Georgia – Winning Afghanistan Practically Single-Handed

Uncle Volodya says, "Got your rifle, Misha? Your helmet? Come on, do I have to think of everything??"

I hope I’m not turning into an obsessive writer on Georgia – or worse, a Georgia-basher – but I keep running across stories that make me say, “What??!!” in which Georgia features prominently. The latest, by those cut-ups over at the Jamestown Foundation by way of the Eurasian Daily Monitor, is such a comical exercise in statistical manipulation that I couldn’t leave it alone.

Look, everybody’s aware that high-ranking representatives of the United States government more or less rotate through Georgia to slap Saakashvili on the back for what a great job Georgian soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. And they are – it’s not my intent to downplay their courage, or their sacrifice. However, I’m beginning to get a feeling that the effusive praise for Georgia’s contribution is intended to do more than just thank Georgia for being such a good friend. It’s also intended to burnish Georgia’s NATO qualifications, and to reinforce just how interested the U.S. government is in seeing Georgia accepted. As I’ve mentioned before, NATO members commit to a mutual-defense agreement, so that if Georgia had been a NATO member in 2008, Russia’s counterattack to Saakashvili’s strike against Tskhinvali might have constituted an attack against NATO. Under current circumstances, the USA would have a tough time rationalizing direct military support for Georgia, even though it has furnished a lot of money, training and equipment. It didn’t help that Saakashvili was the aggressor. But if Georgia were a member of NATO – problem solved. It would be unlikely to happen (although not many people thought Saakashvili would attack in 2008, either), but the deterrent value of having a little piece of NATO on Russia’s doorstep would be orders of magnitude greater than the leverage NATO can currently bring to bear in the region, and Russia knows it. The strategic value of the region in terms of oil pipelines and logistic corridors, similarly, need hardly be reemphasized.

Thus it was that the NATO Secretary-General’s recent visit to Georgia disappointed author Vladimir Socor. Mr. Fogh Rasmussen’s committment to Georgian regional domination was a little lukewarm for Mr. Socor’s taste – oh, he “reaffirmed NATO positions on Georgia at the level of declared principles”; but, damn it, he didn’t strip down to gym shorts, shake his pom-poms and cheer for Georgia the way he ought to have done. He repeated NATO’s “open-door policy toward membership-aspiring countries, including Georgia”…bla, bla, bla: epic fail, Mr. Secretary-General. You failed to emphasize Georgia’s specialness, or the eagerness with which NATO looks forward to welcoming it. And what was all that stuff about striving for a “strategic partnership” with Russia? Were you high? The visit, overall, was rated a decidedly limp “unedifying” by Mr. Socor.

Likewise, the bravery and disproportionate sacrifice of Georgia’s military in Afghanistan did not receive the proper degree of attention. That’s why the first paragraph of the story is dedicated to reminding you that Georgia is the ”number one troop-contributing country on a per capita basis to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan”. You’re further reminded that Fogh Rasmussen’s visit coincided with the deaths of four Georgians in combat in Afghanistan’s Helmland Province. Also, just in case you forgot, Georgia is among the few countries that operate without “national caveats” – dirty tricks that gutless NATO allies use to duck any service where they might actually get shot at.

As I suggested earlier, my purpose is not to demean the brave service of Georgian troops, or to mock the sacrifices of such a small country in its assistance to bringing peace and order to Afghanistan, although both are still far away. However, I hope you won’t mind if I introduce my own country as a basis for comparison, since it also is a NATO ally with troops in Afghanistan. My hope is that this comparison will allow the relentless statistics to be seen from a different perspective.

The reference suggests Georgia is the number one troop-contributing country on a per capita basis. That’s true. And it suggests…what? Incredible generosity of spirit and indomitable national will? How? Georgia has a conscript military, and the Land Forces are disproportionately large for the size of the population. But in the end, what does it matter to the Commander in Afghanistan? Would he rather have more soldiers overall, or does he feel better knowing the Georgian contribution represents a significant chunk of the population? Because while that’s true, it represents a statistically less significant percentage of the Georgian Army.

Canada is quite a bit bigger, and has a larger population. However, it has a volunteer – and much smaller – military. The Georgian Land Forces number about 37,000. The Canadian Army is only a bit more than half that, at 19,500.  Canada has 2,830 troops in Afghanistan – 14.5% of our total deployable forces.  Georgia has 925 troops in Afghanistan – 2.5% of its deployable forces. Canada has been there in more or less the same strength since January 2007: until December 2009, Georgia had 1 soldier in Afghanistan. Georgia operates without national caveats, in dangerous areas like Helmland Province, and has had 5 soldiers killed in combat since the beginning of the war. Canada operates without national caveats, in dangerous areas like Helmland Province and Kandahar, and had lost 106 killed before Georgia even entered the war: the current toll stands at 152.

