Thursday, May 22, 2008

The MSM Misses the Bout Part III

The press coverage on the arrest of Viktor Bout has been sporadic. It is a sad commentary on the MSM that one of the best reports I’ve been able to find is from Mother Jones. Given Bout’s importance, a fourth estate that is actually fulfilling its part of the social contract should be blasting the story of Bout’s arrest from every headline.

Reading through this mound of background material for these posts, I still have some very nagging questions that cry out for some decent investigative reporting, the most prominent of which are:

1. Why Thailand? Despite the massive amounts of US funneled to Bangkok over the years since the Vietnam War (in some quarters earning Bangkok the moniker “Langley, East), why did Bout feel safe to travel there? With all the insurgencies in that part of the world, including one in Thailand itself, just how incompetent are the Thais as allies anyway? There’s a huge failure of US foreign policy angle for a story here, from the Philippines to Thailand to Pakistan.

2. Related to the previous question, just what game is Thailand playing, anyway? Why did they drop charges against Bout? Would the Thai charges take precedence and prevent his extradition to the US? It would seem to me that, if the Russians successfully block extradition to the US, having a backup set of charges to detain Bout with in Thailand would be a good idea. Who’s running the show in this prosecution? Given Bout’s connections, if this chance slips though the fingers of the Justice Department, it is unlikely there will ever be another chance to catch the man.

3. How deeply are US intelligence agencies involved with Bout, and were they protecting him or actively discouraging his prosecution? This should be classic MSM “US as the bad guy” material. Where is the expose?

4. Why did the Bush Administration allow the momentum that had built up against Bout at the end of the Clinton Administration to dissipate? This is clear failure of vision, of leadership, and evidence of a lack of ability to identify clearly the weak points in the OODA loop of the enemy we face. Once again, this ought to be red meat to the MSM.

5. To what degree is Bout a tool of Russian foreign policy? I’ve often said that I like Russians, but don’t think too much of Russia. One of the reasons is the serf-like tendency of Russian society to view life as a zero-sum game. The classic Russian attitude is that if someone has more than someone else, that wealth must have been stolen. The concept of creating wealth is foreign to Russia, understandably so. But this means that in Russia mobsters such as Mogilevich and Bout style themselves as “businessmen” with a straight face. There is a clear angle for a story on Russian internal politics their influence on foreign policy. Certainly, Bout is seen as a hero within certain ultra-nationalists:

«Виктор Бут по сути является идеальным образцом российского бизнесмена» -считает эксперт портала «Евразия» Владимир Никитин – «Зарабатывая приличные деньги, он умудряется поддерживать антиамериканские режимы оружием, работая таким образом на интересы российской геополитики. Если российское посольство не сможет вытащить Бута из этой передряги, то его сотрудников следует уволить с позором. Речь идет не о каком-то заблудшем туристе, а о стратегическом вопросе, от которого зависит в дальнейшем судьба России. А держится она именно на таких людях, как Виктор Бут. Все обвинения, представленные американской стороной для России абсолютно нелегитимны».

As a matter of fact, Viktor Bout is the ideal Russian businessman, in the opinion of Eurasia portal’s expert Vladimir Nikitin: “He gets wealthy, he manages to supply anti-American regimes with weapons, at the same time working in the interest of Russian geopolitics. If the Russian embassy staff can not extricate Bout from this situation, then they need to be dismissed in disgrace. This is not about some stray tourist, but a strategic question, on which depends the future fate of Russia. That fate is in the hands of precisely such people as Viktor Bout. All the charges that the Americans have brought forward are, from the Russian point of view, totally illegitimate. [translation mine]

6. Why is the US not concentrating on shoring up the rule of law in semi-failed states such as Romania that allow terrorists to run free on their territory? As I stated in the beginning, excess capacity leads to people finding new uses for items that were once scarce or expensive. This leads to innovation, and is one reason why a rising economic tide floats all boats. The internet is a positive example of this dynamic. Fourth generation warfare is a negative one. But fortunately, not every Podunk country can manufacture sophisticated weapons. The US is doing a horrible job of cutting of the known supply points, and this is probably the biggest news story of the decade. Where IS the MSM?

