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Old 11-02-2011   #1
Fuchs
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Default On the avoidance of small wars

Something was missing in this forum, and now I know what: A "How to avoid cutting yourself" thread. Discussing knifes, knife combat techniques and bandages is fine, but it's better to not cut yourself in the first place.


I called this "avoidance" of small wars for a reason; there will likely always be conflicts. The question is about how to not stick your head too much into the dangerous mess of other people.
Some countries can resist such urges better than others, maybe the more self-controlled ones who can resist such urges and thus did not suffer much harm from small wars do something right?

What's the difference between a country that's believing it needs to be involved in distant, foreign and quite often totally irrelevant conflicts and a country that's cool?


I'm fully aware that there are many ideas (I call them "myths") about how sticking your head into distant conflicts somehow keeps the world from exploding or something, but the history of the last decade should have told even those myth-believers that involvement is akin to self-mutilation.


# What does it take to motivate a country to intervene military in distant places without clear national interests (economical, political obligations) to outweight the costs?

# What does it take to counter these motivations?

# Can institutional safeguards help or is it all about political culture and special interests?

# How can a principal-agent problem ('chickenhawks in government') be avoided?

# Do any countries have effective legal counterweights to political aggressiveness (such as conscription of sons of politicians into front-line infantry?)

# What's the role of mass media? Can feeding the media with interestign stories keep them from pushing for war (intentionally or indirectly) because of a lack of good alternative media contents?
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Old 11-02-2011   #2
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Several factors contribute, I'll list a few that I think are important, though certainly not an inclusive list:

1. Hubris

2. A flawed, (generally too expansive) assessment of what one's vital national interests are.

3. A flawed assessment of the nature and extent of the "threat" one is seeking "to defeat overseas so that it does not wash up on our shores."

4. A combination of genuine desire to help a populace or government in distress and jumping into a scuffle that one does not understand; winding up either helping the wrong party or simply getting roughed up by one or both for one's efforts.

5. Being talked into doing something one knows is foolish and risky by one's advisors (this only sounds like I am talking about VP Cheney), or by powerful corporate or national lobbies (this only sounds like I am talking about oil companies, or Israeli/Saudi lobbies) or the media (liberals and conservatives equally at fault here Fox and MSNBC...).
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Old 11-02-2011   #3
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Oh this is a really good topic idea...

I'd add

Having an exit strategy and having one that involves planning for failures too. Wishful thinking prior to an engagement doesn't cut it.
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Old 11-02-2011   #4
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Default Quick pints

On the run today, so two items.

There is a similar theme in this SWJ Blog comment:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/the...oing-nothing-0

Secondly, we often revert to the intention and capability approach. On quick reflection it might be easier to look at those states that do not get involved. I don't mean the Swiss or traditional neutrals, partly as the Nordic countries of late have been intervening.
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Old 11-02-2011   #5
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Default Powell Doctrine

Although never really accepted, in a previous era to counter the growing hubris associated with sticking our nose under everyone's tent with no clear achievable objective several folks formed what is commonly called the Powell Doctrine. Obviously it didn't work (due to some of its inherent flaws and the fact that doctrine alone doesn't constrain hubris).

I think all these points surfaced by Fuchs are worth consideration:

Quote:
# Can institutional safeguards help or is it all about political culture and special interests?

# How can a principal-agent problem ('chickenhawks in government') be avoided?

# Do any countries have effective legal counterweights to political aggressiveness (such as conscription of sons of politicians into front-line infantry?)

# What's the role of mass media? Can feeding the media with interestign stories keep them from pushing for war (intentionally or indirectly) because of a lack of good alternative media contents?
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Old 11-02-2011   #6
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Default Two very different Worldviews

(1) Don't let one onion layer be peeled, lest the core be lost (Integral Rigidity):



(2) Let 'em eat the apple, but protect the core (Concentration of Mass):



The rest of the questions are answered by choice of Worldview.

Regards

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Old 11-02-2011   #7
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I think you're also ignoring the influence of geography (or how countries apply and understand or perceive their geography) and humanitarian impulses (often fed by celebrities and the media). There's also the matter of different election cycles and basic national culture. Also, some nations don't intervene because they either don't need to or can count on someone else to do it for them.

