Martin van Creveld: Do the cycles of history work against us?

Summary:  In his third post about the real revolution in military affairs, the evolution of western armies into pussycats, Martin van Creveld looks for explanations in the cycles of history.

"The Wheel of Fortune" from Garden of Delights (1164).

“The Wheel of Fortune” from Garden of Delights (1164).

 

Pussycats III, or
the Rise and Fall of Empires

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 8 October 2014

Posted with his generous permission

 

“What is time?” asked Saint Augustine. And, answering his own question, wrote: “I know what it is, but I cannot easily explain it.” Thirteen hundred years or so later Isaac Newton described some of time’s outstanding characteristics as he saw them. In his scheme of things time had an objective existence, i.e. it was not something that existed merely in our feelings or thought. It moved from the past to the future, never the other way around. Flowing along, so to speak, it could never repeat itself. The speed of the flow was fixed, and nothing could interfere with it.

The Einsteinian Revolution challenged these ideas. Nevertheless, to this day many, perhaps most, people see time in Newtonian terms. Some scholars believe that the idea had something to do with the invention of mechanical clocks around 1300. But that is a subject we cannot explore here. Suffice it to say that, around 1760, it was joined by the idea of progress. Not only did time move from the past to the future, but as it did so things became better, or at any rate were capable of becoming better, than they had been. All men will become brothers” wrote Friedrich Schiller in his “Ode to Joy” (1785).

Shifting the emphasis from the individual to the polity, the father of modern history, Friedrich Hegel, led his strong support to this idea. So did all three of the most important modern ideologies that drew on his work, i.e. liberalism, socialism/communism, and fascism. As Steve Pinker‘s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) shows, not even the experience of two world wars, Auschwitz and Hiroshima have put an end to the idea that man, and by implication society, is capable of moral improvement and has actually been improving.

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Stratfor: The Middle East Recalibrates After the Nuclear Deal with Iran

Summary: The six world powers and Iran have come to an agreement about the curbing of Iran’s nuclear program. But it would be a mistake to assume that this agreement will result in an immediate, or even short-term, decrease in violence or competition among the Middle East’s strongest powers. In fact, the opposite will be the case. Iran will use its newfound international legitimacy to attempt to realize its ambitions to become the regional hegemon. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a host of small countries and even smaller religious and ethnic groups will all compete and at times align for influence.

Stratfor

After the Nuclear Deal, a Region Recalibrates
Stratfor, 28 July 2015

Though reams of bureaucratic red tape remain to be cut in the coming months, it seems likely that the joint accord will pass the U.N. Security Council. Furthermore, it will be extremely difficult for both houses of the U.S. Congress to muster the two-thirds votes necessary to prevent the lifting of certain U.S. sanctions levied against the Islamic Republic.

Normalization with the West will give Iran the chance to improve its economy and recruit foreign investment, and will also open up potential relationships that sanctions prevented from developing. Proxy battles and diplomatic rapprochements on the periphery of the Middle East will continue apace, but Iran’s primary focus will be on Baghdad. Control of Iraq is the necessary condition for Iran projecting force in the Middle East, whereas lack of control or, worse, control of Iraq by another outside power, would constitute a direct threat.

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In our wars the tactics of the weak confound the strong

Summary: Few things are sadder in our long war than reading prescient articles from the past which we disregarded. Like the one shown below from 2003 which not only accurately predicted our failures but explained why and how they would happen. Perhaps ten years from now you will read it again and marvel at how well it predicted our failure in the new wars beginning today. Until then read this to help you better understand events, new game of rock-paper-scissors behind the headlines.

4GW

Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid

Introduction by GI Wilson

The debate about modern war continues, with the highest stakes — not just the almost trillion- dollars/year in US defense spending, but perhaps national survival as well. Have wars between nation states become obsolete, with 4th generation warfare (4GW) the real threat?

Most of DoD’s spending goes to preparing for conventional great power war, so 4GWs are fought largely with conventional tools (e.g., bombing). It must be so in order to preserve the many “rich rice bowls” in Washington, DC. As Eisenhower warned us, the DOD-Congressional-Industrial Complex (DICC) grows rich by preparing for wars with other nations. These are the wars DOD wants, but not the ones it gets.

DOD’s acquisition based strategy requires “peer competitors” to justify the vast wasteland of defense spending, habitual cost over runs, and dysfunctional weapons programs. If other nations don’t play the game, information operations on the US people manufacture the necessary threats.

Unfortunately, this high-tech-high-cost approach to national security against our serious foes (e.g., ISIS, AQ, Hezbollah) consistently fails, or even acts as an enabler.

Congress and DOD with their addiction to all-things-high-tech-high-cost do not recognize nation states have lost their monopoly on violence. We lack an adaptive and comprehensive strategy to cope with emerging 4GW threats. Our current wars fail because the in 4GW the weak confounds the strong. The following essay was written in 2003, but applies today because we have learned almost nothing.

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The 97% consensus of climate scientists is only 47%

Summary: In February 2014 I examined surveys of climate scientists and found (as had others) that they showed broad agreement with the IPCC’s headline statement about warming since 1950. However time brings new research, such as a major survey that digs deeper and finds that only a minority of climate scientists agree with the full keynote statement of AR5 — the most recent IPCC report. That’s important news.