Finally, as a philosophical musing on the ability of the fourth estate to fulfill the function that it so vociferously claims for itself. I am reminded of L’Engele’s criticism of the Harry Potter books: there is nothing underneath. All great literature and journalism has to have a motivating ethos and philosophy. In order to have this, journalists must be well educated. From what I observed as a TA and in my subsequent interactions with the press in my professional life, journalism students don’t learn much of anything substantive in their college curricula, and their lack of knowledge shows in the stories they cover and the ones they don’t.

Heinlein was fond of saying that:

The three-legged stool of understanding is held up by history, languages, and mathematics. Equipped with these three you can learn anything you want to learn. But if you lack any one of them you are just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots.

I tend to agree. I’ve complained about journalistic innumeracy before. Obviously, I used multiple language sources to write these posts, and I have my doubts that many American journalists could do the same. I realize I’m a unique case in being highly educated in both language and math, so before I venture too far off into Mary Sue-ism, I’ll cover the third area that journalists have no excuse for being ill-educated in: history.

There is a direct historical allegory to contractors such as Blackwater and Bout's airlines serving national interests. The use of semi-piratical (or outright piratical) naval squadrons by Elizabeth I to combat the Spanish (due to the relatively weak temporal and financial power of the Crown) continued until the British Crown accrued enough power and taxation authority to secure a national military. The deprivations of the free captains on the high seas are a stark example of the danger of recruiting men of violence and giving them state sanction without placing them under strict military controls

If the MSM truly fulfilled its claimed function, that connection should have been made in a major expose long ago. Why has there not been a MSM story pasting Bout’s picture atop the Golden Hind? Where is the historical curiosity and ability to spot trends and fashion stories from such knowledge? Enquiring minds want to know.

The MSM Misses the Bout Part II

If “fourth generation warfare” is, as I suspect it is, the leading edge of one of the greatest historical trends of our generation, then the mechanisms of that trend should be the subject of serious academic and journalistic study. The trend may be part of a larger trend that encompasses the gradual weakening of the modern state’s attempt to monopolize violence that was heralded by the Treaty of Westphalia.

As I mentioned in Part I, small scale conflict is largely a police action if one or both combatants are restricted to small arms. Sophisticated weapons, especially anti-aircraft systems, are crucial for fourth generation actors to rise beyond the street gang level when operating against states that have not yet collapsed internally.

Fourth generation expert Lind often states that no third-generation actors have not successfully repulsed fourth generation challenges. Not true. For example, the Uyghur uprising in China’s Xinjiang Province has made little traction in the absence of major third generation state support (this may change if the Saudis ever decide to intervene). After Kim Philby deprived the Forest Brothers of an Allied weapons supply line, that uprising faded to impotence by the mid-1950s.

If sophisticated weaponry is a pre-requisite for major carnage perpetrated by non-state actors, then one rational response to fourth generation threats is for large third generation states not to attempt to engage on the ground with small arms. Stopping the supply of small arms is a task just a futile as attempting to stop the supply of drugs. The third generation states can, however, interdict and control the supply of aircraft, anti-aircraft, artillery and major explosives to non-state actors.

The most important information for voters looking to elect officials that will provide appropriate security into the future is a look at the international arms trade. The MSM is woefully inadequate for this task. The best example is the minimal coverage of the arrest of one Виктор Анатольевич Бут.

Viktor Bout (pronounced “boot”, with the Russian vowel “oo” being raised and sent backwards in the mouth to the soft palate, not the English “oo”, which is produced at the front of the mouth on the hard palate) was arrested in Thailand on March 6th. Bout was captured in a sting operation led by US DEA agents posing as buyers for the terrorist / guerilla organization FARC. Bout contracted with the undercover agents to deliver Surface to Air Missiles and helicopters to the guerillas cum drug smugglers.

So who is Viktor Bout? My blog partner CW can answer that better than I can, since he had a whole series of posts regarding the missing 727 and the networks of Bout on his old blog. In the absence of that archive, or purchasing Braun and Farah’s book The Merchant of Death”, the best places to start are here and here. Other treasure troves of information include The Yorkshire Ranter and Ruud Leeuw.

Bout is the Quartermaster to the Barbarians. The most important function in a modern army, no matter what its generation, is logistics, and Bout’s supply network has played a role in almost every major conflict since the end of the Cold War, up to and including the present. When Hezbollah suddenly displayed Fagot and Kornet anti-tank missiles that caused so many casualties in the IDF during their recent confrontation, it was no surprise that Bout was seen in Lebanon around the same time.

