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