Tuesday


South_Asia

0. Introduction: Narcissism of Minor Differences

One of the socio-political mechanisms that join civilization and war in a coevolutionary spiral is the ethno-sectarian realization of what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences, which not only accounts for ongoing disputes between neighbors, but can explain how such ongoing disputes can turn into morbid fascinations and neurotic obsessions that come to exclude rational calculation of interests, which in the strategic sphere is the operative form of rationality.

In Europe, narcissism of minor differences repeatedly set neighbors at each others' throats -- Jonathan Meades called this "neighborly murderousness down through the centuries." While we might first think of the Balkans in this connection -- Churchill made black humor of this European fratricide by saying that the Balkans produced more history than they could consume -- perhaps the central rivalry of Europe has been the rivalry of France and Germany, which led to the two most destructive wars in history. Many commentators have opined that the ulterior motive of postwar European efforts at economic integration were to bind France and Germany so tightly together than there would never be a repeat of the first and second world wars.

The same narcissism of minor differences that animated the geographical, linguistic, and cultural divisions of the Germans and the French in twentieth century Europe have been playing out since the 1947 decolonialization and partition of the Indian subcontinent between the ethnic, cultural, and religious identities of Muslim Pakistan and (mostly) Hindu India. As France and Germany imagined different destinies for the European landmass they shared, so too Muslims and Hindus imagine different destinies for the South Asian landmass that they share.

1. Manifest Destinies

While we associate the phrase "manifest destiny" with a particular phase of US expansionism into and across western North America, there is a much more general meaning implicit in the idea of manifest destiny. I appealed to this generalization of manifest destiny in my post Manifest Destiny: Roman and American. The essential elements of manifest destiny have been present in other places and other times than the Roman and the American instantiations.

What happens when two distinct manifest destinies collide? What happens when distinct conceptions of civilization are forced to confront each other? What happens when peoples who see themselves as part of distinct traditions are forced by historical and geographical circumstances to live next to each other? Often this confrontation is understood by partisans on both sides as each side posing an existential threat to the other. Moreover, perception of mutual existential threat often means a war of extermination once the appropriate trigger erupts within an escalation and so allows events to pass beyond a critical threshold. Wherever one finds revanchist or irredentist sentiment that looks toward a neighboring territory, one finds a ready audience for ideological justifications to covet thy neighbor's possessions.

Manifest destiny is, in a sense, a vision of the future of civilization, the unfolding of a destiny implicit in the life of a people -- it is a teleological conception of a people, and therefore often formulated in deterministic terms. The idea of "destiny" is of course a slippery term for geopolitics and geostrategy, given its eschatological and soteriological overtones, but it is precisely for this reason that the idea of destiny maintains a powerful hold over human minds -- a much more powerful hold than mere nationalism, for example, which does not usually extend its roots into the religious identity of a people in the same way that manifest destiny does. Any idea that moves masses in an age of popular sovereignty must be taken seriously by geopolitics and geostrategy, and destiny must be counted among these ideas. A destiny that grows organically out of the life of a particular people -- the destiny of a particular geographical, ethnic, social, political, or sectarian group -- has a particular appeal to members of that group. Vague and ambiguous conceptions that appeal to a potent mix of powerfully felt yet ill-defined sentiments such as patriotism, ethnic and sectarian pride, ethnic and sectarian autonomy, and self-sacrifice for an ennobling and edifying cause still today have significant traction in the popular mind.

2. Geopolitics and Big History

Manifest destiny incorporates all of this and more as well, and for that reason it deserves our analytical attention. An analytical approach to a concept as elusive and protean as that of destiny demands that we place the lands and the peoples and the ideologies in a larger theoretical context, and the largest possible theoretical context for geopolitics is Big History.

Will Durant was my introduction to Big History. I suppose I owe this to Earl Fisher, as he was my impetus to read Durant's The Life of Greece while I was still in high school (by the way, thanks Mr. Fisher). At the same time I also read Burn's classic Western Civilization text (also at the behest of Mr. Fisher), but it was Durant that stuck with me. Burns was too much like a textbook. Long before I had read Pascal, I felt as he did: "When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man." After my school years, when I began my true self-education, I acquired Will and Ariel Durant's entire Story of Civilization series of books (purchased in a small used book store in Beaverton that no longer exists), which I still read and still admire as a synthesis of human history.