One more time, it’s not the point of this to make Georgia look worse, or make Canada look better. I’m not jealous because Canada doesn’t receive the fawning American recognition Georgia does, I couldn’t care less. The situation is what it is, and soldiers go where they’re sent. Whenever they’re sent into a combat situation, you always expect there will be casualties, and I wouldn’t wish those Canadians alive again without wishing the Georgians alive as well. The point of this is to show you how statistical manipulation is being employed to make Georgia look like it’s carrying the war all by itself, and the point of that is to agitate for quicker NATO acceptance for Georgia by guilting NATO into it. And at the end of the day, achieving the goal of NATO acceptance for Georgia is not about dead Georgian soldiers, or what percentage of the population is serving in combat. Not for Saakashvili, and not for his western cheerleaders.

Be aware of what’s going on around you, but don’t take your eye off the ball.

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41 Responses to Georgia – Winning Afghanistan Practically Single-Handed

  1. kovane says:

    “The Georgian Land Forces number about 37,000. The Canadian Army is only a bit more than half that, at 19,500.”

    I think I know whom Georgia should attack next. The only slight problem is transportation, but when I imagine newspaper headlines like “GEORGIA CONQUERS CANADA!”, the impossible is nothing. 🙂

  2. marknesop says:

    I have a Russian navy cap somewhere – I’ll put it on a stick and push it over the hilltop in view of the advancing Georgian forces. Then I can go out to see what they dropped after the sound of running feet dies down.

    Our Army would be about 5 times the size it is if we had conscription. But we’ve always been all-volunteer. Military service is quite well-paid, too, and Russia would have a lot less trouble transitioning to an all-volunteer force (which they keep saying is the medium-term plan) if they didn’t pay so poorly. There would be a good place to spend some of that cash they have in reserve. It makes sense to plan for the future, because once you change to all-volunteer it’s extremely hard to go back to conscription, if it would be even possible. But the country could afford it, and I think it has fairly significant public support.

    • kovane says:

      I feel extremely insecure arguing with you about military topics, but my opinion is that Russia’s and Canada’s approaches cannot be even remotely the same. Canada has the US as a neighbor, which is definitely not the most peaceful nation, but the chances of its invasion are slim at best. Oh, I forgot very belligerent Inuits, but we have Chukchas here in Russia, so we’re on even terms. Russia, on the other hand, has Nato close by, Baltic states, Belorussia, Ukraine, a whole bunch of Caucasus states, Middle Asia, China and North Korea. I can’t see how Russia will sustain an army of only 20 000 men. So, my opinion is that even a partly professional army will be too expensive. All those statements about changing are holdovers from the 90s, because dropping it will cause a howl of protest.

      • marknesop says:

        Well, there’s something to what you say with respect to the conditions being different – we are relatively safe from invasion, and don’t need a big military. In fact, we are regularly accused (in a manner calculated to offend the least) by the USA of not pulling our weight militarily, then demanding a voice in continental military policy. There’s something to that, as well, and the suggestion is not without some truth. However, England’s been invaded just about every century you care to name, and they have a volunteer military. I think volunteer military forces are superior to conscripts because volunteer members have a personal investment in the profession of arms, and mean to make a career of it, while conscripts are often just trying to get through their 18 months, or two years, or whatever, without getting killed. Professional career soldiers, even low-ranking non-commissioned members, have considerable experience and often have good ideas to contribute.

        That said, some leaders throughout history have enjoyed great success using conscript or even slave armies. A good leader can usually make something unexpected work once, but if it’s done right and timed right, you may only need to do it once.

        Russia is the best judge of what Russia needs. But it has a hard time attracting and retaining experienced soldiers, because it pays low wages and the military system is often brutal in its discipline. A professional standing volunteer army of 20,000 should be eminently achievable, if the country decides that’s how many it needs. Supplying and training an army that size is also achievable. But once done, it would be very hard to go back to conscription, and the army would go back to being an unpopular career choice. It is expensive, you’re right, but generally when your army is on a deployment in aid of another country; say, on peacekeeping duties, the other country pays. You might want to discuss that with Misha.

  3. Yalensis says:

    I just finished reading an article in ROSBALT.RU by Albert Venalainen, his specialty is the Caucasuses, especially Gruzia, and he always has something interesting to say. Here is the executive summary of today’s essay, for those who don’t have the time or don’t read Russian: Gruzia, whose main export is wine, is having a tough season. Like Russia (and most of Europe), they suffered from a terrible summer (heat wave), and as a result, the grape crop is only a fraction what it should be. The peasants usually collect the harvest later in October, but they are rushing to get in what they can before the rest of the grapes die on the vine. Venalainen goes on to discuss Gruzia’s financial crisis. They are broke. In spring 2006 Russian Federation imposed embargo on Gruzian wines and cognacs; as a result Gruzian export in the past 4 years fell from a peak of 60 million bottles per year to what it is now, barely 12 million. To compensate for loss of Russian market, Saakashvili attempted to build markets in Europe and Latin America, but had little success. Their sweet red wines, which were beloved in Russia, are not so beloved in Europe, which prefers a dry wine. Venalainen goes to discuss the fascinating anthropological rituals of the wine-making and feasting in the Gruzian countryside. Here is the link, for those interested:

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Just out of curiosity, is the sweet red wine produced in Georgia similar to the wine produced in Nagorno-Karabakh? I tasted it during my 15-days holyday in Moscow 20 years ago.

