War and Death

Fellow member of the School of Hard Knocking Rich Ganske comments on the General Theory of War:

Excellent summary. But I’m not convinced that no. 17 is entirely necessary:  violence (in varied form) yes, malice certainly, but death? Many are the varied interests that initiate conflict, as well as the means and ends that sustain and complete it, that the risk of life should not preclude such a case from inclusion to the scope of war only due to a lack of violent death.

In my wild youth, I favored a more expansive definition of war. I thought this broadening would bring taxonomic clarity to the muddled regions between war-war and jaw-jaw. Advancing into middle-age, I doubt my earlier inclusive generosity. Clarity comes through naming otherwise diffuse phenomena as exactly as possible, not stretching them. A term that encompasses everything encompasses nothing. This wat my motive behind number 17 i.e. “War is not war without the possibility of violent death.”

With a working assumption that “Violence is the power to change behavior through physical pain or physical annihilation”, this is my Schelling-lite taxonomy for dissecting violent power:

  1. Compellance is the possibility of violence for hostile political ends.
  2. Coercion is compellance with the focused possibility of physical pain through deliberate hurt.
  3. War is coercion with the focused possibility of physical annihilation through deliberate killing.

The General Theory of War

  1. Politics is the division of power.
  2. Influence is the power to change behavior through sensory suggestion.
  3. Violence is the power to change behavior through physical pain or physical annihilation.
  4. War is politics with the addition of violence.
  5. The logic of the individual in war is personal survival, preserving his current personal power, and accumulating more individual power.
  6. The logic of the tribe in war is tribal survival, preserving its current collective power, and accumulating more power for the tribe.
  7. The logic of the institution in war is preserving the pecking order of tribes within its hierarchy, preserving the current power of its dominant tribes, and accumulating more power for its dominant tribes.
  8. The logic of the market is shifting power from individuals, tribes, and institutions that don’t effectively mobilize violent power to those that do.
  9. The logic of the network is shifting ideas from explicit choices to implicit assumptions.
  10. The logic of reality is friction reducing power from a state of high order to a state of low order.
  11. These centers of logic are in conflict.
  12. The interactive nature of violence intensifies this conflict: each action in war triggers counter actions that anticipate or react to it.
  13. The logic of war is to escalate the friction afflicting enemy’s actions through violence while reducing the friction hampering your own efforts with violence.
  14. The logic of war is cumulative: every center of logic in war strives to create and preserve imbalances in violent power that, through their combined weight, bring a fatal level of friction down on the enemy and compel them to submit to its logic.
  15. War is a maelström: its competing centers of logic constantly jostle to preëmpt each other.
  16. The logic of logic in war is for each center of logic to strive to subordinate competing centers of logic to its own logic.
  17. War is not war without the possibility of violent death.
  18. War frustrates design: the use of violence open doors for competing designs that would otherwise have no opportunity to unfold.
  19. War reaches a conclusion when the logic of the division of power is compelling enough that competing centers of logic cannot sustain violence against it.
  20. The end of war is never permanent.

Unpacking isolationism and offshore balancing

The debate over naval policy planning and strategies for managing the commons continues into yet more rounds, with excellent entries from Jon Rue at Gunpowder and Lead and Raymond Pritchett at Information Dissemination. This is not a full response to either post, but does touch on one of those IR history topics I think is worth exploring: the dreaded label of isolationism. Some controversy erupted over Bryan McGrath describing the “Security of the Commons” approach as an isolationist one, to which Jon Rue retorted that offshore balancing was a realist strategy, not a neo-isolationist one. Pritchett, in turn, countered that the dichotomy between realism and neo-isolationism was a false choice.

This is one of those cases where I think everybody is getting something right. For example, Pritchett is absolutely correct that there is indeed a false dichotomy between isolationism and realism. While realism is certainly a policy planning perspective and a method of arriving at foreign policy decisions, isolationism is more a policy outcome, like hegemony, that can be arrived at through a variety of different theoretical and policy-making traditions. Consider that among the isolationists, there was in fact a wide variety of perspectives at play, and not just across domestic political divisions but across foreign policy orientations.

Isolationism, in the sense of abstaining from “foreign” (and it really does matter what we define here as foreign, but more on that later) military commitments except in self-defense, is an international posture, a set of policy outcomes, arrived at through the policy planning perspective at hand. First, to dispel the notion that isolationism is inherently realist, we should look at the wide diversity of political thinkers who embraced isolationism in the United States alone. It’s taken as a given that the United States was pursuing an isolationist policy during the 1920s and 1930s, but this posture was hardly the product of cutthroat realism. Consider also the Nye Committee, which concluded that American entry into World War I had been driven by desires to profit off of war and to ensure that Britain could make good on the billions in loans it received from the United States. Liberal and idealist revulsion at war and the notion of gaining from it, rather than purely rational policy decision-making, were important components of isolationism. A moral component also pervades isolationism. In some interpretations, American exceptionalism meant the cultivation of virtuous society in the United States relied on avoiding the pathologies of war and realpolitik in the Old World. They feared the consequences of war for American democracy, and were willing to put democratic principles above power political interests (though supposed realists, many isolationists spoke of power politics with the kind of scorn more common to liberal internationalists and neoconservative critics of realism today). Continue reading

