Monday morning specials – interesting reading to start your week

Some randomly interesting things for your Monday morning reading

  1. Best article of the year about use of US navy (added as an update)
  2. Animated map of Middle East history
  3. Good news about the environment!
  4. The War Nerd is back

1.  Best article of the year about use of US navy

From the Desk of the Armchair Admirals“, by Galrahn at Information Dissemination (A professional Navy centric blog), 25 August 2008 — Opening

Since the American navy now possesses command of the sea, however, and since the Soviet surface navy is in no position to challenge this except in struggles for local supremacy in the Baltic and Black Seas, the Navy can no longer accept this Mahanite definition of its mission. Its purpose now is not to acquire command of the sea but rather to utilize its command of the sea to achieve supremacy on the land. More specifically, it is to apply naval power to the decisive strip of littoral encircling the Eurasian continent.

This means a revolution in naval thought and operations. For decades the eyes of the Navy have been turned outward to the oceans and the blue water, now the Navy must reverse itself and look inland where its new objectives lie. This has, however, been the historical outlook of navies which have secured the uncontested control of the seas, and as Admiral Nimitz has pointed out, during the period of British domination “it is safe to say that the Royal Navy fought as many engagements against shore objectives as it did on the high seas.” It is a sign of the vigor and flexibility of the Navy that this dificult change in orientation has been generally recognized and accepted by naval writers and the leaders o fhe naval profession.

The application of naval power against the land requires of coarse an entirely different sort of Navy from that which existed during the struggles for sea supremacy. The basic weapons of the new Navy are those which make it possible to project naval power inland. Those appear to take primarily three forms: …

2.  Animated map of Middle East history

Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans…the list goes on. Who will control the Middle East today? That is a much bigger question.

See 5,000 years of history in 90 seconds at Maps of War.  See their contents page for other interesting maps.

3. Good news about the environment

Coal Burning Leaves Toxic Heavy Metal Legacy in the Arctic“, Joseph R. McConnell and Ross Edwards, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 26 August 2008, 5 pages, PDF.  The study was conducted by the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Reno, Nev. and partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

Excerpt (bold emphasis added):

Toxic heavy metals emitted by industrial activities in the midlatitudes are transported through the atmosphere and deposited in the polar regions; bioconcentration and biomagnification in the food chain mean that even low levels of atmospheric deposition may threaten human health and Arctic ecosystems. Little is known about sources and long-term trends of most heavy metals before 1980, when modern measurements began, although heavy metal pollution in the Arctic was widespread during recent decades.

Lacking detailed, long-term measurements until now, ecologists, health researchers, and policy makers generally have assumed that contamination was highest during the 1960s and 1970s peak of industrial activity in North America and Europe. We present continuous 1772–2003 monthly and annually averaged deposition records for highly toxic thallium, cadmium, and lead from a Greenland ice core showing that atmospheric deposition was much higher than expected in the early 20th century, with tenfold increases from preindustrial levels by the early 1900s that were two to five times higher than during recent decades. Tracer measurements indicate that coal burning in North America and Europe was the likely source of these metals in the Arctic after 1860.

Although these results show that heavy-metal pollution in the North Atlantic sector of the Arctic is substantially lower today than a century ago, contamination of other sectors may be increasing because of the rapid coal-driven growth of Asian economies.

4.  The War Nerd is back

Now posting at the new The Exile Online.  Update his link on your Internet Explorer Favorites.  Here is a recent article in his classic style:  The Taliban Strikes Back, 21 July 2008.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Archives of other posts on these subjects

  1. Science, Nature, and Geopolitics
  2. Iraq & Afghanistan Wars – my articles
  3. Iraq & Afghanistan Wars – other valuable reports

23 thoughts on “Monday morning specials – interesting reading to start your week”

  1. For a great Russian – Georgia article, see Michael Totten: “‘Are You Going to the American Side?’“, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2008.