The point about the media is interesting, but what "interesting stories" are you going to feed them? In addition to the desire to hold politicians accountable, I'd add the need to hold the media responsible for their actions. Sadly, this doesn't often happen (in either case).
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Old 11-02-2011   #8
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Also, some nations don't intervene because they either don't need to or can count on someone else to do it for them.
The latter always appears to me to be systematically exaggerated by U.S. Americans.
U.S.Americans rarely get the idea that often times other nations don't think that this or that intervention, containment or arms race is in their interest.
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Old 11-02-2011   #9
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The latter always appears to me to be systematically exaggerated by U.S. Americans.
U.S.Americans rarely get the idea that often times other nations don't think that this or that intervention, containment or arms race is in their interest.
Sadly this is too true.

Thinking that one has "universal" values, and therefore interests, can cloud one's thinking in this regard...

Afterall, if we all share the same interests and values as defined by the US, then clearly our allies closest to some problem should jump on it if we think it is important, right???
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Old 11-02-2011   #10
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The latter always appears to me to be systematically exaggerated by U.S. Americans.
U.S.Americans rarely get the idea that often times other nations don't think that this or that intervention, containment or arms race is in their interest.
I'm sure it does. However, you may notice that I didn't frame my comment in that sense. Some nations don't need to intervene for any number of reasons. Others, who may need to, can often count on someone else having the same interest (or perceived interest) and acting first. This isn't a question of "universal" values but rather some nations having the same perceived interests. Nor is it automatically US or Euro-centric.

You can spin it as a US versus others if you wish, but that's not the point of it.
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Old 11-02-2011   #11
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You don't understand the extent.

The whole remark would most likely not have appeared if no U.S. citizen had been involved in the discussion!
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Old 11-03-2011   #12
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Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
Sadly this is too true.

Thinking that one has "universal" values, and therefore interests, can cloud one's thinking in this regard...

Afterall, if we all share the same interests and values as defined by the US, then clearly our allies closest to some problem should jump on it if we think it is important, right???
Wrong. If it is in their particular interrest may be but not if that is part of a global comon interrest.
If you think it's important then you should jump on it. If others think it is important for them then they should jump on it.
if it is in yours and others interrest but with lower interest from US allies... Then it is/should be US problem and no one else.
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Old 11-03-2011   #13
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Fuchs I suggest this thread and your argument is misguided.

As far as the Germans are concerned they can only apply leverage through their current economic strength. The combined German military (of today) could not blow a candle out. Germany does not have a military option for any sized war.

The recent Libyan exercise has shown that the combined European nations of NATO (mainly France and the Brits) couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag without help from Uncle Sam.

That leaves the US of A. Good soldiers at the bottom, good solid brave soldiers who often die needlessly.

Like a fish the US is rotting from the head down.

There are probably more honest and sincere politicians in Outer Mongolia that in the whole of the US. The Presidency has sunk to level of incompetence which only the blindly of patriotic Americans can have any respect for.

General officers and colonels while perhaps having displayed physical courage at some early point in their careers now display an almost universal lack of moral courage.

Small wars and interventions are getting a bad name because they have been unspeakably incompetently handled by the politician/general staff as a Keystone Cops combination.

I have said before that it takes 20 years before they let you command a battalion of infantry (700 men), ten more before you can command a little trot through Kuwait or Iraq but how long before you can run a country or set the strategy for a war. There lies the problem.

It is too late I fear. Once it gets down to majors/captains and the rest questioning the rights and wrongs of a small war or intervention it is time to cash in your chips and head for the hills.

Its gone. it over, its done. Forget it.

Last edited by JMA; 11-03-2011 at 02:28 PM.
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Old 11-03-2011   #14
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You're wrong on so many levels I'm really clueless about how to respond without writing a book chapter.

There's a common thread, though: You simplify too much and don't look beyond the surface.