    • marknesop says:

      I’m a fan of Russian champagne, although it is considerably sweeter than ours; I never thought to ask where it’s made. Perhaps it’s Georgian.

      I wouldn’t wish economic misery on Georgia if the choice were mine, but I can’t believe economists were among Saakashvili’s advisers when he was dreaming up his reforms. Ignoring or antagonizing your biggest market in favour of pie-in-the-sky dreams of breaking into the already well-established and carefully balanced European market was crazy. As Giuseppe Flavio pointed out some time back, Italy already provides very well for its own agricultural needs and in some cases has to impose quotas to avoid overproduction – much of Europe is similar. An agrarian economy deliberately trying to ignore its biggest and closest market in favour of a more complicated logistics chain and a more uncertain market is….well, good luck with that.

      What puzzles me is how Saakashvili’s rep as a western-educated wunderkind whose plans are actually brilliant even though they appear stupid and counterproductive manages to survive in spite of dismal results. He obviously doesn’t know jack about military strategy, and it appears he doesn’t have that firm a grasp of economics, either.

      • Misha says:

        Among other things having to do with Soros and Human Rights Watch, this article from Friday’s Counterpunch touches on the relationship Western neocon and neolibs have had with Saakashvili and broadly notes this stance directed elsewhere besides Georgia.

        Then there’s the mood in another direction:

      • Yalensis says:

        I usually prefer the more “Marxian” explanations (economics, class and caste interests, American imperialism, etc.), but in Saakashvili’s case I think there is an obvious personal factor. He is bona fide mentally ill (=bipolar). I know several bipolar people. My own boss is bipolar. He’s okay most of the time, but in any work emergency he becomes unpredictable and makes poor decisions that make the situation worse rather than better. You would never want a bipolar general on the battlefield. Bipolar men who are also intelligent and brainy (like Saakashvili) can appear to be extremely energetic and effective (especially in their manic phases), so they can rise to the top of many companies. But bottom line, even when they are on their meds you can’t trust their judgment, especially in stressful situations. I apologize in advance if my words have offended the mentally ill.

      • Eugene Ivanov says:

        “I’m a fan of Russian champagne, although it is considerably sweeter than ours; I never thought to ask where it’s made. Perhaps it’s Georgian.”

        Mark, I share your taste for Russian champagne exactly because of its sweetness. After years of living in the US, I still can’t get the American passion for brut.

        If we’re talking about the same product, then no, it’s not produced in Georgia. The best stuff was always from Crimea, hence an alternative name “The Crimean Champagne.” perhaps, now they do it in the Krasnodar Krai, too.

        Best Regards,

        • marknesop says:

          Sveta says what we had was “Sovietsky Champanska”; that they just never changed the name, and that it was sweet because she chose what she liked best, that you can buy drier varieties if that’s your preference. She’s very touchy about anything that seems to be implied criticism of Russia, and she’s sure you can find anything there – once I almost walked the legs off her searching for Corona beer in Dalnegorsk. She swears it was available, that Dalnegorsk is not “the jungle”, but we never found it. We settled for Brahma, a Brazilian beer, instead, and it was quite good. Russia, of course, does beer quite well and there was a good variety of excellent domestic beers. I’m not a big beer-drinker, but when I do drink it I don’t want to drink swill, and some places just have no idea how to make beer.

          She thinks that particular champagne was made in Moscow, but of course we have no idea where the grapes came from; it’s quite possible to produce French champagne in New York, provided the grapes came from Champagne. British Columbia is a big wine producer, specifically the Okanagan Valley, but even so many of our wines are a blend of domestic and foreign grapes; you have to read the label to make sure you’re getting a 100% domestic. My favourite of all wines I’ve tried so far is a Pinot Noir called, “Blanc de Noir“, made by a small independent winery on Saltspring Island.

  4. kovane, much as I respect your opinions, I have to disagree with you on the efficacy of Russia’s conscription system. Let’s list the major strategic threats it faces:

    1) Regional and low-level, but prevalent: Georgia, and Islamic militants in the Caucasus and Tajikistan. Optimally met by small, well-trained forces operating by 4GW doctrines. Current Army => higher casualties and more bad PR.

    2) Regional, possible if unlikely: Interventions across the periphery of the Near Abroad. Optimally met by well trained, network-centric forces – like those the US used to crush Iraq twice. Current Army => would easily defeat any neighboring entity apart from NATO or China, but would do so very inefficiently.