In the first book of the Durant's massive history, Our Oriental Heritage, Durant says this of the history of India and the Indian subcontinent:

"We must conceive it, then, not as a nation, like Egypt, Babylonia, or England, but as a continent as populous and polyglot as Europe, and almost as varied in climate and race, in literature, philosophy and art."

Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. I, Our Oriental Heritage, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954, Chapter XIV, p. 393

The first time I read this -- I was probably 16 or 17 years old -- it made an impression on me, and over the intervening years I have thought about this statement. For a Westerner like myself, European history is the standard of history, and I can recount, off the top of my head, the various movements and conflicts of peoples even in a small fragment of Europe -- for example, the English, Welsh, Scotch, and Irish peoples on the British Isles. On the continent, we know that Spain was only unified by granting special charters and traditional privileges to peoples within the Iberian peninsula, while Italy and Germany were only unified in the nineteenth century from a diverse patchwork of traditional political entities. To think that South Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, hosted a similar plurality and diversity of peoples, each with their own histories and traditions, was almost too much to take in. But I remembered it, and returned to think about this theme from time to time.

It is only in my maturity that I have begun to understand the truth of this quote from Durant, and to gain an inkling of the complexity of history as revealed in the synchronic "thickness" of a given geographical region (historians sometimes say they will give a "thick description" when they delve into details usually conflated by some overly-general yet convenient label).

In a previous post, Thoughts from Horseback, I quoted another passage from Durant that places India's religious traditions within its biological and climatological context, which again shows Durant as an authentic ancestor of Big History:

"Here and there, constituting one-fifth of the land, the primitive jungle remains, a breeding-place of tigers, leopards, wolves and snakes. In the southern third, or Deccan, the heat is drier, or is tempered with breezes from the sea. But from Delhi to Ceylon the dominating fact in India is heat: heat that has weakened the physique, shortened the youth, and affected the quietist religion and philosophy of the inhabitants. The only relief from this heat is to sit still, to do nothing, to desire nothing; or in the summer months the monsoon wind may bring cooling moisture and fertilizing rain from the sea. When the monsoon fails to blow, India starves, and dreams of Nirvana."

Robert D. Kaplan, in his recent book The Revenge of Geography, like Durant, sees South Asia as a geographical unity in spite of its contemporary political divisions, and for geopolitics, geographical unity can be more significant that passing political arrnagements:

"...the vast region that today encompasses northern India along with Pakistan and much of Afghanistan was commonly under a single polity, even as sovereignty over southern India was in doubt. Thus, for Indian elites, to think of not only Pakistan but Afghanistan, too, as part of India’s home turf is not only natural but historically justified. The tomb of Babur is in Kabul, not in Delhi. This does not mean that India has territorial designs on Afghanistan, but it does mean that New Delhi cares profoundly about who rules Afghanistan, and wishes to ensure that those who do rule there are friendly to India."

...and...

"This is a rich history that few in the West know of, while sections of the Indian elite know it in their bones. When Indians look at their maps of the subcontinent they see Afghanistan and Pakistan in the northwest, just as they see Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh in the northeast, as all part of India’s immediate sphere of influence, with Iran, the Persian Gulf, the former Soviet Central Asian republics, and Burma as critical shadow zones. Not to view these places as such, is, from the vantage point of New Delhi, to ignore the lessons of history and geography."

Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of geography: what the map tells us about coming conflicts and the battle against fate, New York: Random House, 2012, Chapter XII, "INDIA’S GEOGRAPHICAL DILEMMA"

Kaplan here more or less gives the Indian perspective -- his chapter, after all, is called "India's Geographical Dilemma," and one tends not to think of Pakistan as a geopolitical "power" due to its internal strife -- but it is a sanitized Indian perspective that fails to do justice to the fact that the geographical unity of India has only been approximated in the modern period under Muslim Mogul emperors and British colonialism.