    The non-innocent Georgians lost to the more guilty Russians, who are anti-American:

    My husband said he was going to see his family,” she said. “And the Russians said again, ‘Are you going to the American side?'”
    “So the Russians view you as the American side, even though there are no Americans here.”
    “Yes,” she said. “Because our way is for democracy.”

    I think the key American Foreign Policy ideals are support for Free Trade, and Democracy.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You get to vote your views. I doubt many will agree with the policy you advocate in other comments of “paying any price, supporting any burden” to help other peoples change their government.

    Also, IMO, Totten gives a simplistic view of the situation. Geopolicits seldom allows these black and white descriptions (WWII spoiled us in this respect, making us think these were the norm). But these crayon sketches are good at starting wars.

    The War Nerd gives a far superior (and more entertaining) analysis here: “War Nerd: South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams“.

  2. “Its [US Navy] purpose now is not to acquire command of the sea but rather to utilize its command of the sea to achieve supremacy on the land. More specifically, it is to apply naval power to the decisive strip of littoral encircling the Eurasian continent.”

    The fantastic idea of US supremacy over European and Asian countries using nuclear aircraft carriers is laughable, given the current US problems in gaining supremacy in even two backwater countries under US long-time military occupation, as well as the low popular standing that the US suffers from in the world, as well as the completely rational resistance of anybody anywhere to accede to foreign domination. In military terms, navy ships particularly in littoral environments are increasingly vulnerable to new generations of missiles, torpedoes and quiet submarines. Better not start something, or there will be squids in the water. Iran comes to mind.

    Military power is only one component of national power. China doesn’t need naval control of the seas to increase its economic supremacy over the United States, nor to extend its influence into Africa, for two examples.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I believe you are over-reading his words. He said local superiority, not dominating entire countries. Also, in context, he is not referring to our allies (e.g., France) or other great powers (e.g., China, Russia), but the mostly 3rd world areas in which conflict occurs.

    I am sure Galrahn would agree with you that “Military power is only one component of national power.” He is writing a navy-centric blog, and our navy is charged with executing our current national security strategy (as noted above). That is the broader context of his writing.

  3. Hats off, again, to Don for his succinct comment. I would add that besides military and economic power ideological power is an important part of national power. America had this for years after WW II, as it rebuilt Germany and Japan and flourished in its own country. The world notices that our economic success, as well as our practice of democracy, our fidelity to the ideals of equality and opportunity, have faded in recent years. We are looked at as hypocrites, not models to imitate.

    Thanks, FM, for pointing us toward the “War Nerd”. He’s terrific!

  4. I agree with Don Bacon. Galrahn misses the point that most U.S.Americans seem to miss (judged by their internet presence in national security matters): Cost efficiency.

    Why should anyone want to dominate distant regions at the costs that this implies? The USA would need to rip off those dominated countries like the British did in their Empire to benefit by such dominance.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree. However, Galrahn operates in a narrower context, within our present national security strategy — which is, of course, what our Navy is charged to execute. That calls for aggressive global operations.

  5. Uh, Soviet Navy? Seriously? I couldn’t get past those two words. I assume the rest of the analysis was just as factual, accurate and incisive.

    And reading the War Nerd’s article on Afghanistan gave me another sickening Soviet reference. Do we (pardon, for FM’s worldwide audience, do the NATO forces) really have to make every single mistake the commissars made? Is is some sort of requirement for any force that invades Afghanistan that they must, at all costs, all make the same stupid gambits of attempting to buy off the locals, then try to play the Tadjiks (or others) against the dominant Pastuns, then try to co-opt the Pashtuns, all the while militarily vacillating between a strategy of indiscriminately applying heavy weapons to villagers (and declaring to the media that you’ve killed a bunch of bad guys and an “important commander” – every single time) and the tactic of building outposts to “pacify” or “disrupt” the “insurgents”? Does no one remember reading these exact same stories back in the 1980’s when it was the Soviets making this mistake? Or reading about the First Anglo-Afghan war?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Re your second point… Yes, this is a common pattern of history. Folks operate with a narrow set of beliefs, which leads different nations to often make the same mistakes. Odd, but true.

