Hey folks! I know I was hoping to have Fortifications, Part III out this week, but in the inevitable bustle of the end of the semester combined with a few other pressing commitments, it just didn’t quite work out. Alas, as much as I love ACOUP, it must play third fiddle to my teaching and professional commitments (not to mention, you know, actually having a life). The good news is that I see no obstacles to having it finished for next week.
That said, lest I leave you all without anything to read or listen to this week, here are a few quick suggestions, starting with:
Me, writing in The Bulwark on “Ancient Insurrections – and Ours,” a discussion of ancient tyranny in light of the January 6th Capitol insurrection. I know that many of you come here to escape politics (and I don’t blame you) but for those of you who can stand to read more about it, I have written more (and for those who might want the ancient tyranny stuff, devoid of any modern political commentary, I think there’s a good chance in the coming months that we’ll revisit ‘How to Polis 101‘ – a section of the Sparta series – and get into more depth about how the various kinds of Greek polis government systems worked).
And while I’m here I should note that I have done quite a number of podcasts in the past month or so which you may have missed. I talked about historical video games in general and Paradox’s games in particular at both Three Moves Ahead and with Adrian Bonenberger at The Wrath-Bearing Tree. I also made another guest appearance on the Boiled Leather Audio Hour with Stefan Sasse, this time talking about Dune.
But now for things not by me! Over at War on the Rocks, Alex Vershinin talks logistics with “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli.” I’m not sure I would bet the Baltic entirely on the analysis here, but there is a clearly valid point: we often focus on the difficulty of our logistics (whoever ‘us’ may be) and not on the often similar difficulties of opposing logistics. I will admit, I found it funny that just as Hearts of Iron IV adds trains and trucks to its logistics system, here we have a fairly sophisticated article discussing the impact of trains and trucks on actual, real-world maneuver warfare logistics. It’s also striking how Vershinin’s point here is that part of the reason it is easy to misread Russian logistics concerns is that their logistics system has some key fundamental differences from NATO in terms of underlying structure – a reminder that such things matter!
Over at Foreign Policy, Paul Musgrave has a fascinating article on that time that Pepsi bought a significant fraction of the Soviet Navy, though as you might imagine there is both a little more and a lot less to the story than the idea that Pepsi was suddenly a world naval power (the ships were militarily worthless but the purchase reflected Pepsi’s gamble on the future of the Soviet Union).
Finally, over at Peopling the Past, they have a pair of really fascinating interviews with Anissa Malvoisin and Alice Clinch, both graduate students studying the ancient world, using archaeology to investigate questions about production and trade, which really speaks to the range of uses that these kinds of studies can have, particularly in the ways that exploring the ancient economy can help to uncover at least some facets of the lives of regular people who are otherwise mostly invisible to us.
51 thoughts on “Gap Week: December 3, 2021”
You have the exact same cat tower as we do. Our kitties love it! xD
I like the look of it…may have to get one for my two!
Percy, giving us the stink eye 😒😹 He’s just mad he didn’t get the top seat
Cat picture! Yay!! 😍
Kittehs! It does seem like we have a lot more Oliver pictures than Percy ones, so it’s great to see Percy, even if he doesn’t seem to like the camera.
“I think there’s a good chance in the coming months that we’ll revisit ‘How to Polis 101‘ – a section of the Sparta series – and get into more depth about how the various kinds of Greek polis government systems worked).”
That sounds great – would read with fascination!
On the subject of ridiculous organizations owning modern military equipment, a significant fraction of the Italian air force was transferred to a crusading order, the Knights Hospitallers, for a few years at the end of WWII.
I’m also reminded of the hilarious black-and-white movie “1, 2, 3” about a Coca-Cola executive dealing with Soviets in Berlin.
Privateers lasted a long time.
The Knights Hospitallers had been a major naval power in the Mediterranean in the Early Modern Era, holding the island of Malta against Ottomans for centuries – and doing a lot of privateering against Ottoman shipping.
By WWII, they had transitioned into a Red Cross like organization. Medicine had always been part of their mission and they had lost political control over Malta and their navy during the Napoleonic Wars. But they were (and are) still a sovereign organization under international law.