3. Greater Pakistan and Greater India

Some Pakistanis harbor the idea of a "Greater Pakistan" which is expressed in the idea of "Ghazwa-e-hind" (or "Ghazwatulhind" depending on your transliteration; غزوة الهند). The literal translation of this is something like, "When the Prophet (PBUH) goes to war in the Indian subcontinent," however, over time the idea has come to signify something more like the Pakistani equivalent of Manifest Destiny. On the surface, this idea could be seen as overtly hostile to India, and in the some forums there are maps that show most of what we now know as India as part of a Greater Pakistan, as in this example:

gazwa al hind

Now, we all know that this is a fantasy, and that no iteration of contemporary Pakistan would be able to push across India like this, much less make it stick with boots on the ground. Such visions are eschatological dreams of true believers. But there are conceptions of a Greater Pakistan that are much more realistic. For example, there are many maps (check out the Pakistan Defense Forum) that show what is today Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single nation-state within one border, as in this example:

greater pakistan

It is, of course, very unlikely that the global powers that be would allow anything like this Greater Pakistan to come into existence, but the important thing here is that this is something like a rational and realizable vision for extreme Pakistani nationalists, whereas the vision of a Greater Pakistan including most of India is not realistic. The deep penetration of Afghanistan by the Pakistani ISI, and the ability of the ISI to exercise influence and to shape events in the region, make the idea of a Greater Pakistan including large swathes of Afghanistan a believable manifest destiny for Pakistan, since de facto Pakistani control of parts of Afghanistan is already a reality in some regions.

But Afghanistan is far from being controlled outright by Pakistan, and other destinies may conflict with this western vision of Pakistan's future. Another quasi-eschatological vision of a "greater" political entity
is Greater Khorasan (or Khurassan, or Khurazzan), which, like the ideas of Greater Pakistan and Greater India, are based on idealized historical models of greatest territorial extent of past empires. The most ambitious maps of Greater Khorasan and Greater Pakistan overlap considerably, and while these represent (slightly) distinct political eschatologies, both are ideas that draw from the traditions of Islamic civilization and frequently cite the same sources, so that these visions are not necessarily mutually exclusive -- which does not mean that they are necessarily compatible.

Khorasan

More obviously mutually exclusive is the Indian political eschatology of a Greater India. This Indian parallel to this Pakistani vision of Ghazwa-e-hind or Greater Pakistan is Akhand Bharat (अखण्ड भारत, Akhaṇḍa Bhārata, literally Undivided India), which is a conception of Greater India based on the historical unity of India prior to the partition of 1947, but carefully skirting the issue of this unity being based on British colonialism or Indian imperialism under Muslim rulers.

Akhanda-bharat

In the above illustrations of Greater Pakistan, Greater Khorasan, and Greater India maps are employed as tools of political propaganda, with vast geographical areas identified by a single bold color as falling within some expanded political imperium. Given the record of expulsions and populations transfers that marked the violent partition of India and Pakistan, merely to contemplate grandiose schemes of Greater Pakistan or Greater India humbles one by the mere idea of the magnitude of human suffering that would attend any attempt to realize such a vision, much less the successful imposition of a political eschatology. (Colors on a map indicating territory, like lines on a map indicating borders, are easy to draw, but their realization comes at a high human cost.) And yet, this is the dream of those who dream big on the Indian subcontinent.

4. Manifest Destiny and Eschatological Wars

While dreams of political eschatology were once mere fantasies, and it is easy to consign them to a pre-modern past that lives today only in the dreams of deluded antiquaries, contemporary technology has given new impetus to the idea of eschatological wars (that is to say, cosmic wars); Pakistan and India are now both nuclear-armed nation-states, and the rational reconstruction of the traditional state on the basis of the nation-state model means that both powers meticulously plan for nuclear engagements. (Cf., e.g., Race to the End: Pakistan's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea to develop battlefield nukes by Tom Hundley, 05 September 2012, and India 'unlikely' to deploy Cold Start against Pakistan)

Planning for doomsday was once the sole preserve of raving prophets; now it is the daily occupation of professionals. Together with a de facto tolerance for state-sponsored weaponization of eliminationism as long as it is kept below the threshold of atrocity, doomsday planning becomes the natural telos of escalating atrocities. If atrocities can be explained away as hostages to fortune, and doomsday as the technological implementation of manifest destiny, the lives of millions of human beings might be dismissed as being of little account compared to the cosmic forces in play.

5. Tolerating Fanaticism through Facilitating Moderation

I have no doubt that there are a great many sophisticated and cosmopolitan Indians who understand that the future of India lies in greater integration with the global economy, improving living standards for its people, broadly-based recognition of the importance of democracy and human rights for long-term global stability and prosperity, all of which would be turned back by any attempt to act upon Akhand Bharat as a political ideology. And I have no doubt whatsoever that an equally proportional number of sophisticated and cosmopolitan Pakistanis understand precisely the same in relation to any attempt to act upon Ghazwa-e-hind as a political ideology. Such individuals as I have described would immediate recognize the appeal to any such retrograde ideologies that would result in socioeconomic retrogression as an opportunistic and probably purely cynical political gambit for power on the part of ambitious and unscrupulous elements.

