The View From Olympus: Closing the Toy Store

A friend of mine recently sent me some back issues of a prominent defense magazine, IHS Jane’s International Defence Review, which I enjoyed going through. Jane’s Fighting Ships was one of my favorite books when I was young, though I find warships have become less interesting as they have grown more hi-tech. If only Germany would complete the Mackensen-class battle cruisers…

But as I looked through the magazines, two thoughts came irrepressibly to mind. The first was that virtually none of the systems discussed or advertised have anything to do with real war, which is to say Fourth Generation war. They are useful only against other state armed forces, which is to say for jousts.

The second thought was that these weapons, sensors, etc. represent enormous amounts of money. Just as the knights’ armor became most elaborate and expensive when the knight was passing out of war, so the equipment of state armed forces has reached its highest prices just as those forces themselves become militarily irrelevant.

Here we see two serious threats to the state itself and to a world made up of states. On the one hand, the state’s armed forces cannot defend the state against Fourth Generation entities, which leaves states defenseless against their most dangerous threats. On the other hand, maintaining those armed forces has become so expensive that doing so is a major contributor to the bankruptcy of states.

The world economy is now a bubble of bubbles, public and private debt piled to the sky as politicians seek to give clients something for nothing, ordinary people try to hold on to shreds of a middle-class existence as real wages fall and central banks create ever more liquidity. We have seennthis pattern before, and it always ends up in the same place: a major, long-lasting debt crisis, a great fall in both public and private resources, and, in the end, hyper-inflation.

Soon, very soon I expect, no state will be able to go to the toy store anymore. The hyper-priced military systems we read about in Jane’s will be unaffordable. Governments will simultaneously face two facts they can no longer ignore: defense budgets must be cut drastically (along with the rest of the state’s budget) and their armed forces cannot win the wars that count.

Wise governments, and wise leaders of state armed forces, would not wait until the full crisis is upon them. They would begin now the reforms that must come later. Institutions do better when they can follow a plan rather than having to respond to panic.

What would such a reform program contain? First, it would move the state’s armed forces away from planning for war with other states and focus on the real 4GW threat. That means, among other things, pushing Second Generation militaries into the Third Generation as a necessary precondition for facing the Fourth. That at root requires a change in institutional culture. Second Generation military culture is inward focused on processes, procedures, orders, etc., it is highly centralized, it prefers obedience to initiative, and it depends on imposed discipline. Third Generation culture is focused outwardly on the situation, the enemy, and getting the result the situation requires. Decision-making is decentralized, initiative is prized over obedience, and it all depends on self-, not imposed, discipline.

Few state armed services will be able to make this transition. Their failure, ironically, will open the door to solving the budget problem. Simply defund, entirely, any service that cannot move beyond the Second Generation. As Mark Twain said of the male teat, they are neither useful or ornamental.

In their place build new armed services suitable for 4GW. Because the main 4GW threat is on home soil, most of these will be National Guards. Ground forces will be light infantry. Most personnel will be fighting men, who also have skills, drawn from their civilian lives, that are vital in restoring order and functionality to communities disrupted by 4GW (cops are especially useful). Almost all equipment will be off-the-shelf civilian goods modified as needed. Nuclear forces will remain hi-tech, but once built they don’t cost much and their bang for the buck is unrivaled.

Poor Jane’s will be reduced to writing about ultra-light aircraft, modified trawlers, and duel-use bulldozers. But perhaps someone here or there will use a bit of the money saved to build something interesting. Wasn’t there supposed to be a fourth Yamato? favicon

12 thoughts on “The View From Olympus: Closing the Toy Store”

  1. Well said as usual. Kudos!

    A minor quibble about second versus third-generation armies: don’t second-generation armies usually beat third-generation armies in the field? I mean, if the WWII Wehrmacht had spent less time racking up style points playing the maneuver game, and more time making sure they had enough raw firepower, maybe they wouldn’t have lost to the Americans and Russians. Just saying…