The Western Allies didn’t want to dismantle the Italian Air Force after WWII (anticipating the Cold War), but the size of the Italian Air Force was limited by the treaties ending WWII. So they transferred part of the Italian Air Force to another sovereign power, the Knights Hospitallers.
The story of the Goodyear blimp being issued with a letter of marque in 1942 to hunt Japanese submarines seems to be a myth, but the US didn’t sign the 1856 Paris Declaration in which the great powers of Europe gave up the right to issue them.
A tanker-turned-cinema-executive I used to know argued (convincingly, to me) that for nearly a decade, Mosfilm had a larger AFV inventory than Japan (? I think — maybe it was Canada).
Delaying tactics and distractions are also an excellent use of strategy in siege warfare.
The tactic of shouting “Wow, look over there!” at enemy armies and running away while they’re distracted had a brief period of relevance before generals learned that there was, in fact, nothing over there. Military theory experts have tried to use this knowledge against them by putting something over there, but as modern technology allows armies to look over there while also continuing to watch you, these efforts are unlikely to bear fruit.
I feel like this cat update should become clip art for illustrating the psychological dimension of hierarchies.
The irony here is that Percy (on the bottom) is the dominant cat. Its hard to tell from the angle here, but he’s a bit bigger than Ollie and has a pound or two on him. So Percy is just being nice here and letting Ollie have the top shelf (something both cats have done more and more over time. They even share toys sometimes.)
That article on insurrections is rhetorically ingenious. I’m sure all readers of The Bulwark think of themselves as tall poppies.
I’m told that most people judge themselves by their peer group, and tend to be in the middle of their peer group, so the extreme ends of society think of themselves as being more average than you would think. Everyone thinks of themselves as being normal, because they are normal among the people they know.
The Bulwark is such a strange ideological project. It often feels to me like the in-house paper of one of those political parties from Victoria II that never existed in real life.
I read the Feeding the Bear article a few days ago and have just reread it. It is an interesting discussion of Russian logistical capacities.
Somehow though, it reads like a learned discussion of US military logistics for invading Mexico. Where does the author get the idea that the Russian Federation would want to invade the Baltic states? There is just no plus side in doing so. Somehow I am reminded of William Randolph Hearst.
Ukraine, given its unstable government, an on-going civil war, and what looks like NATO provocation is another matter. Judging from the Russian and Ukrainian distances the same logistical considerations apply assuming Russia would want a land war that extends well into Ukraine though the railway gauge issue disappears.
I think the best argument for Russia not planning stupid invasions is made by the author who points out that “Instead, the Russian government has built an ideal army for their strategy of “Active Defense.” The Russian government has built armed forces highly capable of fighting on home soil or near its frontier”. He also points out that Kaliningrad has “a Russian corps with major depots but no supporting logistics units to push supplies out.” Not exactly the best planning for an invasion. Countries actively contemplating aggressive foreign wars seem unlikely to be ignoring the logistics problem these days.
Something I found to be a glaring omission on the part of the author in that article was Russia’s extensive use of helicopter logistics; something the West doesn’t really do en masse in manoeuvre warfare.
Do you have any good recommendations on where one could read about that? That sounds really interesting. I know very little about modern air logistics–just that it was super hard in the past to move the required tonnage (i.e. Stalingrad). Would be curious about the tonnage the Russians can move and for how long. I also wonder if it would be effective against a peer adversary who would presumably wish to target the supply helicopters?
I think that the point of the Bear piece is that Russia is operationally constrained from doing an “invasion”, but not a “grab & snatch.” Whether a grab & snatch makes sense from a Russian strategic perspective is another matter. IIRC, they captured an Estonian official a few years ago, alleging that he had stepped over the border. They could do the same thing to an Estonian town, or a select small chunk of Estonian real estate. Although I agree with you that any action is much more likely to involve Ukraine.