However, it is not the sophisticated and cosmopolitan outlook of Indian and Pakistani elites that shapes the history of the subcontinent, but rather it is history and geography that shapes the elites. Even the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan members of society -- that elite segment of society from which political leaders are usually drawn -- remain captive to ideas of manifest destiny that are likely to be destructive of all the whatever gains have been realized through economic development. Why is this the case?

In my post Hearts and Minds I quoted Sam Harris on the relationship between religious moderates and religious extremists...

"...people of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. One of the central themes of this book, however, is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance -- born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God -- is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss."

Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005

Implicit in Harris' formulation is a more general principle, as applicable to manifest destiny as to religious identity, which I stated as, "...ideological moderates of any kind, subscribing to any set of (vaguely held) beliefs, provide cover for ideological extremists who are willing to put their beliefs into practice in an uncompromising form." I will call this the principle of facilitating moderation, since, according to the principle, moderates facilitate the beliefs and actions of extremists.

The ideological moderates likely to be found among Indian and Pakistani elites facilitate the fanaticism and militarism of the masses -- much as Soviet and American elites during the Cold War had to play to the vulgar us-against-them dialectic of the masses. And while India and Pakistan find themselves sharing a border and coveting the same landmass for their manifest destiny, Soviet and American military planners reflected the global ambitions of the conflicting ideologies that defined the Cold War: each side in the conflict had a vision and a destiny for the planet entire.

6. Conclusion: A Problem of Civilization

Is respect for the unjustified beliefs of others pushing us toward the abyss in the Indian subcontinent? Yes and no. In the Darwinian struggle of ideas, science and technology are rapidly transforming our knowledge in unprecedented ways, and in the long term the sheer efficacy of science and technology triumphs over barbarism and superstition, which become marginalized as a result. Technologically implemented eschatological wars that seek to embody a long-imagined manifest destiny can only be successfully prosecuted by societies in possession of the scientific and industrial infrastructure necessary to the waging of industrial-technological warfare, and the unpleasant reality is that, whereas victory once lay with the larger battalions (as Napoleon observed), victory now lies with the higher technology.

But we aren't home free yet. There is no reason for smugness, and much reason to yet fear the danger. Industrial-technological warfare, as it grows in sophistication, presents an existential threat to civilization, and possibly also to all life on Earth. In so far as these means are placed at the disposal of those who still believe in cosmic wars, and who see modern technology as a means to realize an eschatological end, the advancement of science and technology only brings us closer to anthropogenic extinction.

Keynes famously said that the long term is a misleading measure because, in the long term, we are all dead. The danger here is that in the short term we also may all be dead. The prospect of industrial-technological warfare among societies still envisioning their destinies in agrarian-ecclesiastical terms means that we are at the present stage of history passing through a window in which the means to destroy ourselves are provided by novel developments that have not yet changed our societies, and our traditional societies provide the pretext for war on a scale not possible for agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization.

Ultimately, then, this is a problem of civilization -- perhaps we could say a problem unique to civilization. Civilization changes our means more readily than it changes our ends, and that puts advanced means at the service of stagnant ends. The problem of civilization is, then, resolved by the need for more civilization. But how are we to expand civilization so that its ends are brought up to a level equal to its means? That must be a question for another time.

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Thursday


Ecclesiates' explicit denial of novelty in the world: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Recently Strategic Forecasting has been using the loaded phrase, “new cold war.” Here is one example, from Russia and the United States: Pushing Tensions to the Limit?:

In the past few years, Russia has been relatively successful in regaining influence in many of its former Soviet states. This brought Russian power back to its broader frontiers, especially in Central Europe, where the United States has staked a dominant position. Russia is not looking to control Central Europe, but it does not want the region to be a base of U.S. power in Eurasia. Washington sees Central Europe as the new Cold War line — a position previously held by Germany — that halts Russia’s influence.

And here’s another example, from a situation report, U.K.: Iran Could Start New Cold War — Hague:

Iran’s nuclear ambitions could prompt nuclear development in the Middle East and cause a “new Cold War” that lacks safety mechanisms, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, BBC reported Feb. 18. It would cause the most serious round of nuclear proliferation with the Middle East’s destabilizing effects, Hague said, adding that Israel is urged not to strike Iran.

