how can we possibly “share the cost of construction and operation” with France when France has just “pulled back from expanding its own carrier fleet”? The French government wants to make some quite impressive cuts in its defence budget, and has decided to put off building a ship, so why would they give us money to work on ours? This “answer” is actually self-refuting.

In fact, the French are likely to get assurances of some sort of the use of the British ships for training when the Charles de Gaulle is in dock, and perhaps also of support if something comes up. Presumably they will offer something in return. This is roughly what Kettle is suggesting, but reversed; but it’s impossible for both Britain and France to do this, just as two people with no money cannot help each other out by lending to each other.

And on top of this, we finish with what sounds like a call to revive the European Defence Community of 1954, which is…different. After all, the Guardian’s policy is not actually to support the creation of a single European state, the last I heard. Nobody actually wants this, and there is no evidence the French do. How it would work, who would command it, who would task it…all this is handwaved away.

Worse, this is a common fault of much discussion of British defence policy. On the Right, the assumption is usually that we don’t need a policy because the Americans will provide. On the Left, it’s usually that we don’t because the Europeans will pay, as if there was a great pool of available funding or forces over there. It makes as much sense as assuming that “the Boche will pay” did in 1919.

Here, it’s driven by Kettle’s addiction to Neither-Nor Criticism. He wants to appear decently anti-militaristic and concerned – this is the Manchester Guardian, after all – but he also doesn’t want to accept the policy consequences of this. After all, he’s a sodding Decent! How can you be a fan of humanitarian intervention and the war in Iraq, but also be opposed to having a blue-water navy? If you don’t think we need a navy, or you think that we don’t need armed forces at all, go ahead and make a case. If you think we do, then please suggest a shape of the forces and a foreign policy that would reliably not need the carriers. But he refuses to go anywhere near either. So, what we get is a sort of tepid soup of unexamined assumptions, with the extra feature that he seems to be desperately underbriefed on the issue.

Alternatively, the reason why he dislikes the carrier project is that it might confer too much independence of the United States. Now, this would indeed be consistently Decent. Some sort of half-baked “access to carriers” would be far more likely to prevent independent British – or European – action, and far more likely to compel a future prime minister to march because some ally wanted it. George Orwell attacked the “shabby kind of pacifism common to countries with strong navies”, in a passage much quoted by the Decents. But how much worse is a shabby kind of militarism that doesn’t want to pay for the Navy?

Ha. Ha. Ha. Looks like Kelvin McFuck won’t be standing after all. Too risky, eh?

There we were, thinking he was a heroic fighter for all he thought was right, not to mention a formidable enterpreneur, and a man confident in the backing of the deadliest nonkinetic weapon system on the planet. After all, heroism works so much better with adequate air support. But, apparently, he can’t find the commitment to stump Haltemprice & Howden himself, or the £100,000 he claims his campaign needed. Excuse me – aren’t you meant to be rich?

More seriously, the real story here is that he has never been very popular outside his own propaganda, just as his supposed business genius includes triumphs like L!ve TV and his supposed journalistic courage tended to take a lot of long lunches. Who now remembers that “GOTCHA!” was only actually printed in a tiny early edition for northern Scotland, because he wasn’t in the office early enough to stop it? When he finally rocked up, he freaked and spiked the lot, replacing it with a far weaker (and factually incorrect) fillerfest about “gunboats”. It was the original reverse ferret.

The phrase you’re looking for is “paper tiger”, but no-one in politics would want to admit that. After all, there’s this:

News International executives are understood to be wary of fielding a candidate against the Conservative party, which could interfere with the Sun’s policy to always back the winner of election campaigns.

Hence last week’s string of “Bridge, engine room – MAKE SMOKE!” stories that the FRENCH ARE STEALING OUR NAVY!!!

Oh yes: this is brilliant.

This NYT story is nonsense. Various rightwing barkies have taken the opportunity of the French armed forces’ deliciously 007-esque mission to rescue the sailing yacht Le Ponant to tout the following story around the media: the Royal Navy has been ordered not to detain pirates under any circumstances, for fear that they might something or other, because of the Human Rights Act. The details are opportunely left open; the usual formation of the story makes only two testable claims, one of which is that landing a captured pirate in Somalia would likely be illegal because the local authorities might cut their head off, and the other being that the pirate might claim political asylum aboard ship.

What the story does not actually say is why this would stop anyone from detaining pirates, or for that matter why the same doesn’t go for the French. After all, as a State party to the European Convention on Human Rights, France has the same legal obligations. Now, the first claim is obviously true in the sense that yes, Virginia, Somalia is a nasty failed state run by a mix of more-or-less Islamist warlords and Ethiopian army officers. Handing someone over to this lot for trial might well be illegal. But has nobody else noticed that it would also be intensely, profoundly stupid?

Who on earth would want to return captured pirates to the state, or rather un-state, that permitted them to operate openly from their territory? Even if the Somali authority they were returned to actually wanted to try them, you’ve got to assume there’s a significant chance of them getting away. In fact, the French mission gives us all the information we need; the pirates collected the ransom, went ashore, and seem to have planned just to drive off with it, which doesn’t inspire confidence in local law enforcement.