The Bozo-filterless Internet is a misleading place to search for facts about someone as shadowy as Bout, however. He was a Lieutenant in the Russian Air Force. No, he was a Major in the KGB. No he was a military interpreter in the Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU). He was born in Dushanbe – no wait, on the Caspian.

What is known is that he was in the Soviet Armed Forces in the late 80-s and early 90s, and at some point and attended military language school. He speaks six languages (he beats me, the bastard). He learned to fly somewhere, possibly the Soviet Air Force, possibly not. After the collapse of the Soviet Union he found some powerful financial backers and bought up significant numbers of Soviet military transport planes.

His recent past is obscured in shadows. He operates under a variety of aliases, including the moniker preferred by his US pursuers, Viktor Butt. Photographs of him were rare to nonexistent until he granted an interview to Peter Landesman. He looks, probably by design, like a portly Russian Joe Stalin.

In the early nineties, he developed a reputation for having a vertically integrated network of weapons smuggling – he could supply weapons, transport, and covering paperwork in a one stop shop of death. He would go anywhere, anytime, with any cargo, including the legitimate cargo that provided cover for his businesses and contraband such as narcotics. The most troubling aspect of Bout’s operations is that his organization was and is one of the few suppliers that can deliver major weapons systems such as the SAMs he is accused of procuring for FARC.

One of Bout’s strengths has been his ability to run shell organizations that evade the scrutiny of Western governments. He inherited the old KGB supply networks and has expanded and adapted them to the post-Cold War world. Despite Bush’s order to freeze his assets and cease dealings with his companies, sub contractors in Iraq have used Bout’s planes to fly supplies and mail into Iraq. Bout’s shell companies such as Irbis have run contracts for the US military. These legitimate contracts help provide cover and financial backing for his gun and drug running. He has also transported UN troops and relief aid into the very combat zones he helped make so dangerous with prior arms shipments, since there are few chartered air services that specialize in flying into hot zones.

As Farah and Austin noted in this article :

American officials tracking Bout tell us that many military officials feel they do not have the resources or the time to check aircraft records when a flight may contain badly needed ammunition or materiel. "They don't check because they don't care," says a civilian official who helped trace Bout's Iraq contracts with the U.S. military. "On the ground, what they care about is getting what they need. Unfortunately, this short-term mentality means that they may, in fact, be breaking the law."

But Bout's flights for the U.S. government--and other legitimate clients like NATO and the United Nations--do more than merely break the letter of international law. They provide Bout with cash that helps fund his gunrunning to conflict zones like the DRC, where the steady supply of weapons helps sustain a conflict that is destabilizing much of Africa. U.S. and European intelligence sources tell us they are also investigating whether Bout's network is behind the thousands of new weapons surfacing in the hands of brutal militias in the Niger Delta region. Those militias pose a growing threat to stability in an area that provides around 10 percent of U.S. oil.

The Russians have been happy to use Bout and his companies as a force multiplier as their regular military has declined. The KGB has obviously bankrolled him, and Bout is somewhat unique in the world of international arms dealers in that he grabbed market share at a time of transition. Through murder and intimidation he has pushed out competition. This made him a highly wanted man.

Bout has been used repeatedly by the Russians as a convenient contractor with built-in plausible deniability for his Kremlin financiers. A military contractor, perhaps. However, it is by no means clear to what degree Bout is simply a Russian Blackwater. He has supplied many non-state actors that are not directly under Russian influence, although in a broad sense any non-state actor acting against Western interests is an ally of Russia. The evidence is that Bout’s network was only partially under the control of the Russians, although the Russian government often used him as a foreign policy tool. As this article intimates, but curiously does not plainly state, Russian Military officials may suspect Bout of arming the Chechens:

Сам Бут всячески дает понять в уже цитировавшемся интервью: его не трогают потому, что за ним стоят правительства, и не только России, но и стран, которые делают вид, что охотятся на него, а он, в свою очередь, умеет держать язык за зубами. Не исключено. Сегодня есть сведения об участии в нелегальных оружейных поставках Ираку президента Украины Леонида Кучмы, о расхищении приднестровских арсеналов, о продажах белорусского оружия зачастую обеим сторонам одного конфликта. О сомнительных оружейных сделках Казахстана и Киргизии. Вопреки заверениям генерала Фоменко о том, что переносные зенитно-ракетные комплексы находятся под полным контролем российского правительства, чеченские боевики не испытывают недостатка в «Иглах», которыми сбит уже не один вертолет федеральных сил.