The latter is of special interest as it quotes British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who used the phrase in an interview with the Daily Telegraph:

“It is a crisis coming down the tracks,” he said. “Because they are clearly continuing their nuclear weapons programme… If they obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons.

“And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilising effects in the Middle East. And the threat of a new cold war in the Middle East without necessarily all the safety mechanisms… That would be a disaster in world affairs.”

When an official at this level of government service makes this kind of public pronouncement, it is intentional. Such statements have consequences. They also have implications. One of the implications of this statement is that a new cold war would come with a new arms race, and this idea was given an independent exposition in The drift towards war with Iran by Gideon Rachman. This article in the Financial Times includes the following:

“…Saudi Arabia has made it clear that if Iran does successfully acquire a bomb, it will swiftly do the same. The Saudis are believed to have a deal with Pakistan, which is already a nuclear weapons state. The threat of a nuclear arms race loomed large in recent comments by William Hague, the British foreign secretary.”

I was very interested in this, so I wrote to Mr. Rachman to ask him what public intelligence was available for this. He was kind enough to respond, and said that he had heard as much from spooks and politicians in a couple of countries. I have no reason to do doubt this, and subsequent research revealed to me that quite a bit has been written about the relationship of Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani nuclear program. (Cf., e.g., Saudi Arabia’s nuclear arsenal-on-demand. A reader who commented on this story wrote, “The Saudis are playing a master game.”)

Thus I learned it has been widely reported that Saudi Arabia largely financed the Pakistani nuclear program with the understanding that, if they wanted a bomb of their own, this would be made available to them from the ongoing nuclear program in Pakistan, either in the form of technology transfers or even providing Saudi Arabia with a ready-made arsenal or a half dozen or so nuclear weapons “off the shelf,” as it were. The presumptive trigger for Saudi acquisition of nuclear weapons would be the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran.

The obvious scenario for a nuclear arms race centered on the Arabian Peninsula would follow from Iran publicly proclaiming its possession of nuclear weapons, followed by Saudi Arabia calling in its nuclear promissory note, and then there are the wealthy Gulf Sheikdoms who could afford a nuclear weapon if such were made available to them (even if their own technical and industrial infrastructure would not be adequate to the production of nuclear weapons). Perhaps Egypt, too, in some future democratic iteration, would want The Bomb. Egypt is often cited as the spiritual and intellectual capital of the Arab world, and it might want a geostrategic posture equal to its spiritual stature. And then there would be question of whether Iran’s militant proxies in Syria, Lebanon, or wherever sympathetic Shia populations are to be found, would be given tactical nukes.

The very idea of nuclear proliferation on this scale would certainly give a few statesmen nightmares. But would this come to pass, and, if it did come to pass, is there any reason to suppose that the nation-states of the region would be less capable to understanding or abiding by the logic of mutually assured destruction than were the US and the USSR?

It was thought at one time that a nuclear armed North Korea might be the trigger for a nuclear arms race in East Asia. This stands to reason. Both Japan and South Korea are technologically advanced nation-states with an extensive industrial plant that would be capable of producing nuclear weapons with little difficulty. Both are also wealthy, and could afford both the production of nuclear weapons and any sanctions that might result from their acquisition. With Japan and South Korea, it is not a question of capability at all, it is only a question of intent. A political change in the region could change that intent.

So far, we have not seen a nuclear arms race in East Asia, which means that there is no inevitability that, when a belligerent nation-state acquires nuclear weapons that neighboring nation-states will acquire then regardless of cost. Furthermore, the occasional engagements between North Korea and South Korea (like the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong island) have been kept well below the nuclear threshold, as has been the case conflict around the world when a nuclear-armed power is involved.

It is apparently the case with India and Pakistan that, if the one had The Bomb, the other had to have The Bomb also. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously said, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.” So far, again, in the India subcontinent, we have not seen wider proliferation, as though there were a nuclear domino effect, though certainly Abdul Qadeer Khan ran quite a personal proliferation shop for a time. Moreover, the cold war between India and Pakistan has been a well-behaved cold war like that between the US and the USSR. Conflicts have been kept well below the nuclear threshold, and everyone seems to be quite well aware of the consequences of mutually assured destruction. And in this connection we ought to observe that neither Pakistan nor India has the kind robust deterrent possessed by the US or the USSR during the cold war, with three dependable legs of a nuclear triad and for that reason an equally robust and dependable second strike capability.

