November 17, 2008: Many critical
military events never get much publicity. Sometimes it's because they involve
espionage; often it's because, well, the media never really gets interested.
Here are ten (in alphabetical order) you should at least be aware of:
1. Anti-Terrorism Operations. Oh, sure,
you hear about this in the news, but never in detail. And it's the details that
make or break these efforts. A lot of the effort is plain old detective work -
a lot of stakeouts, many interviews with suspects, or their friends, family or
neighbors. Even more underground are the electronic operations (bugging
terrorist e-mail, phone calls) and crypto (breaking secret codes used on phone
calls and e-mail.) All this work is very expensive, and if the FBI, CIA, NSA,
etc. decide to shift their resources elsewhere, you won't see it in the news.
You will see, months down the line, an increase in successful terrorist
2. Bureaucrats vs. the Troops.
Increasing government regulation, which long avoided the military, now goes
after the troops as well. Environmental regulations limit training. Equal
opportunity rules have brought calls to allow the disabled to join the
military. Lawyers strive for the right to sue the armed forces for real or imagined
injuries. Some armed forces have been allowed to unionize. The bureaucrats know
little of how the military operates, so they charge ahead with the best of
intentions, and often disastrous results. In many countries, the military is
little more than a bunch of poorly trained civil servants with guns.
3. Jointness Games. Sailors the world
over have more in common with each other than they do with soldiers in their
own country. Most nations just accept the fact that their army, air force and
navy don't get along much. But in the United States there has developed a minor
religion called "Jointness." The American military takes war
seriously, so much so that they acknowledge the need for real cooperation
between the three services. Making this cooperation a reality is another
matter. You don't hear much about jointness, which is just as well. It's more
of an ideal than a reality. But efforts are being made, and their success or
failure will be known the next time there's a war.
4. Media Wars. Most of us know what
putting "spin" on a story means. What we don't know is how much of
this goes on all over the world, and then filters back to us as
"news." All the two or three dozen wars going on at the moment have
layers of media spin and distortion surrounding them. This makes it hard to
find out exactly what's going on. The situation has become more complex in the
last decade with the growing use of spin by NGOs (Non Governmental
Organizations like the Red Cross, UN and Oxfam). This has a big impact on how
wars are reported, or misreported. At
least now you know your being spoofed.
5. Military Pork Barrel. Most of the
$1.3 trillion spent each year on defense worldwide comes with political strings
attached. For obvious reasons, politicians like to keep quiet the political
horse-trading that goes on when the defense budget is carved up. For good
reason, as "defense" generally takes second place to "how can
this help me get reelected, rich, or both." The battles over military pork
largely take place in the shadows. But the outcomes of these conflicts eventually
have an impact, usually catastrophic, on the battlefield.
6. Resurrecting the Red Army. Many
Russian officers, young as well as older Soviet era men, are keen to make the
Russian armed forces mighty once again, as they were in the days of the Soviet
Union's Red Army. The air force still uses the red star on their aircraft. The
glory days of the Red Army are honored and hailed as a force to be emulated. At
the moment, the money isn't there to rebuild the Russian armed forces. But the
desire is there, and will probably remain strong for some time to come.
7. The Bug Race. Information warfare,
centered on the Internet, is, more than anything else, a battle to find and
patch (for the good guys) or exploit (for the bad guys) flaws in the enormous
amount of computer software that runs the net. Much of this software is
"open source" (the original instruction, in plain text) and available
to anyone. The black hat hackers pore over this code looking for flaws. If they
find a bug before the white hat (good guy) hackers, mischief, damage or major
crimes will result. There's no magic involved. In fact, the major source of
serious net crime remains insiders going over to the dark side. But for anyone
else, it's a matter of who gets to the bugs first.
8. The People's Liberation Army, Inc.
Since the 1950s, China's armed forces (the People's Liberation Army) have
fought a losing battle against corruption. Some of it has been outright theft,
most of it was diversion of military resources for commercial gain (by senior
officers). The government ordered the generals to get rid of all their
businesses a decade ago. The generals have gone through the motions of
complying, but the struggle continues over exactly where the money goes. This
hurts the ability of the Chinese military to fight, but this is never discussed
in China, for obvious reasons.
9. Tribal Warfare. Many of the smaller
wars, and some of the large ones, are basically tribal conflicts. It's not
politically correct to dwell on this aspect of global disorder. But until we
do, these wars won't go away.
10. Who's Ready for What? The size of
armed forces usually is reported in terms of quantity, not quality. This is
odd, since most wars are decided by the quality of the troops, not how many of
them there are. "Readiness" is the term most often used to describe
this and you rarely get a straight answer when looking for the readiness of any
armed forces. But it's how much readiness a forces has, not how many troops or
weapons, that says it all regarding fighting power.