Откуда они у чеченцев? В Москве убеждены, что из бывших советских республик. Министр обороны Сергей Иванов уже не раз призывал коллег из ближнего зарубежья провести инвентаризацию имеющихся у них в наличии ПЗРК. Министр намеревался сличить заводские номера на корпусах захваченных в Чечне ракет с номерами тех, что остались за пределами России после распада СССР. Видимо, инвентаризация так и не состоялась. В июне этого года на очередном заседании Совета министров обороны СНГ в Щучинске Казахстан) Сергей Иванов внес предложение ужесточить контроль за экспортом ПЗРК, однако делегации Азербайджана, Грузии, Узбекистана и Украины не поддержали его.

Bout himself clearly stated in the above cited interview that he is not molested [in his Moscow hideout – JJ] because behind him stands not only the government of Russia, but the governments of countries that are pretending to hunt for him; and he in turn knows how to keep silent. But that is not entirely true. Currently there is news of illegal shipments of weapons being sent to Iraq with the involvement of Ukranian Presient Leonid Kuchma, of the plundering of Pridnestovsk’s arsenals, of the sale of Byelorussian arms to two sides of the same conflict. Of suspected weapons deals in Kazhakhstan and Kirgizia. Despite the assurances of General Fomenko that mobile anti-aircraft batteries are all under the full control of the Russian government, Chechen fighters have experienced no shortage of “Needles”, which have brought down more than one Federal helicopter.

How did the Chechens aquire them? In Moscow they assure us that they are from former Soviet Republics. Minister of Defence Sergei Ivanov requested on more than one occasion that his counterparts in the neighboring republics to inventory their stores of rockets. The Minister intended to compare the serial numbers on the rocket casings seized in the Chechen Republic against numbers of that known to have remained outside Russia after the disintegration of the USSR. Evidently that this inventory did not take place. In June of this year at the next session of the CIS Ministerial Council of Defense in Shchuchinsk (Kazakhstan) Sergey Ivanov has proposed tougher controls over the export of mobile rocket launchers. However delegations of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine have not agreed. [translation mine]
Obviously, Putin’s regime has shielded Bout from Interpol, for various reasons. Bout’s wife, who claims he is a poet rather than an arms smuggler, is reputed to be the daughter of a high ranking KGB officer named “Zuiguin”. However, with this arrest and the subsequent refusal of Moscow to “extradite” their national, it seems that Bout’s patronage has weakened somewhat.

It could be that Russians opposed to his activities have finally grabbed the ear of incoming president Medvedev. That is doubtful. The Russians have made great use of Bout’s fleet for plausible deniability in supplying terrorist entities that oppose the West. Bout’s aircraft are just too useful to toss away for running the occasional gun shipment against national interests. In addition, it is rumored that his father-in-law is a former high official in the KGB, giving him several layers of protection in Russia.

Parts of the US government have been pursuing Bout since the early nineties, even as other parts were hiring his companies to run supplies, FedEx mail shipments, and arms into Iraq. Belgium (one of his companies was headquartered in Ostend Airport) pressed Interpol to issue a warrant for his arrest, and the Bush Administration has frozen his known assets.

His patrons in Russia have been protecting him from arrest, but his freedom to travel has been severely curtailed. It is less certain what the impact of asset seizures have been on his personal fortune.

So how did Viktor get bagged?

There is some speculation that one reason Bout has evaded capture is the complicit help of certain highly placed parties in the US and EU who would be embarrassed by revelations from Bout concerning their dealings with him:

In a meeting last autumn, one European intelligence official who had worked on a long-running investigation into Bout's activities in Africa was openly cynical that he would ever be caught. 'Arrest Bout? Nobody wants to. Even my own government eventually shut us down. There's been a decision to hassle him with sanctions to keep him in line but everyone needs him at some point, or might [need him]. Plus he'd just be replaced by someone else and they could be worse,' the official said. 'As long as he stays quiet and remains useful, he can do this indefinitely.'