    3) Regional, currently theoretical: Clashes with NATO and China. If the clashes are “contained”, optimally met by the same well trained, network-centric forces as above. If instead they constitute a prelude to total war, Russia has no chance of winning a conventional war against either anyway. There’s always the nuclear option. Current Army => Contrary to popular opinion, IMO, its size actually works against Russia’s security: NATO and/or China may conclude that Russia keeps it that way so as to be able to fight a total war conventionally. But if it were smaller, the significance of the nuclear deterrent will increase, if they know that a big conventional challenge could and would only be met with a nuclear response.

    If things were up to me, I’d roughly do the following:

    * Eliminate conscription, cut down size of armed forces to 400,000-600,000 from the current million. Raise salaries to attract motivated and well-qualified personnel better suited for NCW. While the expenses argument against professionalization was understandable before the mid-2000’s, I don’t think its all that valid in today’s era of permanently high oil prices and Russian economic growth. (I’d also bring back progressive taxation but that’s another topic).

    * Reduce the scope of the hugely expensive 5th generation rearmament plans for 2011-20. Use some of the savings to increase R&D into post-5th generation military techs: ubiquitous networks; drone fighters; all-electric ships; railguns and DEW’s (directed energy weapons); etc.

    * Maintain at current levels or even increase funding for the modernization of the nuclear complex and related spheres (anti-missile shield; civil defense; strategic stockpiles of grains and machines; etc). No more force size reductions unless China joins the inspections and verifications process (if Russia and US reduce their nuclear arsenals to a low level and China uses the opportunity to effect a breakout into nuclear superiority, it would be a strategic disaster). This will both enhance deterrence and help should the unthinkable happen.

    * Instead of the socially unfair and opportunity costly conscription system, liberalize the gun laws and encourage sporting clubs.

    • kovane says:

      No, Anatoly, I think I didn’t express myself correctly. I agree that a professional army is much better that a conscription one, it’s just that it’s too expensive for the current Russia, but that can easily change in the future. Let’s turn to numbers.

      Currently, the Russian army is around 1’000’000 soldiers, that’s the 5th in the world; military expenditure is 1.6 billion roubles (50 billion $), or 3.5% of the GDP. I support the idea that a professional army is more effective, but the size of Russia’s army can’t be cut below 600’000 men. Let’s take the British Armed Forces as example, it’s considered one of the best armies: its strength is 190’000 men, the expenditure is 70 billion $. I hope you’ll agree that it’s impossible to get as quality army as Britain’s for much less money. We also have to take into consideration Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal (obviously, not cheap) and Britain’s higher living standards (salary savings). The conclusion that follows from those number: Russia has to spend 10% of GDP to sustain fully professional army, let alone transition costs. In other words, completely unacceptable.

      In my opinion, you perfectly assessed the security threats; a good immediate strategy is to rely on the nuclear forces to deter major threats, and use small, professional, highly-effective units to combat minor ones, like the 2008 war. The rest of the army should be manned by conscripts, that’s inevitable at this point. Hopefully, if Russia continue to develop, this strategy can be reviewed in favour of more professional army. By the way, Germany has around 400’000 soldiers and still uses conscription.

      That’s not to say, that the present army is something to be proud of, it can be greatly improved, otherwise it’ just one PR nightmare.

      I also support your contention about the hastiness in the equipment purchases.

      Regarding the liberalization of the gun laws – no, thanks. I don’t see how it will improve the defense capacity, but the incidental harm is obvious. But maybe I’m just not libertarian enough 🙂

      • marknesop says:

        I agree with your total of 600,000 for a professional force, Kovane (the 20,000 is really too small even for Canada, based on geographical size), but agree with Anatoly that Russia can afford to pay for it. Paying your professionals a generous living wage isn’t like you’re sending all that money out of the country, never to be seen again – few military members anywhere are part-time venture capitalists, and the money you pay your soldiers will be spent in Russia. Solid, well-designed military equipment that will stand up to punishing conditions in the field is expensive, but that’s true already and a conscript military doesn’t do it any favours, because they don’t care what happens to it as soon as they’re not driving/shooting/maintaining it any more.

        Russia is a proven innovator in military technology, and systems designed for a professional force rather than point-and-shoots for conscript or guerilla armies might increase Russia’s market share of arms sales.

        There’s nothing wrong with conscription in principle, but Russia doesn’t do it from the viewpoint that national service will give you a perspective on citizenship you can’t get any other way, or to remind you of your obligations. Russia does it because its military strategies and tactics rely on overwhelming firepower and brute force, and it needs numbers to make that remain effective. A soldier that is trained and equipped like a professional and means to do it for a career is a force multiplier.

        You’re probably taking a sensible position on the gun laws, too, for now. Maybe after another decade or so of peace and progress, but not now.