    We see this clearly in economics. This synchronicity (or fashions) in economic policy — even when dysfunctional — accounts for the oddly high degress of correlation in national economic cycles (along with other factors, of course).

  6. To: Don Bacon

    There is a difference between sending in thousands of troops to occupy a country (more of an army thing, no?) and having diplomatic negotiations go that much smoother because there happens to be an aircraft carrier hanging around off the coast. But for gunboat diplomacy to work one needs the biggest gunboats (its like a protection racket, if someone else has a bigger/better fleet he’ll force you out and take over your business) and they must be a credible threat to the locals onshore.

    The linked post is an exercise, not a prescription. As you said the ships are most vulnerable near the coast. And as Galrahn has recognised the current Navy is organised towards controlling the sea. The current environment requires a navy that controls the littorals and observes/intervenes inland, while defending itself from shallow-water or land-based threats. So, given all that and a limited budget, what ships would you ordered built?

  7. Since the American navy now possesses command of the sea

    I take this to mean that the United States navy currently could sink the Russian, Chinese, or any other national navy. However, there is another understanding of “command of the sea” which potentially is being thrown into question. See, eg:

    Piracy Flourishes Along Crucial Shipping Lane

    In an age when piracy has come to mean copying someone else’s intellectual property, the sea-faring variety hasn’t gotten much attention. But it’s making a comeback along the 1,800-mile coastline of Somalia, a failed state where the law has little control.

    Just last week, pirates attacked four ships off the coast, hijacking the vessels and kidnapping their crews.

    Currently, this is background noise. But the Achilles heel of the United States, including any sort of navy it might have, is its economy. And should pirates render the sea lanes unsafe, the sort of “supremacy on land” sort of navy we are discussing would be left high and dry.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Galrahn has written about the rise of piracy. We have the capability of surpressing it, but it is (as historically) largely a diplomatic issue. Not a matter of naval power.

  8. To expand on my prior post, I would like to propose a potential commerce raiding type strategy, analogous to – say the Confederate Alabama or the War of 1812 privateers – as a counter to any “supremacy on land” type navy.

    In this commerce raiding type strategy a hostile power would not need to man its own fleet. Rather, it could subsidize, train, equip, support, and retain various Somali, Malay, and other type pirates, who would devastate maritime – and particularly United States – commerce. The hostile power would maintain deniability while doing so.

    The United States “supremacy on land” type navy would be poorly equipped to respond.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I doubt very much the US navy would be poorly equipped to respond. By the time pirates were recruited, trained, and equipped the US navy would be able to respond. With the aid of the world’s other nations (cummulatively they have impressive capabilities, focused on coastal defense).

  9. esd29a,
    Can you provide some examples of “having diplomatic negotiations go that much smoother because there happens to be an aircraft carrier hanging around off the coast” creating “a credible threat to the locals onshore?”

    It’s thinking like this that causes the US to be disliked around the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if your comments were right now being picked up and republished as a prime example of Ugly Americanism.

  10. Don: I think esd19a was being ironic, echoing the quaint colonial language of Heart of Darkness. I always presumed there was such a thing as “power projection”, though, for example, in the case of Taiwan. And maybe our fleet in the Gulf has inhibited Iran from taking more harmful measures against us in Iraq. Still, I agree with you — the idea of controlling the globe this way is a fantasy.

  11. plato’s cave,
    I like navy guys. I like Galrahn, to a point. Thoughtful navy guys generally have a better appreciation of the world compared to army guys (like me) who simply need to be dropped off at any convenient warsite and pointed in the right direction. So I read Galrahn, when he sticks to stuff he knows about.