I wrote here earlier that Europe wasn't really interested in Libya. Libya is unimportant, and we weren't really at war (Germany not at all). The air forces didn't even bother leaving the comfort of main air bases.
Europe cannot do interventions like the U.S. does them because nobody but the U.S. is so crazy to follow such a wasteful approach. If necessary, we could easily improvise and pull things off the old-fashioned way.
Nobody's going to improvise anything big unless there's motivation, though.
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Old 11-05-2011   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
You're wrong on so many levels I'm really clueless about how to respond without writing a book chapter.
Well... just mention three levels where I'm wrong for starters

Quote:
There's a common thread, though: You simplify too much and don't look beyond the surface.
On the contrary I suggest the tendency is to complicate matters... after all one has to find work for all the staff officers and think tank hangers on and university faculty... I mean if it really were that simple they would all be out of a job, yes?

The trick (learned in the military) is to cut through the crap and get to the crux of the issue. Not done anymore. There, my dear Fuchs, lies the problem.

Quote:
I wrote here earlier that Europe wasn't really interested in Libya. Libya is unimportant, and we weren't really at war (Germany not at all). The air forces didn't even bother leaving the comfort of main air bases.
Europe cannot do interventions like the U.S. does them because nobody but the U.S. is so crazy to follow such a wasteful approach. If necessary, we could easily improvise and pull things off the old-fashioned way.
Nobody's going to improvise anything big unless there's motivation, though.
Europe is definitely interested in Libya (what with the oil and geographical proximity to Europe). what happened was that without the US holding their hand there were unable to intervene in Libya so when the US called the French and Brit bellicose bluff the house of cards that is the European military collapsed.

...but you are correct Europe (including Germany) can't state in interest when they are in no position to back it up with action (unless Uncle Sam is prepared to hold their hands). Europe can't do it... therefore they must maintain the pretense of it 'not being in their National Interest' (here that phony excuse a lot around here )

Yes, the US are known for a brute force and ignorance approach where they will rather use a sledgehammer to crack open a nut than use a small stone lying nearby on the ground. Do you really need to use a chain saw to cut off his arms and legs when a poke in the eye with a sharp stick will achieve the aim just as well?

A lot of that has to do with a lack of experience among the individuals concerned leading to a lack of confidence in turn leading to an over elaboration in planning by including too many contingencies. This is understandable given the number of politicians looking over shoulder of the military.

Big? What do you class as big?

Last edited by JMA; 11-05-2011 at 04:55 AM.
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Old 11-05-2011   #16
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You were factually wrong about Germany's military, you were factually wrong about Germany's diplomatic options, you were factually wrong about "Europe"'s ability to wage war without the U.S., the whole idea that you could add time needed to master certain levels is wrong as well, junior officers questioning war has been totally common and also occurred prior to the 1940 France campaign (in fact, even many Generals questioned war and campaign plan) and small wars/interventions have in great part a bad rep because they're so marginally useful no matter how successful.

You were basically wrong about everything and it's not about simplify vs. complicate. It's about you having an utterly incomplete look at those things.
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Old 11-05-2011   #17
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You were factually wrong about Germany's military, you were factually wrong about Germany's diplomatic options, you were factually wrong about "Europe"'s ability to wage war without the U.S., the whole idea that you could add time needed to master certain levels is wrong as well, junior officers questioning war has been totally common and also occurred prior to the 1940 France campaign (in fact, even many Generals questioned war and campaign plan) and small wars/interventions have in great part a bad rep because they're so marginally useful no matter how successful.

You were basically wrong about everything and it's not about simplify vs. complicate. It's about you having an utterly incomplete look at those things.
LOL... OK the German military could take Liechtenstein and Luxemborg and who else. Fuchs you are living in the past. Today the German army is amateur hour. As such it is best to hide behind the excuse that one should only get involved in 'big' wars of existential nature. The martial nature of Germans has been bred out of the national military genetics. Its over, gone, finished and you are probably right that it is only an existential war that will wake the German public up (which is not going to happen). So analyze it. Why do people join the German army? A steady, secure, safe job (with good conditions or service and an early retirement)? To dress in 'cool' uniforms and march behind brass bands? To get to play with expensive toys (like jet aircraft, tanks and assorted military ships) which they could otherwise not afford to and at virtually no safety risk (like from a war or something ridiculous like that) other than from their own negligence?