The strong suspicion that elements in US and other Western intelligence services supposed to be pursuing Bout were occasionally protecting him - no evidence suggests an official policy to protect Bout - is supported by an American diplomat who had tracked Bout as part of investigations into the trade in Russia's post-Cold War arms stockpiles.

The diplomat described how efforts to track or harass Bout in the late 1990s and early 2000 by small-arms control experts at the State Department would eventually draw the ire of certain CIA officials, resulting in angry phone calls to the diplomat's superiors demanding that they back off. But the diplomat was emphatic that he did not believe the agency actively or officially worked alongside Bout, but rather traded information with him, making him a useful, if unappealing, occasional asset.

This may be true. It is certainly curious that Bout was not arrested on money laundering, arms smuggling, or tax evasion charges that are outstanding against him, despite the fact that Bout’s company pulled a fast one on its American employers and made off with over 200,000 Kalashnikov’s that had been paid for by the US in Bosnia for shipment to Iraqi militias.

In fact, the sting that brought him down was an entirely de novo operation of the DEA:

In the end it was an agency of one of those states suspected of turning a blind eye to Bout's activities that was the engine behind his capture. According to a source with close ties to the DEA, the operation was so sensitive it was kept secret from other members of the US intelligence community, including high-ranking members of the Justice Department, precisely because of the fear that Bout might be tipped off by elements that the DEA agents feared had protected him in the past. A special unit was set up to run the operation due to 'war on drugs' legislation and guidelines, allowed to operate outside the normal protocols that require US government-wide notification.

This is probably the first positive dividend I’ve seen coming out of the War on Drugs.

For those people who supported a unified intelligence command in the wake of 9/11, there is some further food for thought in this sordid tale:

In the end it was an agency of one of those states suspected of turning a blind eye to Bout's activities that was the engine behind his capture. According to a source with close ties to the DEA, the operation was so sensitive it was kept secret from other members of the US intelligence community, including high-ranking members of the Justice Department, precisely because of the fear that Bout might be tipped off by elements that the DEA agents feared had protected him in the past. A special unit was set up to run the operation due to 'war on drugs' legislation and guidelines, allowed to operate outside the normal protocols that require US government-wide notification.

Few people, even in the closed world of US intelligence, knew the DEA was tracking Bout, let alone setting him up for an arrest. '[The DEA] was laughing at the CIA in their offices,' because they had arrested someone that was perceived to be working for the agency, said one witness.

The question remains – why did this sting succeed where so many others failed? Why did Viktor wind up in Thailand? According to Mother Jones Bout allegedly has a penchant for signing deals face to face, which may have led to his downfall. Only a few countries are safe for the fugitive, and a previous meeting in Bulgaria was scratched due to international pressure. Thailand apparently remained a safe haven.

According to the Mother Jones report, Bout agreed to meet the DEA agents despite the fact that their photographs did not appear in his intelligence report on FARC commanders. This appears to be a bit sloppy on the part of the usually ultra-paranoid Bout, but may indicate that the financial pressure brought on by asset seizure is beginning to strain Bout’s finances.

Bout may also have traveled to Thailand under the assumption that his patrons in Moscow would help extricate him from any problems he might encounter. In this he appears to have been mistaken.

Despite his the evident conspiracy-mongering in some of the articles of former Polish Intelligence officer Daytsh, I tend to agree with his assessment that Viktor has been betrayed in a power struggle in Moscow, in the FSB in particular, and his arrest would have been accomplished even in the absence of doubts surrounding his loyalty to the Russian state. Medvedev wants to clear the slate of Putin’s cronies, and if he can simultaneously win a few PR points in the West, so much the better.

The major piece of evidence supporting Daytsh’s claims that Bout was betrayed is the back and forth in the press concerning Russia’s intent to extradite. In the first days after his arrest, the Russian Foreign Ministry intimated that Russia would extradite Bout. As of today, it seems the Russians are not willing to extradite him despite his direct plea for help. This, to me, indicates that the early overtures in that direction were the remnants of Putin’s network acting in a knee-jerk fashion, and that Medvedev’s new cronies are gradually cutting ties to Bout. More evidence in that regard is the recent arrest of Bout crony and Arbat Prestige Mafia Godfather Semyon Mogilevich in Moscow.