        • kovane says:


          There’s no way Russia will spend more than 5% of GDP on its military forces, and even that number will give Kudrin a stroke. Anything higher will suffocate the economy, the math just doesn’t come out. Your point that the money will stay in the country doesn’t hold water – Russia is not China and it exports a large number of consumer goods, so such big unproductive spending will do no good. You’re absolutely right that a conscript can’t handle modern military equipment and I’ all for a professional army: it has an innumerable quantity of merits. But Russia has to go past Scylla of a professional army that weigh down the whole economy and Charybdis of a large primitive army ridden with problems it has now.

          But let’s count a bit more. Please, tell what the average salary in Canada is, how much a soldier of a lowest rank, mid-level officer and a general earn in Canada.

          • marknesop says:

            Average salaries for various employment fields are here; like anywhere else, what you are paid depends on a variety of factors – full-time vs part-time work, benefits packages such as company-financed health and dental care, pension plans and so on. But this is a good benchmark guide. Minimum wage figures vary by province – oddly enough (I never noticed before), one of the poorest provinces (Newfoundland) has the second-highest minimum wage ($10.00/hr.). My own province, which is fairly affluent by comparison, has the lowest. This is the least you can be paid as an untrained, unskilled labourer, although some companies impose a “training wage” for a probationary period. I believe that is not permitted to extend beyond a couple of months, but I’m not sure, and it is the exception rather than the rule. Military salaries are here; starting wage for an untrained soldier of lowest rank is $2,663.00 per month. A mid-level officer would probably be a Captain in the Army, the workhorse officer rank the Army leans on heaviest – he or she would start at $5,887.00 per month. A new Brigadier-General would start at $12,647.00 per month. This table is fairly easy to manipulate – we’re using only the Regular Force (as opposed to Reserves, although their salaries are included and are about 80% what a Regular member earns), and the table for general-service soldiers is listed as “NCM” (Non-Commisioned Members). Note, though, that General-Service Officers in the median ranks have 10 incentive levels; this means you move up to the next pay grade every year, even if you never get promoted. NCM’s have 4 incentive levels, so if you get to 4 years in the same rank, you’re maxed out for that rank. Generals have 3.

            These, though, are generally quite high payscales. Russia would not have to adjust to this level right away, if ever. Better pay would help; you might even look at easing out of conscription by starting all-volunteer service at, say, the rank of Corporal until you began to establish a core of volunteer career soldiers, and keep conscription for another 5 years for lowest-ranking soldiers.

    • marknesop says:

      I enthusiastically support this astute and excellently-defended blueprint, Anatoly, with the exception of missile shields. That’s not to say they will never work, but in their current incarnation they are cripplingly expensive and all the way across town from reliable. Missile shields are realistically only a practical defense when you are far enough away from your enemies that a warning will allow an effective response. At the short ranges Russia might experience, human operators and high-detection-probability radars are more effective.

      The USA never wanted a BMD system on Russia’s doorstep to guard against Ballistic Missile launch from Iran, and none of the principals involved – whether directly or peripherally – believed it for a second. The genuine rationale was twofold; as a potential “mop-up” of the few remaining missiles left undamaged in their silos following a first strike against Russia, and because the radar would be able to see hundreds of miles into Russian airspace.

  5. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    I add my opinions on some points discussed here in a single comment, instead of making several replies.
    I can’t believe economists were among Saakashvili’s advisers when he was dreaming up his reforms.
    Marx wrote that after Adam Smith bourgeois political economy ceased to be a science and became propaganda. This is true if we limit the scope to the economic analysis that we can read on mainstream media, which is just propaganda and doesn’t make any sense even to people that don’t have any specific education in economy, but have some logic abilities. I think we all remember the high praises given by economist-propagandists to those countries following the now dead “Washington consensus”. Some of these defaulted (Argentina and Iceland), others are on the brink of default or in dire economic conditions (Baltic tigers and the Celtic tiger). And we can still read the doom and gloom analysis for those countries, like Russia, that are not aligned with liberal (in the sense of liberast) values.
    You’re absolutely right that a conscript can’t handle modern military equipment
    To my opinion, this is an example of a common misconception that high-tech equipment requires more training and skills. Actually, as technology advances there is a polarization between an unskilled majority of users and an elite minority of designers. For example, modern cars are easier to drive and maintain than those build 40 years ago, but the design of cars has become more difficult, in fact many minor producers ceased to exist and bigger producers now tend to share the costs of R&D. Or compare the training needed to use a slide rule to that needed to use an hand calculator, and the skills needed to design them.
    IMO, this applies to most military equipment. Both Germany and Israel have conscripts and have high-tech armies.
    @Sublime Oblivion
    Reduce the scope of the hugely expensive 5th generation rearmament plans for 2011-20. Use some of the savings to increase R&D into post-5th generation military techs: ubiquitous networks; drone fighters; all-electric ships; railguns and DEW’s (directed energy weapons); etc.
    To go into post-5th generation (6th gen?) you need to fully develop 5th generation, because building something in a lab is very different from building it in a factory and fielding it. You can’t reproduce in a lab the experience you can gain with actual use. For example, compare early MiG-21 with late ones. Besides, history of military theory offers many cases of failed predictions. When aerial bombing was introduced, many predicted the extinction of artillery; when missiles were introduced, airplanes were considered on the brink of extinction.
    Also, I don’t understand all the fuss about drone airplanes (I suppose you mean this with drone fighters). UAV were introduced in the ’60 (perhaps earlier) as reconnaissance assets and fake targets, just like today. They’ve been improved, like other hardware, I don’t see anything special in them. Please note that combat drones (UCAV) are used only against small insurgents groups without air defence. To my knowledge, Israel has never considered to use UCAV against Syrian army units, whose AD is old but it’s also quite heavy.