So what may I ask does Germany have to use as diplomatic leverage? A strong economy?

What the Libyan exercise proved beyond doubt is that only the US has the ability to sustain any such action at a meaningful tempo (as Libya would be classed as a minor intervention).

Correction... small wars have a bad reputation because they are generally micro managed (by politicians and senior commanders) to the extent of being unable to accomplish the mission (or achieve the aim - whatever you prefer).

Remember this clown?

War is too serious a business to be left to the generals. - Georges Clemenceau

... this is the very same clown who was one of the major voices behind the Treaty of Versailles 1919 ... and we all know what that 'masterpiece' led to.

Last edited by JMA; 11-05-2011 at 01:40 PM.
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Old 11-05-2011   #18
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You're living in the past, for you don't seem to see that there's no Red Army any more.

The combined European NATO military forces are superior to the combined military forces of their periphery. This relative strength is what counts for whether you can fight your way out of a wet bag or even withstand an all-out assault of all neighbours.

And you shouldn't imply that in other countries military forces are not first and foremost employers, for that's what they are. There's no Sparta or Templar Order anywhere these days.


You also read too much into genetic and/or cultural effects regarding Germany and the military. The military is a tool, not an object of patriotic passion. Just a tool for the national policy.
Your idea of a martial culture back before '45 is quite mislead as well. There's not a single photo of people cheering the war in 1939, unlike 1914. The war was deeply unpopular till Paris fell.

It wasn't some martial spirit that turned workers and farmers into NCOs who lead assaults after all nearby officers fell; it was a combination of factors in German society and military that's still very much alive.
# great dissatisfaction with poor results
# a strong belief in organising things thoroughly to address issues
# a good basic education
# a strong belief in the importance of education and training
# a strong belief that it's important to take precautions in case things go wrong
# institutional memory about what's important
# the fostering of Kameradschaft in the army


Again; I diagnose that you simplify things way too much.
"Martial spirit" may please you as an explanation, but it's a primitive concept that doesn't fit well to actual history.


We produce good cars for about the same reasons why our grandparent and grand-grandparent generations left such a strong marks in military history.
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Old 11-07-2011   #19
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"Martial spirit" may please you as an explanation, but it's a primitive concept that doesn't fit well to actual history.
The notion of "German martial spirit" is as poorly founded as the equally lazy notion of "American bellicosity".

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We produce good cars for about the same reasons why our grandparent and grand-grandparent generations left such a strong marks in military history.
Good, yes, but too expensive to be worth it. The Japanese generate a better price/performance ratio IMO, though anyone's assessment of "better" is going to be subjective.

I may be biased. My Toyota 4x4 pickup is over 250k km, much of it on absolutely heinous terrain, and still in it. OT, but it wasn't me who brought up cars
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Old 11-07-2011   #20
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So what may I ask does Germany have to use as diplomatic leverage? A strong economy?

What the Libyan exercise proved beyond doubt is that only the US has the ability to sustain any such action at a meaningful tempo (as Libya would be classed as a minor intervention).
One might well ask what form of military leverage Germany needs... and the answer would probably be not much, beyond defense of the homeland. Why would the Germans want to project armed force around the world?

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Remember this clown?

War is too serious a business to be left to the generals. - Georges Clemenceau

... this is the very same clown who was one of the major voices behind the Treaty of Versailles 1919 ... and we all know what that 'masterpiece' led to.
I'd say allowing Generals to decide when to make war is every bit as foolish as telling Generals how to make war. Determining policy objectives is not the competence or the business of the military.

I'd agree with Fuchs that the great majority of American small wars since WW2 have been pointless and counterproductive from the start, evidence of policy failure, not miitary failure, and most would have been better avoided.

How to stop doing that is another question. Clear, sensible assessments of interests, choice of practical, realistic, achievable goals, more awareness of potential for unintended consequences... that stuff helps, but it's like saying the antidote to stupidity is smartness. How to get some smartness into place is a bit of an issue. It's usually there, but it's all too often ignored.
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