In March – April 2012 the PBL Netherlands Climate Assessment Agency, with several other scientists, conducted a survey of approximately 6,550 scientists studying climate change. It was published as “Scientists’ Views about Attribution of Global Warming” by Bart Verheggen et al in the 19 Aug 2014 issue of Environmental Science and Technology (peer-reviewed). In April 2015 they published a more detailed report (used in this post).

This survey covered many of the frontiers of climate science. This post examines one the questions about the keynote statement of the IPCC’s most recent work — Assessment Report 5 (AR5)…

“It is extremely likely {95%+ certainty} that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. ”

— From the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I.

The PBL survey is the first I’ve seen to test agreement with both facets of that statement. First, how much of the global surface warming is caused by anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases? (Note AR5 referred to all factors; see “Details” below). Only 1,222 of 1,868 (64% of respondents) agreed with AR5 that the answer was over 50%. If we exclude the 164 (8.8%) “I don’t know” respondents, 72% agree with the IPCC. So far, so good.

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For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace

Summary:  To understand the dynamics and stakes of the Iran deal we should look at our past, rather than conservatives’ confident warnings about the future. The peace we’ve enjoyed for decades results in part from 50+ years of arms control treaties — all strenuously fought by the Right. We can learn much from their false predictions, as they’re repeated today about Iran.

Atomic bomb explosion

Contents

  1. Unceasing war.
  2. Clinton takes a turn.
  3. Obama negotiates a New START.
  4. Reagan the peacemaker.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Unceasing war

The far-right’s grand strategy since WWII has been one of unceasing war and rigid opposition to all arms control treaties (we are always in 1938 Munich; are foes are always NAZI Germany). We see that in their opposition to a deal with Iran (where the likely alternative is war), just as we saw in their support for the continued above ground nuclear testing that was blanketing the world with radioactive fallout. Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted in 1963 against the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty JFK negotiated in 1963. Fortunately saner people prevailed.

To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout. These debates would play out repeatedly during the next 6 decades, but not always with a happy ending.

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News! Journalists doing their job, critically reporting on rising seas & the bee-pocalypse.

Summary: In their desperate race for survival in a world with too many journalists, they’ve given a warm reception to all kinds of doomsters. Events this week suggest that at least some journalists have realized that they have no competitive advantage at clickbait, but that there will always be a market for good journalism — especially when challenging the conventional wisdom.

Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in "Psycho" (1960).

 

Contents

  1. The bee-pocalypse.
  2. The sea rise over our cities.
  3. For more information.

 

(1)  The coming bee-pocalypse

The story of the bee-pocalypse shows why we’re so poorly misinformed despite the massive growth of the news media, both professional and amateurs. The story has run for years, but with little debunking in the major news media. That they don’t grapple with major stories, especially such easily debunked ones, shows one reason they’re in decline.

For 8 years we’ve heard about death of honey bees (probably due to pesticides) and the resulting wreck of agriculture, told with varying degrees of hysteria by a wide range of publications. Some examples are “Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“ by Josie Glausiusz in Discover (July 2007),  “Honey bee apocalypse may not be caused by evil corporations after all” by George Dvorsky at io9 (June 2012) and “The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“ by Todd Woody at Quartz (May 2013).

Feeding the hysteria, Bryan Walsh wrote incendiary articles at the once-great Time magazine…

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Stratfor: how the Iran deal will change the long-term price of oil

Summary: Oil is the most politically and economically sensitive mineral; all lines cross in the oil markets. Here Stratfor discusses how the Iran deal will affect oil prices, which will affect everybody.

Stratfor

How the Iran Deal Will Affect Oil Markets in the Long Term
Stratfor, 17 July 2015

Forecast

  • Iran will offer joint venture contracts to attract international energy companies, which will give the country some advantage over Persian Gulf producers.
  • Tehran will need more than five years to achieve its goal of producing 6 million barrels per day.
  • Legal requirements imposed on foreign firms in Iran will still make operating in the country less cost-effective.

Analysis

Iran was once one of the world’s largest exporters of oil. But ever since Western powers imposed sanctions on the country, a shortage of foreign investment has crippled what is now a corrupt and mismanaged energy sector.

With the announcement of a nuclear deal with the West, and the prospect of some sanctions relief within a year, Iran is now looking to revitalize its oil and gas industry. Tehran wants to increase its oil production from its current level of about 3 million barrels per day to 4 million barrels per day within six months of sanctions removal. And its longer-term goal is even more ambitious: By 2020, Tehran hopes to raise its production levels even higher than they were prior to the sanctions — roughly 6 million barrels per day.

Iran will likely need much more time to achieve that level of production. To develop new oil fields and new technology, Tehran needs access to more than $100 billion of investment — funds that the government is hoping to get from foreign investment. And while relaxed sanctions may open the country up to more outside funding, Iran also needs international oil companies to actually set up operations on Iranian soil. This could be a challenge; burdensome regulations have historically made it difficult for energy firms to operate in Iran despite the country’s ample reserves.

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