MIL: Warfare Basics

Billy Brown (
Tue, 23 Mar 1999 13:22:20 -0600

Randall Randall wrote:
> The point of that operation, I believe, was to restore State in an area
> where the local mini-States were having difficulty. Regardless of hype,
> the UN forces were supporting at least some of the warlords. I was in the
> US Army at that time, and some people from my unit (501st Signal Batt)
> went to Somalia -- they were confused, upon return, that family and
> friends thought that they'd been *looking* for a particular warlord, when
> in fact they'd been ferrying him around the country....

Actually, I thought the idea was to score some public relations points by "doing something" without going to the bother of actually taking effective action. As soon as it became apparent that we would actually have to fight someone to change the situation, Clinton decided it wasn't worth the bother and pulled out.

That being the case, I don't think this works as an example of insurgents resisting a superior military force.

> >Simply put, there is never a point at which military technology is 'good
> >enough'.
> Sure there is. No one has done research on more powerful explosives
> for some time, simply because we know hot to build high explosives (nukes)
> that are any desired size. This is an example of hardware that is good
> enough. The only exception, AFAIK, to this is computational power,
> which will be available in similar levels to everyone at low
> cost, as it is today.

We've spent quite a bit of money on new explosives in the last two decades, actually. We know it isn't possible to pack much more energy in a given mass of chemical explosive, but we've spent lots of money figuring out how to adjust other properties. For instance, there's that liquid explosive the army wants to use as a propellant for their new artillery.

Besides, what I'm talking about is the arms race effect. I make a gun that can penetrate your armor, so you make better armor. You make an airplane that is invisible to my radar, so I have to build better radar. This is an open ended process that strongly favors big organizations over small ones.

> Another option is to have enough cheap tools to throw away
> the ones that get abused.

Well, yes. But this doesn't affect my point.

> If they already have an unlimited budget, taken by force, yes. This begs
> the question, though. How is a ('til now) budget-conscious defense agency
> to spend all this money?

I would argue that in any situation where there are armed groups of various sizes that occasionally come into conflict, the bigger groups have a decisive advantage. A group that can afford machine guns and grenade launchers will massacre one armed only with rifles. A group that also has tanks and artillery will beat the guys with machine guns. A group that also has an air force has a higher level of advantage, and one with a space force is stronger yet.

This is important to evaluating anarchy, because it means that if armed conflicts occur with any significant frequency there will be a strong selection effect in favor of bigger organizations. It also illustrates the fact that a small PPA can not stand up to a big one, unless other large PPAs are willing to step in on its side.

> Economic growth will be so much faster in an anarchy than in a State,
> that similar (in current dollars) military expenditures will be a smaller
> and smaller proportion of total wealth. This does produce a window of
> opportunity with current growth rates, admittedly. After five or ten
> years, however, I would expect the anarchy to be far more wealthy
> than the State.

Yes, it will (at least, compared to militaristic states). However, that isn't good enough. To be safe, it has to spend more money on arms than the State does. Now, eventually that will also happen, but it will take several decades. Meanwhile, the anarchy is an easy target for any State that wants to take a bite.

Actually, even that isn't enough. The State has a single military force, with a unified command structure, which is optimized for real warfare. The anarchy has a collection of independent corporations who do a combination of police work, intimidation, and small-scale skirmishes (if they fight real wars with each other, you're going to have a new State within a couple of generations). That means the anarchists need a substantial advantage in financing to make up for the fact that they aren't really ready for war.

> This depends on what you want. If you want a small, high-tech, high-auto-
> mation force to defeat a particular aggressor, it may not take so long.

You're assuming that the anarchy has superior technology. There is no good reason to make that assumption. Take that same high-tech, high-automation approach and apply it to the aggressor's side of the equation. I think you'll see why a small force is never enough to deter a large one.

> If the conquering operation loses money consistently, it can never hope
> to conquer a significant portion of even the Earth, without collapsing.

True enough, but that won't stop them from trying. More to the point, it makes it very hard for a region of anarchy to survive in a world of States. You need some way to survive long enough for that superior growth rate to kick in, and you can't rely on economic calculations to deter an aggressor.

> We no longer live in an era where empires can last....

That remains to be seen. Terrorism has yet to destabilize a single country, after all. Universal surveillance is going to be a real possibility in a couple of decades, and mind control probably isn't too far behind it. It is not especially obvious to me how these developments will all work out.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I