    Some navy guys, like Galrahn and esd29a, get carried away occasionally and actually think that they influence situations in other countries. Like when I meet one of my peers and he says he served in ‘Nam, and I ask where and when, and he says in ’69 on the USS Blank. Sure. Instant loss of credibility. Kind of like John McCain who thinks that flying a plane over Hanoi and dropping bombs on power stations makes him a national security expert.

    So lets see what esd29a comes up with for successes in gunboat diplomacy. He must have had something in mind, as a thoughtful navy guy.

  12. Great discussion, and Don always fun to debate.

    I look at the US Navy approach to the Black Sea situation and that to me is what gunboat diplomacy is. Essentially the NATO policy is to apply political pressure Russia, and in this case they are using warships to do it. A humanitarian operation with a second rate battleship? Hard to say this is anything other than gunboat diplomacy.

    However the term is often misused. The reason we send amphibious ships to South America or Africa with a ton of engineers and doctors is because they have a shallow draft that gives them access to ports. Those are true humanitarian missions from sea, and the results are positive.

    MF didn’t read, otherwise he would have realized I was quoting Samuel Huntington from 1954, a Proceedings article that I believe applies today. Command of the Sea in the 21st century is achieved precisely because it is conceded, not disputed. The United States is the worlds only superpower, but the world has many regional major powers. What is the role of a Navy in peacetime? That is the strategic question.

    There are plenty of ways a superpower can do this with naval power. Piracy is background noise, always has been, and won’t be taken seriously until the RoE changes. The international legal system is the biggest problem with piracy.

    @Don Re: China and Africa. Note, China doesn’t need to invest military power into Africa, the vast majority of weapons provided to Africa come from Chinese or Syrian ships, with weapons built in China or Syria. Syria is the minor actor…

    China moves Africa with money and by bankrolling the guys with guns, we went down that road in the past, and I’m not sure that is the strategic approach we want to try again. Doesn’t stop others though…

  13. Re: the Black Sea,
    The claim above was that diplomatic negotiations go smoother with gunboats hanging around creating a threat, when the current news is that the deputy chief of Russia’s general staff said the arrival of the McFaul (a guided missile destroyer) and other U.S. and NATO ships would increase tensions in the Black Sea. Increased tensions, wonderful. Good for diplomacy.

    Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. If the Russkies sailed the Kuznetsov into Norfolk harbor right now, would that smooth US diplomatic negotiations with Russia?

    Navy guys ought to get off their ships more, get out of the bars and get out into the country. People in other countries aren’t that much different from us. They don’t suffer insults any better than we do, for example.

  14. To throw more fat on the fire regarding my contention that piracy is a growing naval issue, I provide links to the RAND study The Maritime Dimension of International Security Terrorism, Piracy, and Challenges for the United States and to the Terrorism Monitor article, Terrorism and Piracy: The Dual Threat to Maritime Shipping

    The RAND study, which I have not read, has a summary, which begins:

    Acts of piracy and terrorism at sea are on the rise, but there is little evidence to support concerns from some governments and international organizations that pirates and terrorists are beginning to collude with one another, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

    while the Terrorism Monitor report concludes:

    If terrorist groups ever decide to “hire” local pirates, then the world’s navies may well see their mission shift from the more heroic one of deploying missile-armed submarines and carrier task forces to the more mundane task of providing merchantmen escorts in unglamorous brownwater zones.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Certainly true. The two points made above were…

    (1) It is largely — but not exclusively — a diplomatic issue. Pirates — like most forms of large-scale organized crime — exists with the support of local governments.

    (2) The world’s navies can easily deal with the problem, assuming local governments cooperate and sufficient resources (probably not massive) are allocated to the task.

    Note RAND is a first-rate source of data and analysis, but has a strong bias towards its major employer. Threats tend to be serious and growing, and foten require a strong military response.

  15. Don,

    Do you honestly believe the Navy has much to say about this, as if the Navy is who is making decisions?

    Seems to me the approach being taken in the Black Sea is politically driven, because it is certainly centered on partnership given we see Turkey, Germany, Spain, Poland, and the US all together in this venture. If I had to choose, I would take that approach over a unilateral one any day.

