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General Sir David Richards’ Chatham House speech touches on a number of themes that should have been inculcated in the Australian Defence White Paper.  These are not new themes, even in the Australian context; they include some of the thinking behind the Defence Update of two years ago.

Richards says

…our generation is in the midst of a paradigm shift, is facing its own ‘horse and tank’ moment if you like, born in our era chiefly but not exclusively of the global revolution in communications and associated technology. The result is that the way even state on state warfare will manifest itself has changed fundamentally.

He argues that ‘conflicts with dissatisfied and violent non-state actors are here for the long term’ and while the British Army, at least, is okay at fighting such wars, it needs to get better at doing so.  State-on-state warfare is likely to remain a possibility, but it’s shape and nature will change, becoming more like the current wars against insurgents, proxies and non-state actors: there is a ‘virtuous congruence, between non-state and inter-state war’.  Like US Defence Secretary Gates, he argues for a better balance: conventional capability should not be abandoned, but nor should it remain the predominant shaper of capability:

…an intelligent opponent will not be impressed by capabilities which can readily be made irrelevant through the adoption of asymmetric tactics or technology….Those who seek to continue investment in traditional forms of conflict at the expense of the new fail to understand the degree to which inter-state dynamics have changed since the Cold War.

Afghanistan he sees as a ‘non-discretionary war’.  In this I tend to depart a tad from his thesis: the larger trends and dynamics, which Richards himself has touched on, should not be obscured by a focus on Afghanistan. Patrick Porter (who provided the lead on the speech) also notes the doomed-if-we-do-and-doomed-if-we-don’t nature of the argument over Afghanistan.  Not only should we rethink warfare, but rethink what constitutes success and failure—at the strategic level these are not always, and rarely over the long-term, defined in purely military terms.

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Flexible organic light emitting diodes—OLEDs—as below (NYT).  Note the reference to the OLED rifle attachment.

Good advice for university students—how to get used to making an argument (NYT).

The 21st century city.  Certainly the OLEDs above bring to mind Blade Runner, also mentioned here. (Forbes)

Let them eat cake drink coffee.  It’s hard to know even where to start with this one.  Can you imagine being rolled into hospital and making sure your doctor has not yet reached his sixth cup of coffee for the day—and that he has in fact had enough.

There’s no reason, of course, to think that an organisation such as Hezbollah should be any less vulnerable to Ponzi schemes than any other group, given that the confidence trick is based on social relations and a constructed reputation.

The most dangerous job in the world?

Krepinevich has a pertinent point: rocket, artillery, mortar and missile (RAMM) capabilities are proliferating rapidly, and guided RAMMs (G-RAMMs) are increasingly available.  The later ‘do not require a high degree of operator training’ (p24).  The range of such weapons extend out to 50 miles/80 km, compared to the 4 mile/7 km radius of Vietnam-era mortars.

How well then does the inkblot approach to counterinsurgency work, when the insurgents can attack bases from such a range?

References

Krepinevich, A. F. (2009). “The Pentagon’s Wasting Assets.” Foreign Affairs 88(4): 18-33.

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