    More to the point, I agree entirely that the main thing coming is fourth generation warfare. And yes, we will need light infantry and security forces etc. to fight it, not white-elephant weapon systems better tailored to fighting the Imperial Japanese Navy than any modern opponent. But, I think a major point is being missed here. ‘Fourth generation war’ is not really a war as such. It is I think primarily a crisis of the legitimacy of the state: Islamic terrorists etc. are like those opportunistic infections that only bother people with compromised immune systems. Worrisome, and something that must be dealt with, but if you have a patient with a compromised immune system the primary focus should be the immune system.

    Increasingly under the doctrine of ‘neoliberalism’ we have an elite that feels no loyalty or concern for their subjects. If people starve, well screw them, they were not ‘globally competitive’ enough. If I can make more money by firing our own citizens and hiring foreign slaves, then it is my right to make money: why should one of my fellow citizens have any greater claim to my concerns than any other random person anywhere in the world? Why should I give a damn about anything but my own narrow self-interests? In the short run this extreme uber-capitalism is very profitable for the elites, but no matter what Milton Friedman was paid to say, in the long run this trades short-term profitability for long-term stability.

    We need FDR and Lee Kuan Yew, not Manstein or Patton.

    So yes, light infantry and border guards etc. But also: a society that protects the average person from the worst excesses of the law of the jungle, and that allows young men of average ability to earn a living and raise a family at a level that is broadly considered respectable at some minimal level. Don’t do this, have hordes of unemployed angry young men wandering around with nothing useful to do, and all the light infantry in the world won’t help you. Just like in the long run all the antibiotics in the world won’t save you if your immune system completely gives out…

  2. Off topic question for Mr. Lind. As a Canadian, one of the biggest problems that I find that my fellow countrymen currently face is their unbearable smugness, and self-delusion that they are the nicest and most polite people in the world. This partially stems from the fact that we’ve mostly been shielded from the chaos in Europe, and to a lesser extent America, during the last eight years, and usually manifests itself in bashing Americans in order to signal how enlightened Camadians are. I don’t believe progress can be made in Canada until Canadians have the assurance that they are polite and superior to Americans is taken away. What can be done about this self-deluding attitude while maintaining the moral high point without alienating the very Canadians we want to “convert” to our point of view?

  3. Mr. Lind – it would appear to me that your 4GW force is already in place- FBI, DHS, EPA, DEA, BLM, Police SWAT teams, yada yada. Every single alphabet agency has their own swat teams. And all of them have their enemies (us) at bay already. They ambush and murder terrorist ranchers, as the bolsheviks cheer them on. Why do we need our military as well on our own turf to kill us Americans? We are already the walking dead. All of Boston stayed indoors while the Cheka roamed about; this nation is conquered already- this latter day Praetorian Guard sacking what remains of the productive class will end when we are all dead, and they start killing each other for what remains.

  4. Israel’s defeats of the Arab armies present an example of the Third Generation defeating the Second.

    Per Martin van Creveld’s comparative analysis of the U.S. and German armies of World War II, the German army consistently outperformed the Americans on a unit-per-unit basis in terms of casualties inflicted, under virtually any circumstances. The advantage of a Third Generation fighting culture.

    That advantage can only get you so far though if the logistical mismatch between you and your opponent is just too large.

  5. Communication technology is FORCING us further and further from 3rd generation warfare. Same as what’s happening in business. How on earth does a decentralized model work when we have higher-ups watching live feeds and micromanaging from their situation rooms halfway across the world?

    The ultimate demonstration of that is the photo of the President and all his senior staff watching the Bin Laden mission feed live in the middle of the night. Aside from the voyeuristic impulse, the only imaginable reason for getting up in the middle of the night to watch that feed live would be for those people — even the President — to intervene in (i.e. micromanage) some aspect of the mission! The 3rd gen approach would have been for the White House to say “only wake me up if we run into a contingency with serious political repercussions that my staff can’t handle.”