Where to from here? I hope that the US manages to extradite and prosecute Bout, but the real question for me is what becomes of his empire? His older brother Sergei is nowhere near the logistics expert that Viktor has shown himself to be. Hopefully Bout’s network will fall into far less competent hands and slowly rust away. However, I can not help but suspect that Medvedev has someone else in mind to take the title of World’s Greatest Merchant of Death. If so, the threat to civilization from fourth generation warfare will continue to grow.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The MSM Misses the Bout Part I

Note: This essay will be posted on the Chicago Boyz when Part II is finished. For now, I welcome comments here.

As an amateur historian, I am given to musing about the flow and processing of information. People make mental models of the past, but those models are usually highly skewed. As both Napoleon and George Orwell are alleged to have observed, it is the winners who write history. Beyond that, most historians rely primarily on written sources, which further skews our perspective to the pedjudices of a given time’s literati. The uptake curve of any new trend is difficult to perceive at its inception. Important events often show up as important only well after the fact. Of all the news stories of today, how many human beings can predict what story will actually shape the world of 50 years from now? Even experts fail at this. And often, the true import of events is obscured until the generation who experienced those events has passed away, along with their distored perceptions.

Take a look at the early 1960s, for example. If one is to go by the Boomer nostalgia for the period, the assassination of Kennedy is the watershed event for the period. In fact, the most likely (and I do not presume to have the final world on this) candidate for the seminal event of 1960 – 1964 is Kennedy’s commitment of troops to Vietnam. From this flowed a tremendous amount of history, and not just the further commitments of LBJ and the subsequent social upheaval in the US. If the officers I talked to in the late Soviet period are correct, the Vietnam War bankrupted the Soviet Union. The Soviets spent approximately $1 billion per year in a war it truly could not afford:

"The Soviet Union poured billions of rubles into Vietnam. . . During 1965-1975 military aid was central, and economic aid was geared entirely to the war effort. By the 1970s Soviet aid amounted to $1 billion or more annually, without which the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) could not have continued the war."

The adventure in Vietnam and the attendant arms race crippled the economy of the USSR. It severely curtailed their foreign policy adventures. And when Reagan came along and proposed Star Wars, Gorbachev threw in the towel. Not because he thought that the American missile shield would achieve 100% coverage against missile attacks. The Russians were not stupid. And not because they thought we’d even get 75% coverage. It was because even 30% coverage was considerably better than the 0% the Soviets could muster in the near term. And because it would have sapped a couple of percent of our GDP, while even attempting to match it would have cost a significantly grater fraction of their GDP (some officers I talked to estimated as much as 50%). And the US technology would have gotten better with time and experience, which would have sapped even more Russian resources. In this respect, the events of 1989 and 1991 were a direct result of Kennedy’s decision to commit to Vietnam and Reagan’s willingness to capitalize on the advantage gained by bankrupting the USSR and sending it into the period the Russians call “The Stagnation”.

But at the time, what were the great news stories, which still to a large extent dominate the thinking of historians about the period of 1960 – 1964? The assassination. The Bay of Pigs. Camelot. Useless drivel and a distraction to the serious study of history.

It’s probably a truism that a serious futurist needs to look well beyond the headlines to get a sense of the most important trends that will influence the future of the world. The introduction to one of my favorite history books contains another rather forceful reminder of this dynamic:

“I remember well how, in the spring and summer of 1939, my curiosity was gripped by short newspaper accounts of an undeclared war that was raging between the Japanese and Soviet armies on a desolate stretch of disputed frontier lying between the client states of Manchukuo and Outer Mongolia.”

-- Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan

That battle, Nomonhan or Khalkhin Gol, depending on your perspective , was a watershed in the global conflict that rivaled its contemporary event, the invasion of Poland, in its significance:

“It is generally agreed that, despite IJA silence on the subject, the Japanese decision in 1941 to transfer strategic emphasis to the south, involving war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands, stemmed in part from the Kwantung Army’s failure against the Russians in 1939.”