It is a little disingenuous to speak of “new cold wars” and “new arms races,” since, if there is nothing new under the sun of geopolitics, there is nothing new about these most recent iterations of cold wars and arms races. Human history, if only we look at it in such a way as to appreciate it rightly, has cold wars of far greater extent than anything that happened during the twentieth century, and arms races too frequently to count.

The really interesting geostrategic questions are not whether Iran will acquire the Bomb or if there will be a nuclear arms race in the Arabian Peninsula, but whether arms races cause cold wars or cold wars cause arms races. Similarly, the questions we should be asking now should include whether the arms race/cold war dialectic issues in a stable albeit tense peace more often than it issues it all-out war between the competing parties.

We know that the First World War was preceded by an arms race focused on Dreadnaught class battleships, but more generally there was a competition among all the European powers to acquire vast military resources and a social infrastructure capable of mobilizing the military machine acquired through industrialization. In this case, the arms race/cold war dialectic did in fact issue in a catastrophic conflict that released the pent-up energies of conflict and in fact far surpassed the expectation of planners.

In the case of the arms race/cold war dialectic between the US and the USSR, this dialectic did not in fact culminate in a catastrophic conflict. Sometimes a cold war ends with a bang, and sometimes with a whimper. Are these two historical examples so diverse in terms of the historical accidents that gave rise to the particular circumstances of each that no general lessons can be drawn, or, rather, can a careful study of the essential issues involved be sufficiently isolated and abstracted that we can formulate a coherent theory that will shed light on the present and provide a rational basis for prediction of the future?

These are the true questions of geopolitics, and not the “horse race” questions of who gets what first, and the like. We learn nothing from reading headlines, even headlines of “secret deals,” and we learn little more from the reports of spies, if we are privy to such. It is the detailed record of the past that demands our attention. Here is a wealth of detail waiting to be discovered that can teach us about ourselves.

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Saturday


F-16 Fight Falcons operated by the PAF.

In the discussion that resulted from my post Air Superiority in South Asia, one comment posted brought my attention to rumors that Pakistani F-16s had humbled Eurofighter Typhoons at the Anatolian Eagle Exercises. After receiving the comment I did some reading about this, and in my response to the comment tried to sum up what I had discovered. At that time, I regarded the issues raised by the comment and what has been written about the episode as an open question, and to a certain degree matters like this will always remain an open question. However, I have learned a few things since I last wrote about this, and what I have learned reveals a pattern. While a single incident can always be an outlier, a pattern reveals reveals something more than this. One expects a pattern to repeat. If a pattern repeats, measures can be taken ameliorate the repetition if desired. On the other hand, if we discern a pattern and fail to take action, we are culpable for the consequences of such repetition if it is unwelcome.

The incident in question was at Exercise Anatolian Eagle 2008. Anatolian Eagle exercises have been taking place for ten years now, several times per year, at Konya, Turkey. The website for the exercises bills them as the “#1 Tactical Training Center of the World.” After the 2008 exercises a PAF (Pakistani Air Force) pilot was quoted as follows:

“NATO pilots are not that proficient in close-in air-to-air combat. They are trained for BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements and their tactics are based on BVR engagements. These were close-in air combat exercises and we had the upper hand because close-in air combat is drilled into every PAF pilot and this is something we are very good at.”

Much has been written about this since, and there has been no definite identification of whose Eurofighter Typhoons the Pakistanis engaged. Originally they were reported to be RAF jets, then Italian jets, and then others. And it has been claimed that there were no times when the Pakistanis engaged any of these Eurofighter Typhoons. I am not in a position to settle the various accounts that are to be found on the internet, but other matters can shed some light on the reported incident.

I previously cited The DEW Line blog, which included a comment that sought to place the Pakistani claim in context:

“The PAF and RAF aircraft were conducting DACT – Dissimilar air combat training. PAF were the Blue force. RAF were the Red force. Red force was meant to die and was representing a particular threat for the purposes of the exercise, this threat was not the RAF and the Eurofighter’s full capability or even their tactics.”