One would need a much more granular knowledge of the Baltic countries to evaluate this question. Are there border regions, for instance, with a high percentage of ethnic Russians whom Putin could plausibly claim to be helping and who would welcome Russian annexation? (I’m not sure most ethnic Russians would welcome it, but I don’t know.) If such a situation existed, Putin might find a forcible border readjustment advantageous. “Splendid little wars” have generally appeared to bolster his domestic popularity.
At this time, I don’t see the USA invading Mexico. If the seed of fascism spreading roots throughout the American right blooms into an all-American Hitler? Maybe, but even then I give even odds whether the AAH would instead declare war on China (a more dangerous target, but also seen as a greater threat by most American Racists).
What would America gain from invading Mexico, either for the state or for its elites? Several hundred thousand square miles of varyingly-useful land and a hundred thirty million people who would be functionally impossible to integrate into the population even if they hadn’t just been invaded? And at what cost?
Even if Mexico surrendered unconditionally before a single shot was fired, the damage to the USA’s diplomatic reputation would be immense. (At this time, all available justifications for war with Mexico make “Saddam Hussein has WMDs” look positively concrete.) Aside from being a foreign policy disaster, this could easily lead to other countries imposing economic sanctions on the USA, and would almost certainly cause smaller countries to shift towards the USA’s enemies for protection from an apparently psychopathic superpower.
The blow to trade would cost the USA’s elites dearly. Global trade provides a strong incentive not to start wars…and it provides an alternate method for exploiting those ~130 million people. Why invade when you can outsource? Why conquer a country when you can just buy their means of production? Invasions are only worthwhile if the local political situation threatens to disrupt this trade or make it less profitable, and Mexico is neither disruptive nor profitable enough to justify that kind of intervention.
The previous American President proposed to openly violate Article VII of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, thereby returning the USA and Mexico to a state of war; the public outrage was insufficient to change his mind and also not really concerned by the possibility of war, nor was there any international pressure to speak of about it. It is only because the US Congress could not organize the funding that the Treaty remained inviolate. Other, more ambiguous provocations did go forward, including a policy that violates international standards on the treatment of refugees; that policy was rescinded by the current President, but then reinstated by a judge appointed by the previous President, which is ridiculous but it would be no more ridiculous for that judge to issue an additional ruling ordering the invasion of Mexico.
Mexico is the USA’s most-invaded country, no one should be quick to assume that another invasion is not immanent.
Your statements on a 175 year old treaty sounded ludicrous, and upon research, are ludicrous. Article 7 of that treaty was abrogated in 1854 with the Treaty of Mesilla. As far as public outrage, I must have missed that completely. What are you even talking about?
Further, even if it Article VII was still in force, a violation the treaty would not in any way “return[…] the USA and Mexico to a state of war”. That isn’t how wars are declared. Could a violation of a treaty lead to a war, sure, if the USA or Mexico wanted to it could be argued as a casus belli, but it doesn’t automatically make it so. If either side wanted to go to war, which it is patently obvious that neither does, I am certain they would come up with a more reasonable justification that this.
Article 7 is still in force in Texas, “The several provisions, stipulations, and restrictions contained in the 7th article of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo shall remain in force only so far as regards the Rio Bravo del Norte, below the initial of the said boundary provided in the first article of this treaty; that is to say, below the intersection of the 31° 47’30’/ parallel of latitude, with the boundary line established by the late treaty dividing said river from its mouth upwards, according to the fifth article of the treaty of Guadalupe.”
I was talking about the so-called “Border Wall.” There was public outrage about that, but it had no real effect; it was also outrage focused on the racism and wastefulness of the “Wall” instead of it’s illegality. The general public and the media, like you, were blithely unwilling to consider the possibility that breaking a peace treaty might somehow devolve the signatories into a state of armed conflict, because (paraphrasing) ‘things just don’t happen that way these days.’ Nevermind that (to bring it a little bit back to the Vershinin article) things absolutely seem to happen that way on Russian borders these days with alarming frequency!
The “border wall” would not have interfered with the navigation of the Rio Bravo del Norte at all, nor would it have interfered with licit commerce and transit any more than the current rules regarding where you may legally enter the USA. Deal with it.