Further, there is no legal reason whatsoever to give pirates captured off Somalia to the Somali police. Pirates have a special status in international law they share with slavers, torturers and those responsible for genocide; they are hostes humanae generis, enemies of all humanity, which in practice means that any state that can catch them has effective jurisdiction in the case. Once the pirates are caught, there is absolutely no reason not to take them to a proper court back in London, or wherever. That given, why should we need to even think about handing them over to a jurisdiction where they might escape, be tortured, or be put to death?

The second testable claim is that a captured pirate might claim political asylum. This is true. A longstanding principle of the law of the sea is that of exclusive flag state jurisdiction, which means that a warship of state A is for all intents and purposes part of A’s national territory. The principle holds in a weaker form for merchant vessels. Americans really ought to be conscious of this, because they fought a war against Britain in part over the principle.

Now, a story. When I took my MSc in 2003-2004, my International Law course was taught by Commander Steven Haines, who had just resigned from his post as a senior legal adviser to the Royal Navy, round about the same time Elizabeth Wilmshurst walked out of her similar post at the Foreign Office. In fact, I heard Wilmshurst’s name for the first time from him. He didn’t give his reasons, but do I need to draw you a fucking diagram? (He’s also the only person I know who ever had control of a nuclear weapon. Cool, eh? Pity he took so bloody long to mark essays.)

Haines took part in the 2000 intervention in Sierra Leone, where he was involved in the decision as to what to do with limb-choppin’ war criminal Foday Sankoh after his capture. The military were keen to fly him straight out to Illustrious, as he’s not known for being a great swimmer and would be very unlikely to escape; Haines opposed the idea on the grounds that he might claim political asylum, which would have been politically more than problematic. Instead he was confined at the airport and then in the Freetown police station with a guard reinforced with British troops, but later cheated the courts by dying before he could be brought to trial.

So the problem is not new, but it’s not like it helped Sankoh any. And there is no reason why some one can’t spend their political asylum in prison; it doesn’t confer immunity for one’s crimes, and piracy is a crime. (That is both bathetically and pathetically obvious, but there is an important point here which we’ll come back to.)

To recap: yes, it would be illegal to hand over a pirate to Somali warlords for trial. No, this does not constrain anyone in catching pirates, because anyone who can catch them can try them. And frankly, not handing prisoners to the Somali “government” is a feature, not a bug. Yes, you can claim asylum aboard a foreign warship; no, this is no deal-breaker.

So what did those thrillingly tough and macho Frenchmen do with their six captured buccaneers? They, after all, aren’t letting themselves have their national essence sapped by do-gooding lawyers and bickering parliamentarians’ quibbles, right? Up to the yard-arm? Walk the plank? Hand them to the fun-loving fellas from Ethiopian Military Intelligence? Er, no.

Six pirates sont transférés à bord de la frégate Jean Bart et ils seront remis à la justice pour être jugés en France.

So yes, the six pirates were brought aboard the Jean Bart and will be tried in France.

Far too many people who should know better have swallowed this transparent bollocks at face value, or indeed, at a considerable premium. For example: here’s Information Dissemination getting it wrong. Here’s Abu Muqawama getting it wrong. Here’s Abu Muq getting it wrong again after initial treatment. I don’t have the stomach to look into the fever swamp.

So why, do you think, is this story being pushed so hard? The ur-text is this Times article, which consists of pure assertion – there is no information in there implying the central claim, that the RN has been ordered not to detain pirates – and a quote from swivel-eyed Tory Julian Brazer MP apparently reacting to the Times reporter. Repeat it a few times, and voila; new facts.

But who, pray, is keen on demonising the very idea of law as a constraint on state action? Try this comment at AM:

Ultimately the very notion of law itself may be bought into disrepute. As it is already in the ranks of the American forces.

See? It’s those bastard lawyers who MADE us torture them. Indeed it was; just not the same ones. This kind of embrace of raison d’etat has something of the power of all the ideas of a liberation from freedom about it.

By the way: as well as the Reuters report, Liberation has photos and commentary from the guy who runs Secret Defense.

Update: I’d forgotten that the original Captain Kidd was commissioned by the Navy to hunt down other pirates. He was a countergang that went wrong. Now there’s a far better lesson for you.

Rare feature, this, but the Observer has news: the Stevens report says, apparently, that the US National Security Agency was monitoring her phone calls the night of her death. A couple of questions: didn’t they have anyone better to bug? And, more importantly, what was the French government’s position on this?

The Obscurer makes the point that this, and especially the fact that MI6 wasn’t informed, raises some difficult questions about the so-called “intelligence special relationship”. Well, it’s not as if there wasn’t plenty to be getting on with in terms of scrutiny there – CAZAB, UKUSA and the rest being the world’s most highly secret treaties. But it’s hard to see the direct relevance – bugging the French phone system would have needed access to it, or else the use of some super-fancy platform like Rivet Joint, and the chances of the French permitting that are between zero and zero.