And another comment reiterated some of the points of the earlier comment:

“Just to build on Aussie Digger’s comments, a well-placed source has told me the following: ‘None of the RAF Typhoon pilots involved in Ex Anatolian Eagle recalls undertaking Basic Fighter Maneuvers with Turkish air force F-16s flown by Pakistan exchange pilots.’ So if a ‘kill’ is claimed, it took place under exercise conditions where it was supposed to happen, and from distance but within visual range; not dogfighting!”

These seemed like reasonable claims to me, but there is a larger context that I mentioned above, which suggests a pattern. That pattern is a tension between technology and training. Although in historical terms, jet fighters are very young, with only about sixty years of operational experience, the design and operation of fighters has already gone through several cycles. At one point in the cycle, technology is emphasized, and at another point in the cycle real-world experience in training is emphasized.

The USAF has long emphasized technological solutions to combat problems, and this is to be expected because US technology gives the USAF an advantage over other forces. However, this advantage admits of exceptions. USAF desire to push the technological envelope led to the F-4 being fitted with missiles (the Sparrow and the Sidewinder) and no gun at all when air-to-air missile technology was still rather new and not yet robust or entirely dependable, especially when you are depending upon it for your life. These F-4s fought against Soviet MiGs of the North Vietnamese air force and often found themselves at a disadvantage in dogfighting as a result of their lack of guns. Part of the problem were rules of engagement that required visual identification of targets, which defeats the purpose (and advantage) of non-line of sight missile technology.

There is a detailed monograph on this by Steven A. Fino, formerly available on the internet, but now unaccountably unavailable. Fortunately, I downloaded it while it was available (I don’t always remember to do so). I will only quote a few sentences, but the whole document is a revelation:

As MiG activity increased during the remainder of April and May 1966, several American pilots continued to follow the Feather Duster advice and tried to avoid entering a turning engagement with the MiGs. Sometimes, though, they could not; during the course of an engagement, multiple MiGs could often force the F-4 to turn to defend itself, forcing the Phantom crews to discard their approved combat solution. Despite this emerging combat reality, many pilots let their faith in missile technology and published tactics unduly influence their opinions of air-to-air armament. Most continued to categorically dismiss the potential value of a gun on the F-4.

And a page later:

Because the F-4C did not have a gun, nor were there any plans to add a gun to the platform, the Air Force focused its efforts on improving the “poor” performance of the F-4‘s missile armament. The substandard results were difficult to ignore. From April 1965 through April 1966, the primary armament of the F-4, the AIM-7 Sparrow—the weapon that had guided the aircraft‘s design and development—had accounted for only one kill, downing a MiG-17 on 23 April 1966. To address the problem, the Air Force appointed a special team of USAF and F-4/Sparrow specialists to travel to Southeast Asia to personally review the weapon system‘s combat performance and “recommend the required actions necessary to enhance success of future Sparrow/Sidewinder firings.”

“ALL THE MISSILES WORK” TECHNOLOGICAL DISLOCATIONS AND MILITARY INNOVATION: A CASE STUDY IN US AIR FORCE AIR-TO-AIR ARMAMENT, POST-WORLD WAR II THROUGH OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER by Steven A. Fino (p. 85 and following)

Fino isn’t the only one to cover this ground. Fino cites Clashes: Air Combat over North Vietnam 1965-1972 by Marshall L. Michell III. I first learned of this indirectly from Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent’s Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice by Fred Burton and John Bruning. This book also cites Marshall L. Michel’s book.

Burton and Bruning also tell the fascinating story of lack of US success against Soviet MiGs, and the skullduggery involved in transporting a captured MiG-21 from Israel to the US for study. The disproportion in kill ratios was so great that there was very real fear that the NATO-Warsaw Pact confrontation in Europe would be lost by NATO because of the apparent impunity with which Soviet MiGs defeated the best technology of the US. While both the USAF and USN did rather poorly against MiGs initially, USN aviation opened their Top Gun school, made changes to pilot training and began to score significantly better kill ratios against Soviet MiGs than the USAF. A mission by the USN to “help” the USAF failed miserably due to inter-service rivalry.

At about the same time as the USAF was doing miserably against Soviet MiGs in southeast Asia, the Israelis were doing quite well against Soviet MiGs operated by Egypt, Iraq, and Syria — Soviet client states in the region armed with the latest and greatest MiG-21s. The same MiGs that were disproportionately killing USAF jets in SE Asia were in turn being disproportionately killed by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) mostly operating French Mirage III fighters.

Dassault Mirage III at the Israeli Air Force museum.