    Giving management better situational awareness always makes them want more detailed control. Higher-ups obviously always know best, right? In business, we’ve seen that better and better information systems often lead to worsening decision-making. Indeed, the only thing that keeps many execs from micromanaging their businesses to technologically-enabled death is that there aren’t enough hours in the day!

  6. Sorry, but I’m not buying the 4GW nonsense. It still is state vs state and whoever proves to be the most resourceful will rise to be the winner. The 4GW warfare projected threats are only an outcome of the proxy warfare between states, and are either created on purpose as with ISIS to depose Assad or as an unintended consequence of a failed state policy.

  7. State vs state is still the dominant form of warfare. 4GW is merely state vs state warfare via proxies i.e it is a consequence of 3GW not being able to conduct direct warfare due to the nuclear deterrent and the MAD doctrine. Does anyone doubt that if not for the massive nuclear stockpiles of the US and Russia war would have broken out between the two and no “ISIS” proxy armies would be necessary to justify intervention from either side, meant not to defeat the 4GW “enemy” but the rival state, and where the 4GW fictitious enemies serve as an excuse? It’s exactly the reason ISIS is not being fought but “contained”, because it provides the justification for both sides to intervene in the region, against each other without openly declaring war.

  8. The F-35 is the perfect aircraft… for defense contractors and their politically-connected friends. Never quite finished, constantly needing one expensive fix or another, and, best of all, obsolete (and thus obviously needing an expensive replacement) the day it’s delivered. (Anyone with a brain in their heads who cared about combat readiness would be working on UAV fighters derived from the likes of the X-47, a fantastically successful program that the Navy just gutted.)

    In short, if you evaluate the F-35 according to the metrics of its stated purpose – which is to be a combat aircraft – it is a dismal failure. But if you evaluate it by the metrics of its actual purpose – which is to be a gigantic money-laundering scheme by which cash is circulated from the Treasury into the pockets of defense contractors, and then back into the pockets of politicians in the form of all the normal sorts of technically-legal bribes we’ve gotten used to – then it is a roaring success. Its remarkable, unprecedented achievements in terms of this actual purpose explain why the defense establishment supports this program no matter what, to the detriment of every other weapons system in the whole military. I mean sure, the A-10 is an amazing combat aircraft, but a 40-year-old aircraft that still does its job brilliantly is basically useless as a money-laundering scheme. Off to the scrapyard with it! Combat readiness? Hah! If anyone cared about that, they wouldn’t have filled the military with trannies, single moms, and gang members, all led by Affirmative Action hires and political yes-men.

    The F-35 is the ideal weapons system for its time – which is corrupt, decadent, late-stage imperial decline. Let it be our emblem.

  9. Israel beats the Arabs (until 2006 – 4GW Hamas vs an ossified 3GW>2GW Israel).

    Rome defeated Hannibal & Carthage. Russia defeated Napoleon. Grant defeated Lee. USA/USSR defeated Nazi Germany. Monty defeated Rommel. Force & Resource mostly defeats Manuever, in the end.

    A 3GW US military would have captured Bin Laden at Tora Bora, but I don’t think 3GW is all that relevant to fighting 4GW, in the end. Defeating 4GW needs police, militia, and the support of the people. The 2GW Russian military has had success in Syria vs 4GW Islamic State, because they operate in support of 4GW-adapted SAA and its militia, with 4e Hezbollah support. The minimal success the USAF has had has been operating in support of the 4GW YPG.

  10. While I would have preferred to see more F22s, I am not sure that it makes any sense to give up on an entire class of weapons that our enemies still have in abundance.
    And I would note that the Israelis want the F35.
    You sound like Representative Patricia Schroeder of Colorado who, in 1976, complained that the F15 was a waste of money and that what we really needed was more F4s..

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