Else, there would have had to be folk physically on the ground, or some special arrangement with France Telecom, and presumably with the DST or SDECE. Still, we can always blame the French for this one, so no chance of anyone learning anything there.

Update: 1900 16/12/06: The Obscurer was sold a furphy. Spyblog explains, having read the 782 page report.

Rare feature, this, but the Observer has news: the Stevens report says, apparently, that the US National Security Agency was monitoring her phone calls the night of her death. A couple of questions: didn’t they have anyone better to bug? And, more importantly, what was the French government’s position on this?

The Obscurer makes the point that this, and especially the fact that MI6 wasn’t informed, raises some difficult questions about the so-called “intelligence special relationship”. Well, it’s not as if there wasn’t plenty to be getting on with in terms of scrutiny there – CAZAB, UKUSA and the rest being the world’s most highly secret treaties. But it’s hard to see the direct relevance – bugging the French phone system would have needed access to it, or else the use of some super-fancy platform like Rivet Joint, and the chances of the French permitting that are between zero and zero.

Else, there would have had to be folk physically on the ground, or some special arrangement with France Telecom, and presumably with the DST or SDECE. Still, we can always blame the French for this one, so no chance of anyone learning anything there.

Update: 1900 16/12/06: The Obscurer was sold a furphy. Spyblog explains, having read the 782 page report.

Book alert!

Le Monde reviews a new French book on the arms trade and our friend Viktor. Trafics d’armes : enquête sur les marchands de mort by Laurent Léger. The publisher is Flammarion. Another review here suggests that the author succeeded in interviewing Michel Victor-Thomas, the French aviation identity who co-founded TAN Aviation Network NV in Ostend with Viktor Bout, the company that was transferred to CET Aviation in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea and Transavia Travel in Sharjah when they were run out of town.

In a possibly related incident, I’m getting a lot of googlers for “viktor bout sarkozy”. What on earth can be going on?

Over at Slugger, they are discussing an alleged proposal from the UDA that the government give it £1 billion to end its campaign of violence and convert itself into a legal organisation. At one level, you’d be forgiven for spitting coffee on your keyboard at such shameless blackmail. But there is a valid point here. What do you do with a private army when its time has passed?

There are a couple of historical courses. One of them is to integrate it into the regular armed forces of the state. This has been pursued by among others Finland, France, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the Republic of Ireland itself. The degrees of success vary widely. De Gaulle took the decision to disband the Resistance and recruit its members into the regular French army in August, 1944, thus avoiding the possibility of a private army continuing to exist after the war and also putting an anchor out to windward against any other generals wanting to be king. He was probably also concerned that a Resistance persisting into the postwar would be essentially communist, just like it had been during the war. However, having lost power, he found that his future political career couldn’t do without the Service d’Action Civique private intelligence service/goon squad.

Finland chose between two rival rebel armies, one nationalist and one communist, had a brief civil war, and then had some trouble integrating the remaining communists into the new army, not to mention more trouble between the German-trained Jäger and the rest, but eventually managed it. South Africa decided to integrate the ANC’s bush fighters into the old SADF as a new National Defence Force, which worked out at least in the sense that there was no trouble. (It worked out far less well in terms of force readiness, and released a troublesome population of mercenaries onto the market, though.)

Zimbabwe had one of the worst experiences of this kind. The ex-Rhodesian army, ZANU-PF and ZANLA were all meant to be merged into one British-trained army. General Rupert Smith describes what happened after that in The Utility of Force, which I promise I’ll get round to reviewing. The British advisers suggested that the new force should standardise on the Rhodesians’ equipment, as this would mean ammunition would have to come from the central arsenal, and therefore any violence between factions could be shut off by denying it bullets. The Rhodesians refused to hand their arms to their ex-enemies, and so the force was built up with the Soviet-type weapons the guerrillas handed in – for which the ammunition was widely available on the black market, and which the parties held illegal stocks of. This meant that the ZANU was able to form another brigade (the 5th) outside the terms of the agreement, with which it proceeded to crush the supporters of ZANLA.

Eire, having had its civil war, suffered problems with the heirs of the contending parties (the Army and the Citizen Force) for years, although it didn’t amount to a serious threat to the peace. So, it can work, but a) it’s difficult and b) the requirements are complicated. In Northern Ireland, the reaction of the Republicans to a proposal to put more UDA men into the army is something we can all do without. (Not to mention that the Royal Irish Regiment is being reduced in strength.)

Another option is to demobilise it. This requires the consent of the demobilised just as much as integration, and they may have security and/or identity concerns that call for some sort of successor organisation. It also places a challenge on society to reintegrate them, not least to create jobs. A notable example where this was done, proved difficult, and eventually succeeded is Israel.

There’s also the option of permitting the organisation to live on in different form. The UDA seems to be aiming for a mixture of 2 and 3, turning itself into some sort of non-armed political entity and paying off its soldiers. This one doesn’t have a very good record – disarmed freikorps and einwohnerwehren were the first organisational underpinning of the Nazi party, and rearmed pretty damn quick whenever it was asked of them. And the Kärntner Heimatdienst in Austria has been a nuisance ever since its creation.

Sometimes, though, there are only the options people let you have.