The Best Defense

A wake-up call for the British army

Patrick Little, a former British infantry officer, blasts the British military for not adjusting in recent years as the U.S. Army has. This is a bit ironic, given that one of the most influential American military books in recent years, John Nagl's Eating Soup with a Knife, was built on the notion that the British army of the 1950s was a "learning institution," while the American Army of the 1960s was not.

Writing in the RUSI Journal, Little charges that there are "serious systemic shortcomings" that aren't being addressed, most notably a command climate in which "bad news is routinely camouflaged."

The current climate, with themes of deteriorating communication, intolerance of dissent, tolerance of toxicity, poorly designed processes and perceived tolerance of inadequate senior officer performance, is a real obstacles to learning and adapting."

Where, he wonders, are. Nagls and Yinglings of the British military -- or a General Petraeus willing to listen to them and protect them?

He recommends several major reforms, including:

  • Seeking foreign perspectives on British strategy, tactics and doctrine, especially from those who have fought alongside the British military.
  • "Re-invigorating" professional writing.
  • Creating and using "red teams" to critique concepts and policy.
  • Educating officers more in sociology, anthropology and international development, with more emphasis on languages
  • Introducing 360-degree appraisals

This all makes sense to me. I think he tends to think the U.S. military has changed more than it has, but he is correct in crediting our military has moved in the right direction.

(HT to JB)

Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

The Best Defense

Sean Gourley checks in

Remember when I sent up a flare asking for help in understanding physicist Sean Gourley's claim that he has found a mathematical pattern of violence in different wars?

We seem to have a better class of reader than even I thought. Professor Gourley himself responds with this note, which I am publishing with his permission:

With this new approach we can do several important things that were not possible before. We can understand the underlying structure of an insurgency i.e. how an insurgency 'decides' to distribute its forces (weapons, people, money etc). Further, we can explain why this kind of insurgent structure emerges in multiple different conflict zones around the world. We can estimate the number of autonomous insurgent groups operating within a theatre of war. We can monitor and track a conflict through time to see how either sides strategies are affecting the state of the war. Finally we can compare the mathematical patterns of current ongoing wars with past wars to estimate how close they are to ending."

This is a pretty sweeping set of assertions. I still don't see it. But that may be my fault. Smart, statistically-comfortable readers: Do you see support for these claims?

whiteafrican/Flickr