  16. Update on piracy (see Duncan Kinder’s comments)

    Naval forces establish Somalia safety zone“, Lloyd’s List, 25 August 2008 — Excerpt

    “COALITION naval forces in the Gulf of Aden have finally moved to establish a patrol zone that should offer merchant vessels safe passage through the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.

    “… Responding to the widespread concern in the shipping sector, US Naval Forces Central Command yesterday issued a statement on the establishment of what it called a Maritime Security Patrol Area with immediate effect. This area, which is under the command of Commodore Bob Davidson of the Royal Canadian Navy, will be patrolled by coalition naval assets, while coalition aircraft will patrol the airspace.”

    Hat tip to Galrahn at Information Dissemination.

  17. Let’s go back to Don’s other point — even if we could patrol all the world’s strategic coastal flashpoints, would it enhance our security, or influence, or budget? The whole tenor of FM’s posts over the past two years argues that our national priorities and foreign policy are highly over-weighted toward the military solution. We have bitten off more than we can chew and need to learn that smaller is better.

    There is no doubt that we have entered an era of “resource wars”, but war in this usage is only a metaphor meaning serious struggle.

  18. Galrahn: “I look at the US Navy approach to the Black Sea situation and that to me is what gunboat diplomacy is. Essentially the NATO policy is to apply political pressure Russia, and in this case they are using warships to do it.”

    Russia recognises Georgian rebels“, BBC, 26 August 2008 — “President Dmitry Medvedev has declared that Russia formally recognises the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

    So much for gunboat diplomacy.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Politicos frequently order their military to support doomed policies. That reflects on the folks setting foreign policy, not those attempting to make it happen. Galrahn did not claim that “gunboats” were magic wands.

  19. Sending American ships to the Black Sea is nothing more than a visual accompaniment, or photo op, of the administration’s “strong” disapproval of Russia’s actions in Georgia. The motivation is purely domestic political, to appear tough so as not to be accused by democrats of being weak. I’m sure Russia was informed ahead of time and told not to worry.

  20. plato’s cave,

    I think you are correct. I see a lot of style from the US, but not much on substance.

    “even if we could patrol all the world’s strategic coastal flashpoints, would it enhance our security, or influence, or budget?”

    The Navy’s maritime strategy outlines why the Navy will not be everything to everyone, but will concentrate on the development of local security forces (read coast guards) so that they can enforce the rule of law within their maritime boundaries. This is one example where the US Navy “uses” command of the sea to focus on training. Where the US Navy can assist is with enabling information sharing technologies, and insuring access to those standard technologies.

    This is why many desire maritime navigation radars with transponders that are compatible with the maritime industry tracking technologies. These are regional coast guard enabling technologies, which can be constructed in one country but used regionally by many. The pilot system is working in the Med, but this technology would be useful in other places, in particular to combat piracy. I would argue that would enhance our security, influence, and be a cost effective use of budget resources.

    That “Bonga” attack by MEND was a no joke screw up where we all got lucky. I see it as a blatent example of misguided strategic priorities that the closest Navy ship was in Rota.

  21. Galrahn,
    So the US couldn’t train the Nigerian Coast Guard if it didn’t have a dozen or so nuclear carrier fleets sailing back and forth in all the world’s oceans, when the newest Ford Class carrier costs from $8-$11 billion each, plus hundreds of millions for annual upkeep not to mention many billions more for planes and escort ships?

  22. Another article about pirates is Pirates help fund Somali warlords

    While much of this article serves to flesh out points which we have already discussed, the following sentence in it is most interesting: “A pirate network is believed to stretch from Europe to Dubai, identifying targets and feeding intelligence to the gangs based along Somalia’s long coastline.

  23. My apologies to Galrahn for my flip comments earlier. He is correct, I did not see that it was a quote and thought he was just another commentator stuck in the past. I did read the work and regard it as an excellent analysis.

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