Scribbles from the Ivory Tower


Strategic Thought

Le’ Notes #11: Nuclear Strategy

This post discusses the many sides of nuclear strategy.

Ah, the nuclear weapon. That mushroom cloud sure is iconic. We make jokes of nuking China or Russia and morbidly say that “two nukes aren’t enough” (sorry Japan). Even in the world of strategic thought, nuclear strategy has been debated to death; examined from every angle: economics, military, political, etc. Yet the interesting part of it is that, aside from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has yet to see another nuclear explosion. We may count North Korea’s fifth nuclear test. As such, nuclear strategy remains hypothetical and deductive. We lack the empirical data (fortunately) and information to create sound theories. Most of nuclear strategy is pure speculation; terms such as Mutually Assured Destruction, limited exchange, and second-strike… they’re all hypothetical.

In this day and age, we might say nuclear strategy is dead. That’s almost true, since the world has yet to see another Bernard Brodie or Herman Kahn. But it’s also not so true. You see, the foundations of any future nuclear strategy (hopefully we won’t have to come to that) would rest on the previous groundwork which previous nuclear strategists have already constructed. So, let me present the thoughts of the main nuclear strategists to get a grasp on what nuclear strategy is.

On a side note, you can learn equally as much from science-fiction, pop culture, and games such as Fallout. 

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Le’ Notes #10: The offence-defence balance

This post discusses strategic postures and how they influence the offence-defence balance.

One of the most prevailing dilemmas in international relations is figuring out whether or not that other guy is out to get me. He has weapons, some tanks, some planes, a possible nuclear ICBM… he must be planning to get me. But is that always the case? We can’t be certain 100% all of the time. This condition is known as the security dilemma, which remains an eternal feature in international relations. Where does the security dilemma come from? Realists say it’s from the fact that there’s no “big brother” to call for help, that the world is always in a state of lawlessness, for there is no God to watch over us. These conditions foster the urge to rely on oneself. As they say, “if you want something done, do it yourself”. The result is different strategic postures.

Now, we’ll talk about the offence-defence balance, or ODB for short. The study of ODB tries to figure out how states make their strategic postures and how the interaction between different postures play out.

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Le’ Notes #9: Insurgency and counter-insurgency

This post discusses insurgencies and how to counter them, drawing examples from the Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War.

“These guerrilla operations must not be considered as an independent form of warfare. They are but one step in the total war, one aspect of the revolutionary struggle. They are the inevitable result of the clash between oppressor and oppressed…” – Mao Tse-tung, On Guerrilla Warfare

What is the first image that comes to mind when the word “insurgent” is uttered? A middle-aged man, wearing a black balaclava and battle fatigues, armed with an AK-47 and several IEDs, squaring off against a bunch of well-equipped American soldiers? That might be the most popular description of an insurgent that we have today. For most of the time, we’ve been focused on the “big wars”. Now, let’s take some time to look at the “small wars”, when small armies hold their ground against larger armies. Though there are more examples of small wars around the world, for this post, I learned specifically about the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War.

We’ll learn about what insurgencies are and the different methods to counter them.

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Le’ Notes #8: The theory of airpower

This post discusses the evolution of airpower theory from Giulio Douhet to the age of drones and precision weapons.

Ah, don’t you just love the smell of aviation fuel in the morning? Or would you prefer the “Tennouheika banzai!” of Zero pilots crashing into warships? Or the sound of lamenting cries because a kid died in a drone strike, while the guys over at the Pentagon are cheering because they thought they killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Either way, that’s the power of airplanes and their payload. To command the air, to dominate the ground. Above all.

airforce kancolle.png
Not an accurate depiction of a Zero pilot.

Despite the progress of airpower, we’ve only been fighting from and in the air for more or less a century now. From the frightening Luftwaffe to the controversial drone, airpower has been an essential part of any military campaign. Let me walk you through the older theories of airpower, from Giulio Douhet to more contemporary thinkers such as John Warden. Along the way, we’ll see how airpower has evolved from being all about aerial supremacy to precision killing.

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Le’ Notes #7: Deterrence and Coercion

This post discusses the evolution of deterrence thought from the Cold War to the fourth wave (21st century).

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent – Isaac Asimov, Foundation

I find the above quote, written by the genius Isaac Asimov in Foundation, to quite fit the topic that I’m going to write about today, which is deterrence and coercion.

Let me just emphasize the violence in Asimov’s quote. Of course, Hardin (the character that utters the quote) is a cunning fox. When faced with the imminent danger from a nearby “barbarian” empire, violence was never his first option. Rather, he concocted a series of elaborate plans to deter the enemy without even having an army. His plan succeeded and ushered in years of peace. Well, at least for the Foundation.

I’ll write about the different types of deterrence, which is still a part of coercion. And then, we’ll see whether or not deterrence still remains a viable strategy today. If we still need deterrence, then deterrence for whom?

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Le’ Notes #6: Naval warfare and maritime strategy

This post discusses naval thought and maritime strategy from the three renowned thinkers: Mahan, Corbett, and Till.

Ah, maritime strategy. One of those niche areas where I actually didn’t have to read anything for the week’s lecture since I got the basics down. And no, despite the featured image of the Kagero-class destroyer Amatsukaze, I won’t be touching anything Kantai Collection related. I just find Amatsukaze cute, that’s all.

Despite humans being seafaring creatures for a large portion of history (this was especially true for ancient Indonesians and Polynesians), naval thought only became a “real science” when Mahan started out describing elements of naval power. From thereon, we’ve seen naval thought and maritime strategy develop over the years, from warships to merchant fleets.

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Le’ Notes #4: The Politics of Grand Strategy

This post discusses strategy, grand strategy, and the influence of politics on strategy and defining the national interest.

What’s the difference between strategy and grand strategy? And what does politics have to do with it? More than you think.

Though we might be acquainted with “strategy” strictly in military terms, we have to accept that the word has fallen into abuse over and over again. And it’s got even more muddier ever since Liddell Hart came up with the definition of “grand strategy” as being the use of all national resources to achieve political objectives. So here, let’s talk about the politics of grand strategy, how it is formed, and how politics sometimes fail strategically.

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Le’ Notes #3: Direct and Indirect Strategies

This post covers direct and indirect strategies applied in warfare, such as attrition, annihilation, dislocation, and maneuver warfare.

To fight head-on or to circle around and hit them in back? That is the question when it comes to operational art. Wars of the past often involved massive armies squaring off against one another, marching together as human walls while raining fire on the enemy alongside cannon. However, with technological advances, war now is a hunt; predators seeking prey. So, when did we get from the “meat-grinder” war to the “cat-and-mouse” war we’re fighting against guerrillas today?

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SemText #2: Hybrid Warfare – Changing the way we do war?

This SemText discusses how the latest buzzword in military discourse – “hybrid warfare” – changes the way we do war.

I was planning on doing this bit right after the second panel of APPSMO, but I had to prepare some presentations and do some readings. Along the way, I strayed from the path and started playing Overwatch.

Anyway, the second panel of APPSMO discussed hybrid warfare, the newest in the line of buzzwords in military discourse. But what actually is “hybrid warfare”? What is it good for? More importantly, how has and will it change the way we do war?

Three experts were on the panel: Assoc. Prof. Ahmed Hashim, LTG (ret.) Syed Ata Hasnain, and Stephen de Spiegleire.

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