    Just my three cents.

    • kovane says:

      “To my opinion, this is an example of a common misconception that high-tech equipment requires more training and skills.”

      Once again I am misunderstood, I think. We’re in agreement that driving modern tank is not exceedingly more difficult than driving T-34. Or firing from a modern rifle isn’t some sacred knowledge. That is where conscripts can be widely used; although modern tanks have tons of complex electronics, your comparison with a modern car is very apt. But new military specialties appear that demand very high skills. Drone operator? Expert on torpedo systems? No conscript could learn this skills in a year or so. My point was that the modern army needs more and more highly skilled military men, but there will always be a place for a conscript.

      • marknesop says:

        Well, it wasn’t mine. My point was not that conscripts cannot learn how to drive a tank, but that they don’t give a damn about maintaining it in working order or driving it like they might need to have it available next week for infantry support. All they care about is finishing their 18 months and getting back to whatever it was they were doing before their mandatory service. And Israel might have a pretty good conscript army, perhaps the best in the world, but it got its ass handed to it by Hezbollah. It’s perfectly true that military equipment has gotten easier to operate, and it’s supposed to be simpler to maintain, too. But it’s not. Once upon a time, if you could get it apart, you could probably fix it. Now if you can get it apart, you’ll probably find a circuit card that’s fried, and the tank is going nowhere. In that case, there’s a strong argument for simplicity. But you have to maintain the equipment you use as if your life depended upon it, because it might.

        In professional armies, a soldier often is relied upon to do a great deal more than just walk in a given direction until he’s told to stop, then shoot in another until he’s told to stop or runs out of ammunition. You’re supposed to know more about the profession of arms, and if that’s not your situation, you need big numbers to overcome the deficiency. I like the idea of phasing out conscription in the Russian Army at Corporal (or its Russian equivalent), because that’s just about the level of responsibility a conscript should have reached at two years service. Outstanding individuals could do it in one. There’d be a big pay raise at that point. That’s more or less how we do it, except we don’t have conscription; but at the Corporal level is just about the time an initial contract runs out, and you’re asked to decide whether to make it a career or give it up. It’s a fairly big jump in pay.

        There are advantages to drones that no other vehicle can match. Because it doesn’t have to bear or support a pilot, it’s small and agile. The controller is miles away, out of danger. They can carry a pretty good weapons load, and with a first-rate camera, the operator can see exactly what the drone is seeing. Excellent for reconnaissance, they’re also tailor-made for taking out the Command element of a force in the field, if they can survive the ground fire. Sometimes that’s not much of a challenge, because they have such a small silhouette that they can be on you before you see them. And they’re comparatively cheap for their level of sophistication.

        • kovane says:

          “but that they don’t give a damn about maintaining it in “working order or driving it like they might need to have it available next week for infantry support”

          Very true, the famous “moral hazard” problem.

          “I like the idea of phasing out conscription in the Russian Army at Corporal (or its Russian equivalent)”.

          Yes, a selective professionalization is the way for Russia, the only question is to what extent.

          Mark, sorry if I’m prying, but what is your military specialty? If you don’t want to answer, just say “I’m a cook on a galley”. 🙂

          • marknesop says:

            I am a weapons director. I can’t really say more than that, but I don’t think the security types would be too upset with me for going that far, because I have a Russian wife who knows that much, and every time I visit Russia I have to specify my employment on my visa application.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          they’re also tailor-made for taking out the Command element of a force in the field, if they can survive the ground fire
          I’m not aware of any such use of drones in battle. I know about their use against small Taliban groups and about a failed attempt at downing an Iraqi MiG-25 (the MiG won that engagement, downing the drone). Can you give more details?
          I agree that drones are difficult to detect, but being slow and mostly flying on a straight line, once detected they are an easy target. You say drones are agile, but if you look at the video of the Iraqi engagement and the video of the downing of a Georgian drone by a Russian fighter plane, you can notice that the drones didn’t attempt any evasive maneuver to dodge the missiles fired at them. Also, being small their payload is limited to a couple of small missiles, like anti-tank ones. I don’t see how they can take out a command bunker. It’s true that the small payload and slow speed problems can be solved building bigger drones, but in this way the low signature advantage disappears and their price goes up.
          Finally, I agree that professional soldiers take a lot more care of their hardware than conscripts.

