green_man_2010 (green_man_2010) wrote in talk_politics,

The Politics of Warfare - how do we stop politicians messing with the military?

It is a commonly stated view that the American soldiers did not lose the Veitnam war - American politicians did that.

I would also add that Americans are not the only people to complain about politicians butting in with 'political considerations' when the generals see a clear cut strategy to end a war and getting their troops home - which is an aim that every decent general wants to acheive.

During the Falklands War, the BBC, acting under orders of someone in the government, announced that the British troops were about to attack Goose Green. This was done because the government felt a need to show that things had not ground to a halt since the landings were made at San Carlos.

The Military chiefs were fuming.
Goose Green was on a narrow neck of land, removing the opportunity to out flank and out manouver the enemy. the defenders had time to dig in and held a superiority in numbers.
"all we had was the advantage of suprise - and the government took that from us", declared one angry British commander.

From the other side of the ailse, though, comes the complaint that "War is too serious a business to be left to the generals".
In WW1, the idea of a War of Attrition was seen as the only way to break the deadlock on the Western front. Appallingly high casualties resulted from this policy, and the effectiveness of haig is still hotly debated, even today. A balance has to be struck between the need to acheive military objectives and the needs of the soldiers and their civilian families at home who want their sons , husbands and fathers to come home safely. damn the government and their needs to look good and appear busy- for me , its about the people who are at home while the soldiers are in the feild.

The Israelis seem to have hit upon the right ideas. they are not afraid to go after the enemy, even if it means going on a raid like the one at Entebbe(sp) , where they shot up Idi Amin's airbase and rescued many hostages being held by the PLO.

Even so, the Israelis do not have a high population. So wars of attrition are not pupular or even possible.they like short, decisive military actionand most important, they don't lose.

I think that part of the story of success is due to the fact that they have a democracy *and* conscription. In a State where even upper /middle class kids do a couple of years in the forces, the squaddies get better treated. The British Army has had scandals erupt over bullying in training camps and other abuses of the system. it does not happen when people with connections and political clout get sucked into the system as well. and a few well off kids going through bootcamp raise the standards for everyone else. the russian Army, by contrast, is notorious for corruption and bullying of new recruits. this is because high ranking Soviet citizens can dodge the draft by 'serving their country' in a cushier role.

Another advantage of the Israeli system is that its politicians have some sense of what military service is like, and that informs the decisions they make as politicians.

The other big issue where politics and the miltiary clash is the issue of procurement.
The idea that hi tech gadgets can make up for lack of numbers got widely touted during the Cold War. Both US and UK governments got lobbied by industries selling hi tech, hi cost solutions to the threat of Russian tanks rolling westwards across Europe. At the time, I recall the debates about the cost of some of these schemes, and their actual usefulness.

people who had actually fought against tanks, and fought in tanks, in Europe during the last war were saying that tanks may look scary, but they need lots of open space. a tank commander does not like trees and buildings much. Yeah, you can crash through themok, but you may lose a tread in rubble or fallen trees if you are not careful. Plus the fact that a guy with a short range anti tank missle launcher can hide in all that stuff and take you out before you know he is there. basically tanks don't like trees or built up areas.Fighting in that sort of environment is a tankers nightmare.

"You want to stop a tank division? plant trees and build towns." Said one war veteran.
But there was no money in that for the "industrial military complex", and so we got boondoggles like the Sergeant York gun system foisted on to the US taxpayer.

The original sergeant was a renowned soldier in the US army. The gun system they wanted to build and named after him was a complete flop that cost millions before they cancelled the project.

How such problems can be avoided in future is harder to say. I have no real idea on how the israelis manage, but they sem to do pretty well in choosing kit that works and even making their own. Maybe Western armies should go shopping at IMI, who make stuff for the Israili Defence Force. I dunno - the British politicians would rather we bought from British firms, so as to save Brititsh jobs.

lastly, you get the question of Inter-service rivalry. The Americans are loaded. They can give a nuclear capability to their Army, Navy and Airforce. Places like Britain and France have a lower budget. So who we give our one nuclear capability to depends on who makes the best case.
We ask if we really need nukes these days, and wonder if it is worth having an independant airforce, or should we let the navy have a biffer role in running out air defence?

On that score, I think that the navy having shore establishments that fly planes to gaurd our coasts and our airspace too would be a great idea. I can't see the RAF liking it though!
Tags: history, military, war
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