Le’ Notes #46: “Small navy” strategies – a short summary

In Note #6, I briefly discussed Mahan and Corbett’s views on naval power. What I neglected to cover was, what I call, “small navy” strategies. These are essentially naval strategies used by a weaker power against a stronger power. I’ll be covering the Jeune Ecole and the fleet-in-being strategy. Most of what is written here is a summary of Ian Speller’s Understanding Naval Warfare, Chapter 3.

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Geoffrey Till – The strategic importance of islands

This SemText summarises Geoffrey Till’s talk at CSIS Jakarta regarding the strategic uses and importance of islands in Southeast Asian maritime security.

Since 2013, China had embarked on a mission to create artificial islands in the South China Sea. In their view, these islands are markers of sovereignty; they mark Chinese influence over the maritime expanse of the South China Sea. Based on satellite data compiled by CSIS AMTI, many of these islands are already equipped with military installations. 

So, one question that could be asked: What’s up with islands? That is what Professor Geoffrey Till addresses in his lecture. I took the liberty of adding some points to his explanation, as he typically delivers his lectures in a very general manner. 

Simply put, there are two main parts of the lecture. First, he talked about the geographic importance of islands and how they contribute to maritime power. Second, he focuses on the emergence of new technologies and how this encourages a shift from “open ocean” operations to the littoral. This is supplemented with a review of trends in naval development in the Indo-Pacific, though it wasn’t too in-depth.

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The Future of War, Peace, and International Relations

I was going through my files and found this particular piece, from around 2 years ago, sitting in a metaphorical corner. The piece was requested by one of the editors of my department’s student magazines (they have this column where profs are invited to write), but as far as I know, it never made to print. So, instead of letting it sit, I might as well upload it here. I haven’t made any adjustments; everything is presented as it was the moment I sent it off to the editor. As this was intended for an undergraduate audience in a magazine, the language has been adjusted as such.

What does the future hold?

That question is the very reason why analysts and researchers remain employed and relevant. But it is not the easiest question to answer. Nobody knows what the future holds; we can only make educated guesses. So, I would recommend against thinking of my following commentary as a definitive answer. Rather, think of it as a guide to think in this increasingly perplexing world, particularly on the issue of war, peace, and international relations.

Technological acceleration will continue to be the defining feature of future international relations, along with a rise in populism as a counter-narrative to globalism. In war, technology will continue to play a dominant role as unmanned technologies become more advanced. But this doesn’t mean we will be living in a Terminator scenario. In peace, the future will only bring about newer problems that require new ways of thinking. With this in mind, what does the future hold?

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Le’ Notes #37: A very short introduction to Clausewitz

This post briefly covers Clausewitz’s main ideas on war, with specific reference to Books 1 and 2.

If you have (or are) studying war, the name Clausewitz will always pop up, and for good reason too. His treatise, On War, is one of the foundational texts in the study of war. In it, Clausewitz tries to create a sort of grand theory of war. So, what’s his theory of war? In this post, I’ll go through Clausewitz’s main ideas that make up his (unfinished) theory of war.

Before we go further, I’ll be taking most of the quotations from the Howard and Paret translation, as this is considered the academic standard of all On War translations. There are two versions of the Howard-Paret translation: the first being the original version (1976) and the second being the Everyman’s Library version (1993). Since I have the 1993 version, I’ll be using that as a reference. Note that the major difference is just the page numbering.

On War consists of eight books; however, for those who aren’t studying to become military commanders, you mostly need to be acquainted with Books I and II. These contain the essence of Clausewitz’s thoughts on war. However, if you have the time or are planning to further your understanding on Clausewitz, I suggest you read Bernard Brodie’s guide on how to read On War, present in the Everyman’s edition on page 775. It’s a really nifty study guide.

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Le’ Notes #32: Intelligence, the basics

This post covers the basics of intelligence: what it is, why it’s important, and how it works.

What is intelligence?

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When the word “intelligence” is brought up, you might have vivid images of a savvy English spy, drinking a martini (“Shaken, not stirred”) and conversing with a drop-dead beauty while surreptitiously listening in to the big bad mob boss on the other side of the club. Most likely, the word is associated with espionage and sabotage, the work of CIA spooks in third world countries like Jason Bourne (Bourne series) or Michael Westen (Burn Notice). But that is often the exception, rather than the norm. Most of the time, intelligence analysts are quietly sitting behind a computer and staring at a screen, occasionally yawning and adjusting his buttocks, waiting for a ping to come up. Covert action, like depicted in Hollywood movies, are also included in the activities of intelligence, but they arguably make up a very small piece of the overall pie.

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Le’ Notes #28: Why is it so hard to buy military transformation?

This post discusses the factors that make buying military transformation so difficult.

Why doesn’t the military get with the program? Why does the government seem so reluctant to buy those shiny new Gen-5 planes and ships? These are some of the questions I had when I was a snot-nosed undergrad aspiring to solve all of the country’s defence problems. I thought we could buy our way out of being a big country with a meagre defence force. I thought the government was stupid because it didn’t (or was too slow) to embrace the technological marvels that were on sale. The truth is, defence acquisition may be one of the most convoluted processes within the government, aside from implementing neoliberal macroeconomic policies.

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Le’ Notes #24: Models of the Revolution in Military Affairs

Continuing from the previous post (Note #23), this post introduces the major models of the RMA.

The previous post discussed the historical origins and the definitions of the revolution in military affairs. Now, let us take a look at the major models that seek to explain the RMA. The theories introduced range from Alvin and Heidi Tofflers’ “Wave theory” to the business-as-usual model.

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Le’ Notes #23: Introducing the revolution in military affairs

This post introduces the origins of the revolution in military affairs.

We are said to be in the middle of a self-conscious revolution in military affairs, or RMA for short. This assumption is grounded in the breakneck pace of technological advancement that’s happening almost on a daily basis. Every now and then, someone in Silicon Valley or DARPA or some whiz kid somewhere comes up with a new thing that promises to shake up or “disrupt” the entire world as we know it. Tesla Motors, for example, is trying out driverless cars. The South Korean military showcased their LEXO exoskeleton systems, which they had been developing since 2013. Suidobashi Heavy Industries have already marketed their Kurata robot, which was unveiled in 2012. The robot, which is basically just a bigger and capable exoskeleton, can be fitted with rapid-firing weapons. Although Suidobashi claims the Kurata only comes with BB guns, in the future, that may change to live ammo. However, the RMA is not just about technology. In the US.

 

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Hell yeah, future warfare

 

However, the RMA is not just about technology. In the US, the Department of Defence has been constantly trying to implement their Third Offset Strategy, which (at the risk of oversimplifying) basically wants to use a combination of technology and operational art to gain an edge over America’s adversaries and maintain their alliances. With President Trump in office, America might just be great again, although the alliances part might not be.

Sure, the future looks amazing. And bleak at the same time, considering we’re developing weapons of war. But, let’s step back for a moment and reflect on this RMA phenomenon. What is it? How did it start? How did we get here?

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