          • marknesop says:

            “…they’re also tailor-made for taking out the Command element of a force in the field, if they can survive the ground fire”. By that I meant an Army in the field, on the move. Such forces are seldom dug in except for some sandbags, and the Command element isn’t in a hardened bunker. That might be so of the defenders, I suppose. In any case, the command center is often easy to spot by the communications antennas, or if they’ve had time to set up more sophisticated communications, by the personnel traffic in and out. Once the command location has been determined by reconnaissance or a satellite pass, it’s easy to fly a drone in when a piloted aircraft would probably be spotted while still too far away. A missile that can shred a car is probably enough to wreak havoc in a tent or a light building.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Sorry for misunderstanding you, Kovane. But I’ve to add that while new military specialties requires more trained and skilled operator, older ones often became simpler to operate. For example, anti-tank missiles that went from manually guided to fire and forget, Anti-Aircraft-Artillery (AAA) that went from human operated to fully radar guided.

    • Yalensis says:

      Very good points, Giuseppe! To the point of unskilled workers handling hi-tech equipment: I’ve mentioned this book before, it’s a great American classic of literature and I recommend it again: “The Caine Mutiny”, a novel by Herman Wouk. The first half of the novel is about events on an American destroyer-minesweeper in the Pacific ocean during WWII, and there is a lot of discussion about the training of the crew. Much of the crew are semi-literate farm-boys, led by intelligent Ivy League-educated officers, and there is much discussion of how to simplify the instruction manuals and drill procedural behavior in the crew so that functional illiterates can successfully operate what at the time was considered high-tech equipment.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Hi Yalensis,
        that’s a point I’ve read on a book by Lucio Russo, “Segmenti e Bastoncini” (Segments and small Sticks) about the sorry state of Italian and western schooling. His main argument is that the education level is going down because with new tech gadgets the society needs less skilled workers.

  6. Yalensis says:

    I wanted to comment on Anatoly’s point about liberalized gun laws improving a society’s military readiness. I am all in favor of everybody owning a gun (and knowing how to use it), because I accept the libertarian argument that this will reduce violent crime. The libertarian argument goes something like this: Honest people (95%) outnumber criminals (5%), so if everybody is armed, then the good guys win. I am not a libertarian, but I accept their mathematics on this issue.
    Violent crime is one thing, but I am not so convinced that an armed citizenry does anything to improve MILITARY readiness. Maybe back in the day, when the Komsomols and even Pioneers had a paramilitary component. (Not unlike American Boy Scouts). Does an armed population (let’s say, consisting of great hunters and marksmen) translate to a great military? In a small country like Switzerland, whose army is based on local militias, there is no doubt. But a large country like America or Russia?? Not so sure it would be relevant, unless they needed a lot of snipers?

    • marknesop says:

      I am vehemently opposed to liberalized gun laws, because they do not reduce violent crime one bit, and because inexperienced rubes who barely know one end of a gun from the other routinely shoot the victim or some innocent bystander by mistake when they’re trying to play Wyatt Earp and intervene in a holdup. There’s absolutely no reason for ordinary citizens to have automatic weapons, because most citizens are sloppy about home security, and it just makes it easier for gangs to get hold of them, and a handgun – outside of its obvious criminal efficacies – is really only good as a military weapon for shooting yourself to avoid capture. Honest people do indeed outnumber criminals by a wide margin, but a long gun is just too heavy to pack around when you’re out with the wife and kids shopping, and even professionals have a hard time hitting what they want to hit with a handgun at anything further than the range where you’d be just as well off to throw the gun at the criminal. People who might fire a handgun maybe once a year would have a hard time hitting their own hand, but that doesn’t stop them from blazing away like they were landing at Omaha Beach.

      I saw it happen, in Portland, Oregon. A guy came out of the theater where he had gone with his wife and child to see “The Lion King” (years ago, not long after it came out). He closed the passenger door for his wife, and walked around the car to get in, and took a stray round in the side of the head from a drive-by shooting a couple of blocks away; he died right there. Mind you, the people who were responsible were criminals, probably part of a gang, and they aren’t too concerned who gets hurt when they’re shooting the place up. But honest, regular citizens are no better for all their well-meaning; short guns and crowds of uninvolved bystanders is a recipe for needless carnage. Besides, the handgun in a crime scenario is mainly for intimidation – if the criminal thinks there’s good reason to believe you’re carrying a gun, too, but he wants your wallet, he’s just as likely to shoot you in the back of the head and take it, rather than give you a chance to shoot him.

      The USA is perhaps the most gun-happy society on the planet, and gun-lovers are always pushing for more relaxations in concealed-carry laws. A few municipalities have by-laws that state you must own a gun, although that’d be tough to enforce. The millions of private weapons in the hands of citizens have done absolutely nothing to slow violent crime – when there has been a drop in statistics, not once was it ever attributable to a high degree of private gun ownership. And if such a policy encouraged military readiness, soldiers would be permitted to take their personal weapons home. They’re not – at least not in the USA. I believe Israel has such a policy, but as I mentioned, a militia army recently beat them decisively.