Dronegate: The First Casualty is our Cybersecurity Paradigm

As of yet, there is no definitive narrative of the virus that hit the U.S. drone fleet at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada this September. Original reports stated that drone cockpits had been infected with a keylogger virus and, while there was no indication that classified information had been stolen or that missions had been compromised, the virus has proven tenacious, resisting efforts to disinfect machines and forcing the Air Force to wipe entire hard drives. Sources said that officials at Creech never informed the 24th Air Force, the central authority on cyber for the Air Force, about the breach until the 24th read about it online. Yesterday, however, in its first official statement on the infection, the Air Force explained that the virus was actually credential stealer and insisted that the virus was only a nuisance that was easily contained. It claimed that the 24th AF had known about the breach since the 15 September. The Air Force also disputed that cockpits were affected, stating that only ground control systems were breached.

If initial reports were true, then our military cybersecurity is in a lamentable state. The most critical element of perhaps our most vital weapons and intelligence systems would have been breached, and the primary defenders were kept in the dark because of the fear of failure that permeates security and stifles information-sharing and cooperation. But even if the relatively optimistic official accounts of the infection are the whole truth, the military’s computer security paradigm still needs an overhaul. Continue reading

Boyd & Beyond 2011, Quantico, VA

This post is cross posted at zenpundit.com:

Following the remarkable enthusiasm of the participants of Boyd & Beyond 2010, the expectations with respect to this years’ second annual event were high and in my estimation, no one was disappointed. Both days began at 0800 and went until 1800, with large groups of participants meeting after the meeting over food and beverages to continue the conversations. For me, the adrenaline was running so high, I got less than 8 hours sleep in the two days; as winding down was easier said than done. Continue reading

The Road to the Future, Lit by London Burning

One advantage that the classical Marxist strategist has over his class enemies is an ideology that conditions him to see the strategic continuum from influence to violence as one eternal round. To the classical Marxist, all politics is not only the division of power but the division of material power. Since there is no reality higher than material reality, mankind’s only concern is material.

Marxism proposes to abolish concern by abolishing politics. One glorious day, the division of material power will end forever in a single division of power controlled by all, for all. Politics will wither away, leaving behind a House of Peace, free of all concern. In this post-political dreamtime of communism, influence will be the sole swayer of man’s soul, speaking in perfected reason. Until the great and dreadful day of withering away, the Marxist strategist fights in a House of War, living in a state of war ruled by violence. The entire spectrum of strategic power, both influence and violence, lies ready at his disposal. Anything within reach can be weaponized at the discretion of the strategist. With revolutionary fervor, varying threads of influence and violence can be woven into combined arms efforts for use in a no-holds class struggle to abolish politics with politics.

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Brain plasticity: A whole new idea for cops



Recent brain research has tremendous impact in the way officers can now train and increase the power of their brains. ~John Demand

Great article I highly recommend over at PoliceOne on training to develop more aware and more effective decision makers by my good friend John Demand from Observation on Demand.

Handling people and problems cops do is about much more than the gun or your physical skills. It is about awareness, decision making and taking appropriate action on the street which means you must possess not only the physical skills but  also the cognitive ability to think and decide under pressure. This ability must be conditioned like the physical skills you possess. If you don’t use it, you lose it! This applies to both body and mind. Continue reading

Everybody wants to rule the waves

The discussion of the “security of the commons” approach, as Lalwani and Shifrinson articulated it, has turned into a genuine debate, with Bryan McGrath of Information Dissemination jumping into the fray. For what it’s worth, I offered my own thoughts on the mental traps which a concern with “the commons” writ large often stumbles into. On a related subject, anyone with an interest in the debate about maritime strategy ought read Walter MacDougall’s piece in FPRI (and not just because I have a soft spot for anything delving into obscure geopolitical theory).

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London Riots Retrospective: The Baseball Bat Doctrine

When a London Riots round-table was proposed, I promised an article on what I found to be the most interesting news out of the whole ordeal: on the third day of the riots in London, Amazon’s UK sales of baseball bats increased by over  6,500% in 24 hours, a rather curious discovery as I thought they played cricket over there. Similarly, police baton sales went up over 4,200%.

As the riots raged, I heard many Americans blame those effete Brits for banning firearms, explaining that here, where every shop owner is expected to be packing heat, such a thing would never happen. Not only is this historically false, as demonstrated by stateside riots like those in 1992 Los Angeles, but it has the pro-gun crowd making the same mistake as some gun-control advocates. Guns don’t kill rioters, shopkeepers kill rioters, and if anything, a clerk with a baseball bat in the face of a masked mob is much more hardcore than an attendant with a handgun. It takes a certain level of desperation and fear to smash someone to bits with sporting goods – it’s much more dangerous, messy, and personal. Continue reading

Spectrums of Intervention

I have mostly resolved to leave R2P-blogging to Gulliver, Dan Trombly, Mark Safranksi, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. However, Safranski linked to an op-ed by Simon Adams on the Responsibility to Protect that I find illustrative of some of the issues with talking about R2P: the prevention/intervention distinction, non-military coercive prevention measures, and strategy in intervention.
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