Exactly how was anything Trump proposed going to obstruct the navigation of the Gila or Rio Bravo del Norte rivers? Sorry, but this is the leftist equivalent of the nonsense that Sovereign Citizens spit out.
Look, I understand how comforting it is to believe we were never on the edge of calamity, and how threatened you might feel having that comfort challenged; but there’s no need to compare me to a bunch of bigots and killers.
Opening with insults only points out how weak your case is.
I understand that you like thinking we were on the edge of calamity because that way you can pretend that you are as heroic as your grandparents. That is not my problem.
Furthermore, most Sovereign Citizens are, at most, obnoxious twerps who ramble about maritime law and flag fringes. This nonsense you’re spouting is like that.
Actually we’re the ones being invaded. And Mexico too by so called asylum seekers.
That’s an absolutely rediculous thing to say.
If you are referencing anything, its refugees/immigrants moving around, which is in no way a military attack.
Refugees my right eyebrow!
‘Refugres’ forcing borders? Clean, we’ll dressed, well fed refugees the majority of them young men, marching in organized caravans? Making demands ?
Advocates of the conspiracy theories that motivated the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and other recent acts of right-wing terror violence in the USA continue to spread their disinformation in every forum they can access. That constitutes a genuine threat to the institution of democracy in America (and elsewhere), and we shouldn’t let the Whiggish confidence that tends to afflict people who discuss history on the Internet blind us to the danger.
The disinformation being spread in this thread is not from right-wingers.
And this has stopped being productive. Let’s move on folks.
Ah yes the seed if American fascism… the Twitter with it’s pro-government censorship campaign. Also China isn’t just a threat in the eye of racists, they’re a rogue nation with nuclear weapons committing genocide against their own people. We have as much a duty to stop them as we had against the Nazis or Soviets.
> It is an interesting discussion of Russian logistical capacities.
It’s also factually wrong just comparing it too it’s own, open-source sourcing. For example, this section:
“To reach a 180-mile range, the Russian army would have to double truck allocation to 400 trucks for each of the material-technical support brigades. To gain familiarity with Russian logistic requirements and lift resources, a useful starting point is the Russian combined arms army. They all have different force structures, but on paper, each combined army is assigned a material-technical support brigade. Each material-technical support brigade has two truck battalions with a total of 150 general cargo trucks with 50 trailers and 260 specialized trucks per brigade. The Russian army makes heavy use of tube and rocket artillery fire, and rocket ammunition is very bulky. Although each army is different, there are usually 56 to 90 multiple launch rocket system launchers in an army. Replenishing each launcher takes up the entire bed of the truck. If the combined arms army fired a single volley, it would require 56 to 90 trucks just to replenish rocket ammunition. That is about a half of a dry cargo truck force in the material-technical support brigade just to replace one volley of rockets. ”
Is a bit confusing. To begin with, it says that each MTO Brigade would need to double it’s truck allocation to 400 400 vehicles. It then gives a figure that comes out to 460 vehicles per brigade, which is already well over what it says the needed. But things get even worse when you click on the hyperlink under “material-technical support brigade” and realize that on page 332 in discussing Russian logistics it says this:
“The MTO Battalion consists of approximately 1000 personnel and 408 transport vehicles (148 general freight/260 specialized/48 trailers), and can reportedly haul 1,870 tons of cargo (1,190 tons of dry cargo, 680 tons of liquid).”
That seems exactly in line with the figures given per brigade… except it isn’t per brigade as the article claims, it’s PER BATTALION. With two battalions per brigade, that’s 296 general freight trucks, 520 specialized transport trucks, and 96 trailers per brigade. In other words, the article underestimates the number of trucks in a Russian MTO Brigade by about half. I dearly hope someone points out to the author this rather glaring discrepancy, since it seriously compromises their basic claim.
Thank you. I was simply considering the idiocy of an invasion of the Baltic States and did not check the actual logistics figures. My bad.
