Le’ Notes #17: Rational choice theory, part 2

This post continues the discussion on rational choice theory from Note #16. Now, I explore the core assumptions of rational choice theory and their application in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Previously, we’ve seen an application of game theory in assessing a wartime decision and a bit of the debate surrounding the rational choice theory school. Now, let’s dive in deeper into the rationalistic school and explore the core assumptions, which include bargaining theory, brinkmanship, and miscalculations/misperception.

Of course, this means borrowing a lot from behavioural economics, so we’ll have names such as Von Neumann and Thomas Schelling.

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Le’ Notes #16: Rational choice theory, part 1

This post discusses the rationalistic approach to war decisions and application of game theory in Napoleon’s Battle of Waterloo.

Why do people go to war?

There are a number of approaches that attempt to explain how people, especially political and military leaders, make decisions. I focus on wartime decisions: the decisions to start, wage, and end wars.

In the study of war decisions, the first we stumble upon is rational choice theory. This theory assumes that when making decisions, humans are completely rational. Of course, there are certain caveats. A person can only be rational so far as the amount of information they have at a given point in time. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20.

I present the views of Fearon and Kirshner in regards to the rationalistic approach of war. We’d see that the rationalistic approach does have its merits and drawbacks in assessing war decisions. And to cap it all, I’ll present Mongin’s application of game theory in assessing the feasibility of Napoleon’s decision in the Battle of Waterloo.

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Le’ Notes #15: The Indonesian Way of Guerrilla Warfare

This post is a collection of notes on reading A. H. Nasution’s Fundamentals of Guerrilla Warfare.

While most scholarship on guerrilla warfare gravitates around Mao and Giap, the name “Nasution” does not pop up that often. Which is quite unfortunate, considering Indonesia (and by “Indonesia”, I also include colonial Indonesia, though, at that time, Indonesia was yet to be conceived) has had a long history of fighting guerrilla wars against colonists. However, it was not until circa 1928 when the resistance started to consolidate. Prior to 1928, there were only local kings and sultanates organising localised resistance against the Dutch. The experiences of fighting guerrilla wars then became ingrained in Indonesian military thinking, and Nasution’s treatise, Fundamentals of Guerrilla Warfare, was part of that process.

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Le’ Notes #11: Nuclear Strategy

This post discusses the many sides of nuclear strategy.

Ah, the nuclear weapon. That mushroom cloud sure is iconic. We make jokes of nuking China or Russia and morbidly say that “two nukes aren’t enough” (sorry Japan). Even in the world of strategic thought, nuclear strategy has been debated to death; examined from every angle: economics, military, political, etc. Yet the interesting part of it is that, aside from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has yet to see another nuclear explosion. We may count North Korea’s fifth nuclear test. As such, nuclear strategy remains hypothetical and deductive. We lack the empirical data (fortunately) and information to create sound theories. Most of nuclear strategy is pure speculation; terms such as Mutually Assured Destruction, limited exchange, and second-strike… they’re all hypothetical.

In this day and age, we might say nuclear strategy is dead. That’s almost true, since the world has yet to see another Bernard Brodie or Herman Kahn. But it’s also not so true. You see, the foundations of any future nuclear strategy (hopefully we won’t have to come to that) would rest on the previous groundwork which previous nuclear strategists have already constructed. So, let me present the thoughts of the main nuclear strategists to get a grasp on what nuclear strategy is.

On a side note, you can learn equally as much from science-fiction, pop culture, and games such as Fallout. 

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Le’ Notes #10: The offence-defence balance

This post discusses strategic postures and how they influence the offence-defence balance.

One of the most prevailing dilemmas in international relations is figuring out whether or not that other guy is out to get me. He has weapons, some tanks, some planes, a possible nuclear ICBM… he must be planning to get me. But is that always the case? We can’t be certain 100% all of the time. This condition is known as the security dilemma, which remains an eternal feature in international relations. Where does the security dilemma come from? Realists say it’s from the fact that there’s no “big brother” to call for help, that the world is always in a state of lawlessness, for there is no God to watch over us. These conditions foster the urge to rely on oneself. As they say, “if you want something done, do it yourself”. The result is different strategic postures.

Now, we’ll talk about the offence-defence balance, or ODB for short. The study of ODB tries to figure out how states make their strategic postures and how the interaction between different postures play out.

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Le’ Notes #9: Insurgency and counter-insurgency

This post discusses insurgencies and how to counter them, drawing examples from the Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War.

“These guerrilla operations must not be considered as an independent form of warfare. They are but one step in the total war, one aspect of the revolutionary struggle. They are the inevitable result of the clash between oppressor and oppressed…” – Mao Tse-tung, On Guerrilla Warfare

What is the first image that comes to mind when the word “insurgent” is uttered? A middle-aged man, wearing a black balaclava and battle fatigues, armed with an AK-47 and several IEDs, squaring off against a bunch of well-equipped American soldiers? That might be the most popular description of an insurgent that we have today. For most of the time, we’ve been focused on the “big wars”. Now, let’s take some time to look at the “small wars”, when small armies hold their ground against larger armies. Though there are more examples of small wars around the world, for this post, I learned specifically about the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War.

We’ll learn about what insurgencies are and the different methods to counter them.

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Le’ Notes #7: Deterrence and Coercion

This post discusses the evolution of deterrence thought from the Cold War to the fourth wave (21st century).

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent – Isaac Asimov, Foundation

I find the above quote, written by the genius Isaac Asimov in Foundation, to quite fit the topic that I’m going to write about today, which is deterrence and coercion.

Let me just emphasize the violence in Asimov’s quote. Of course, Hardin (the character that utters the quote) is a cunning fox. When faced with the imminent danger from a nearby “barbarian” empire, violence was never his first option. Rather, he concocted a series of elaborate plans to deter the enemy without even having an army. His plan succeeded and ushered in years of peace. Well, at least for the Foundation.

I’ll write about the different types of deterrence, which is still a part of coercion. And then, we’ll see whether or not deterrence still remains a viable strategy today. If we still need deterrence, then deterrence for whom?

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Le’ Notes #6: Naval warfare and maritime strategy

This post discusses naval thought and maritime strategy from the three renowned thinkers: Mahan, Corbett, and Till.

Ah, maritime strategy. One of those niche areas where I actually didn’t have to read anything for the week’s lecture since I got the basics down. And no, despite the featured image of the Kagero-class destroyer Amatsukaze, I won’t be touching anything Kantai Collection related. I just find Amatsukaze cute, that’s all.

Despite humans being seafaring creatures for a large portion of history (this was especially true for ancient Indonesians and Polynesians), naval thought only became a “real science” when Mahan started out describing elements of naval power. From thereon, we’ve seen naval thought and maritime strategy develop over the years, from warships to merchant fleets.

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Le’ Notes #4: The Politics of Grand Strategy

This post discusses strategy, grand strategy, and the influence of politics on strategy and defining the national interest.

What’s the difference between strategy and grand strategy? And what does politics have to do with it? More than you think.

Though we might be acquainted with “strategy” strictly in military terms, we have to accept that the word has fallen into abuse over and over again. And it’s got even more muddier ever since Liddell Hart came up with the definition of “grand strategy” as being the use of all national resources to achieve political objectives. So here, let’s talk about the politics of grand strategy, how it is formed, and how politics sometimes fail strategically.

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