I can’t do justice to this interesting story here — the reader is encouraged to follow my references and get the details for yourself — and we can’t narrow the complexity of these diverse situation to a single cause, but there is a common thread that distinguishes the successful forces in air combat, and this is (not surprisingly) doctrine that emphasizes air-to-air combat and pilot training that puts this doctrine into practice. This may sound too obvious to even to say, but at this crucial time (late 1960s to early 1970s) in the development of the supersonic fighter jet, US pilots were being taught and trained to depend on missiles, and their jets didn’t even have guns to engage enemy fighters in close air-to-air combat.

The F-4 with its weapons load: lots of bombs and no bullets.

Disproportionate fighter kills, moreover, are not historically unprecedented. In fact, fighter kill ratios can be so one-sided that it is shocking to see the numbers. If you look at the list of fighting aces from the Second World War, it would be rather understating the obvious to note that it is dominated by Germans. The number one fighting ace of all time, Erich “Bubi” Hartmann, had 352 recorded kills to his credit. The highest scoring US Ace of the war, Richard I. Bong, had 40 kills.

While part of the German dominance of fighter aces in the Second World War may be due to engagements on the Eastern Front, where it could not be expected that what remained of Soviet industrial plant could produce anything close to the technical mastery of German fighter planes, but this cannot be the entire explanation. German fighters were also engaged on the Western Front. it would be an interesting project to break down kills ratios on the Eastern and Western Fronts. Probably someone has already done so.

An interesting footnote to Erich “Bubi” Hartmann’s career, after he spent ten years in Soviet gulags after he refused to fly for newly communist GDR, coincides with the period discussed above. Hartmann opposed the adoption of the US F-104 Starfighter by the Bundesluftwaffe and was forced into retirement in 1970. His warnings about the F-104 technology proved to be well-founded, as it killed 115 German pilots in non-combat missions. Again we see a pattern: US hubris over its technological advantage turns to tragedy with the same sad inevitability that upotian dreams result in dystopian nightmares when put into practice.

With these lessons and examples in mind, I have a completely different perspective on the statements made by the unnamed Pakistani pilots. Western air forces, with the money for new jets and their technological advantage, continue to rely disproportionately on this advantage, while other air forces invest in their human capital, not least because that is their advantage, and that is what they can do given their financial limitations.

Much has been made of the on-board technology of the F-35, which promises to be the most technologically advanced fighter ever built. It is especially proficient in delivering precision weapons to a distant target beyond line of sight. But we have seen this before. The USAF does not have a good record in preparing close in air-to-air combat doctrine and training its pilots to engage in such combat, and US pilots have not distinguished themselves in the disproportionate ways that some peoples have distinguished themselves in close air-to-air dogfighting. One suspects that the familiar pattern is being repeated.

It now seems to be entirely creditable to me that the Pakistani pilots, drilled in close air-to-air fighting were entirely capable of humbling western fighter pilots whose training and equipment has diverged from the nitty-gritty of air combat. Of course, none of this would matter if you could engage and destroy your target when it is still over the horizon and you never have occasion to engage in close air-to-air combat. But can this be done so reliably that air-to-air combat can be consigned to history, like chariot races?

The question now becomes precisely parallel to the question I asked when considering the vulnerability of carriers given the developments in carrier technology and doctrine since the great carrier engagements of the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. In that case I answered that developments in carrier technology have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary, so that while the accidents (and I use this term in the sense of Aristotelian metaphysics) of combat engagement between carrier strike groups will change over time, the essence of such conflict nevertheless has remained invariant over time. Since carriers were vulnerable then, if the essence of the combat situation is invariant over time, carriers are vulnerable today. Q.E.D.

I make the same judgment here: the changes in fighter technology from the introduction of fighter aircraft in the First World War to their current iteration today has been a gradual and evolutionary development without revolutionary breaks in technology, despite the naming of fighters in “generations” which contributes to an image of revolutionary technological change with each new generation of fighter aircraft. Because of the evolutionary development of fighter technology, tactics, and doctrine, accidental features of air combat (like air speed) will change, but the essential features of air-to-air combat will be retained despite accidental change.

For the record, I do not deny the possibility of a game-changing technology that would result in revolutionary change and an essential change in air combat, and I will go so far as to say that precision weapons systems are close to attaining this status, but they are not there yet. Any air force that relies on technology to the detriment of drilling in close air combat will find itself at a disadvantage despite its technology.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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