The plus side is, basically, revanchism- these territories were part of the USSR and the Russian Empire for centuries, during a period when Russia was a great power. They still have large Russian-speaking populations. Their loss in 1991 was part of a humiliating collapse. The ideological project of the Putin regime has been to reverse this humiliation and restore Russia to its rightful place on the world stage, and regaining control of (what Russians see as) breakaway provinces would be an ultimate triumph, an unmistakable and permanent reversal of Russian decline, plain to anyone who can read a map.
Now, I think we’d agree that these are bad reasons to start a war. And I have no idea how much of all this is real, and how much is stuff that NATO analysts projected onto Russia. I certainly hope it’s all part of the long history of Western fear of Soviet/Russian aggression that turns out to have little basis in actual Russian strategy. But it’s more plausible than America invading Mexico or the like.
Attacking and grabbing territory from Ukraine happened a few years ago. If it happened shortly before, it’s enough of a possibility to write about.
Taking all bets about whether the Fortifications series will be finished by the end of the year, or whether a combination of non-blog duties, monthly features, and random timely one-offs delays the series to January.
4 weeks left, 2 articles left, so 2 weeks of buffer.
*All* bets? I could stand to make a buck or two here…
Your upper cat is really identical to mine – the same little tuft of longer white furs on the center of the chest. Beautiful.
In your talk on The Wrath-Bearing Tree, you mentioned some bafflement at US decision to establish a centralized state in Afghanistan. Adrian brought up an interesting point that part of this may have been Afghan insistence, built on their experience with Soviet administration.
I think another factor may have been state legibility (imperial legibility?). For an imperial power coming in on about a month’s notice like the US was, and which had spent the previous ten years not paying too much attention, a centralized presidential state provides the imperial power a single point of contact without the need to actually understand this foreign society.
I am reminded of both the post-WWII situation in South Korea, where the US installed a president (Syngman Rhee) based mostly on his English-language skills, and close contacts with Americans built over years of diaspora lobbying (very much like Hamid Karzai). They didn’t know who else to turn to, weren’t confident in their grasp of the underlying society, and didn’t have the appetite for directly administering a long transition.
It’s also reminiscent to me of Israeli doctrine when relating to neighboring territories with weak or non-existent states which pose security threats. In Hebrew-language public statements, security-state types often talk up the benefits of wanting an “address to turn to” in Lebanon or Gaza or the Golan Heights – not knowing who’s in charge next door is considered worse than having an unsteady partner, or even an actively hostile neighbor. Hence Israeli flailing to create a central and powerful state to coerce or deter in Lebanon in 1978-82 (setting up a puppet state in Southern Lebanon when that proved a spectacular disaster), or its unwillingness to take advantage of the weakness of actively hostile regimes in Gaza or Syria for fear of losing that “address”.
Your friend seems to have made an error, misreading battalion as brigade in the article “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli.”
It claims each Russian MTO brigade only has 408 trucks (which is confusingly already slightly over the number it says each brigade needs), but its cited source makes clear that’s per battalion.
To reach a 180-mile range, the Russian army would have to double truck allocation to 400 trucks for each of the material-technical support brigades. To gain familiarity with Russian logistic requirements and lift resources, a useful starting point is the Russian combined arms army. They all have different force structures, but on paper, each combined army is assigned a material-technical support brigade. Each material-technical support brigade has two truck battalions with a total of 150 general cargo trucks with 50 trailers and 260 specialized trucks per brigade. The Russian army makes heavy use of tube and rocket artillery fire, and rocket ammunition is very bulky. Although each army is different, there are usually 56 to 90 multiple launch rocket system launchers in an army. Replenishing each launcher takes up the entire bed of the truck. If the combined arms army fired a single volley, it would require 56 to 90 trucks just to replenish rocket ammunition. That is about a half of a dry cargo truck force in the material-technical support brigade just to replace one volley of rockets. ”
From the source hyperlinked to the words “material technical support brigade”:
“The MTO Battalion consists of approximately 1000 personnel and 408 transport vehicles (148 general freight/260 specialized/48 trailers), and can reportedly haul 1,870 tons of cargo (1,190 tons of dry cargo, 680 tons of liquid).” Page 332 (Emphasis Added)
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