-- Ibid

In large part. Had the Japanese succeeded agaisnt Zhukov and joined the Nazis in a two front war against the Russians, the Second Front would have been a disaster for Stalin. Had the Japanese not moved against Pearl Harbor in 1941, war with the US would have been at least delayed, and Roosevelt would have needed some other pretext to come to beleaguered Britain’s aid in its darkest and finest hour.

Failure to understand that conflict and the lessons it taught about the IJA by people who should have taken a much more professional interest led to much needless bloodshed on the part of the British and American military in the Pacific War. The defeat of the Kwantung army by Zhukov (a name that should have been well noted by Americans and Germans alike in 1939), was the primary event that turned the Japanese on a collision course with the US.

Yet where is Nomonhan in the list of vital battles we teach our high school and college students about WWII.? Pretty much nowhere. Apropos another conversation on this blog, it seems that the professional military historians outside academia take the study of this battle a little more seriously.

Much of the overemphasis on side issues is driven by contemporary press covereage. Occasionally I’ve wondered why people in the past ignored some sign of events to come that seems so obvious in hindsight. Then I look at the mass of frivolous and useless news coverage today and realize how hard it is to pick useful signals from the vast background of noise that bombards us daily.

If the media were properly doing their jobs, the OODA loop would be on the lips of anyone who has anything to say in public about the War on Terror in general, and the War in Iraq in particular. Instead even many people who think of themselves as educated (and perhaps an even greater fraction of those people who consider themselves intellectuals) have no idea who John Boyd was, or why he is an important figure. In my opinion no one who has not read his theories has any business at all opining on current foreign policy.

Probably the most important (and under-reported) historical trend in the current decade is directly related to Boyd’s theories, and can be summed up under the category of “fourth generation warfare” . I view this trend much the same way I view the Internet’s penetration into what was once the purview of Mainstream Media. Production in the past was concentrated in the hands of a few, be that access to the acoutrements of mass media such as television networks, or access to modern weapons. As the world has gotten richer, distribution networks have become more democratized, and excess capacity brought about by globalization has increased access to many types of goods, high quality video cameras, computers and weapons included.

In the past, insurgencies that we now class as fourth generation non-state actors needed a third generation patron to maintain the flow of arms and supplies that is required to damage a modern nation state. Mao and Tito had Stalin, Ho Chi Minh had Krushchev and Brezhnev, the IRA had idiotic Irish-Americans, etc. The fall of the Soviet Union has deprived a number of manufacturers of a market in the former Warsaw Pact, and this excess capacity is now aimed less at furthering the foreign policy of the Russians than it is aimed at supporting the economy of the smaller nations in the former Eastern block. This is exactly analogous to the fact that, with the excess capacity generated by business telecommunications networks, the network that formerly had the primary function of linking DARPA with its university research clients is now, on a volume basis, mostly used to support the global porn and counterfeit erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals markets.

What does this mean for fourth-generation warfare? The guerilla may swim in the peasantry as a fish swims in the sea, but peasants don’t supply him with semtex and anti-tank missiles. Third generation economies do. Small arms are readily available in the third world will keep small-scale conflict smouldering with or withoiut international arms sales. The occasional IED or bomb on a plane may spark a small reaction, but in order to prolong a campaign and threaten governments, the guerilla must procure sophisticated weapons or plan for years for a single strike, as with Al Q’aeda’s long campaign to bring down the WTC, from at least 1992 to 2001. While the attack on the WTC seemed like a spectacular success, when viewed though the lens of history, any campaign that required at least 9 years of planning to kill 4000 people and miss several of its major objectives would be viewed as a pyrrhic victory at best, a total waste of resources at worst*. Such victories can never be truly prevented, but the odds of success can be further stacked against the barbarians.

However, the real goal of most fourth generation actors (e.g. FARC) is to become master of a state and play in the third generation game. This is where third generation states can score big wins, by limiting the flow of sophisticated weaponry. And this is where, until recently, the US was losing badly.

That failure should have been the top news story of the last five years, if the media reported on what was truly historically significant. Future historians will be able to point to a few good news stories and wonder why so many people missed the signals. The answer lies in the signal to noise ratio in the mainstream press, as epitomized by the low-key coverage of a crucial arrest.

* The failure to pick up on and eliminate the threat after the first warning in 1993 is another topic for another day.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Proof for Nathan and Vince says I'm 1% Stupid! How stupid are you? Click Here!
The 1% is for following internet memes.