      Following the college shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, a few TV pundits speculated that if everybody was allowed to carry a gun, somebody would have popped the shooter before he could kill any more than the first person. Yes, I thought, and then you’d probably have just as many dead people – just not all shot by the same person. That’s not the best example anyway, because the crazy gunman who snaps and walks around an enclosed environment like a college residence shooting people is practically impossible to guard against, and has nothing in common with a robbery except a gun.

      • kovane says:

        Fully agree. The idea of gun liberalization just tickles people’s egos: everyone thinks that he is special and he would certainly be able to defend himself. While in reality, gun handling requires constant training, something that is often skipped, and even that doesn’t guarantee that one can successfully use a gun in in an emergency. Besides, it creates the dangerous situation with excessive self-defense: some people don’t understand that reckless driving is not a good-enough reason to shot someone. The NRA will come up with a thousand counter-arguments, but that is not surprising. My opinion, although Ayn Rand would curse me: leave gun liberalization where it is already in place and don’t bring it in where it doesn’t exist, like Russia.

    • My reasons for having a guns-for-all policy:

      1) Just like yalensis, I’m not a libertarian, but I do buy their mathematics on the guns and crime issue. @Mark, @kovane: in the US, violent crime is higher, but its hugely distorted by its concentration in ghetto areas; ironically, the statistics show that per capita gun ownership is less than the national average in those areas (poorer people; city limit gun bans; etc).

      2) I think it does have a good effects on military power. Here are a few:
      A) In the post-Soviet MIC the sector that was one of the hardest hit was the one making bullets. Small arms production also plummeted. Why? USSR commanded them manufactured and added to their stockpiles. Modern Russia doesn’t care about preparing for a total war. But people do like shooting guns. By liberalizing gun laws the former state demand will be substituted with people demand and small arms production will be revitalized. The good citizens of Izhevsk will be busy. 🙂
      B) Militias are pretty useless, yes, but they can do some good against very low-level threats. E.g. in the North Caucasus region.
      C) Having a big part of the population familiar with firearms tends to foster patriotic and pro-Army values.

      3) Let’s face it: guns are cool.

      4) I’m not a huge fan of government regulating stuff like this. Then again I’m far more libertarian in this respect than most Russians (or even Americans) since I also support the decriminalization of all plant-based narcotics. So perhaps you should just ignore me. 😉

      • Yalensis says:

        Yeah, but you live in California, Anatoly, so that explains everything! 🙂
        I’m not from California (although I have visited, and it seems like a great place). For the record, I also support de-criminalization of narcotics. Not only that, I support gay marriage! When I expressed these “libertarian” views once on INOSMI, I got jumped all over and was accused of being a “Euro-Zapadnik”, which is almost exactly the opposite of what I am politically. I guess I’m just a typical Russian: I want to follow a strong leadership, but I also hate people telling me what to do!

    • hoct says:

      The Great Patriotic War was also one of the largest guerrilla war of all times. No doubt the Soviet Partisans would have been even more effective if Soviet citizens kept arms at home. Numerous lives would have been saved.

      The arms may have also served as a check against the excesses of the Soviet government. Resistance against requisitioning that led to millions of famine deaths in the early 1930s may have been more effective and the government dissuaded from its war on the peasantry.

  7. BTW, Mark, I’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Russia Blogs for October 2010. You’re third!

    • marknesop says:

      That’s fantastic, and a tremendous honour! I just wanted to beat La Russophobe, this is far better than I imagined. I agree she hasn’t much imagination, and it’s hard to believe she could once send me into such a foaming rage.

  8. Yalensis says:

    Returning to the Gruzian theme, I just read this article in REGNUM.RU claiming that Gruzians are unilaterally demarcating border with Armenia (some parts of border have never been clarified since Soviet times) and, in the process, seizing some Armenian villages which they claim as their own. Article stresses that this is new information and has not been completely confirmed, but it seems like a dozen or so Armenian families have been forced to leave their villages, which now suddenly occur on “Gruzian” side of border.
    I know very little about Armenia, but have been reading news and following broader south Caucasus theme. In recent months, American strategy for this region finally seems to be emerging after the chaos and indecisiveness of post-August-2008 situation. Main architect of new strategy = Hillary Clinton plus some holdovers from Bush administration. Americans definitely want Saakashvili to go away after his term expires on 2013 (and NOT stay on as premier). To entice him out of Gruzia, they will offer him very lucrative post-career maybe teaching in some American university. They have not yet decided who they want to be Saakahsvili’s successor, they have many competing candidates to choose from. American strategy is focused on a loose merger or confederation of Gruzia with Azerbaijan (at expense of Armenia). Gruzians have also made overtures to other peoples of region, such as Circassians and Chechens, in hope of allying all nothern and southern Caucasus tribes against Russia. Gruzia hopes to become regional leader of future glorious anti-Russian alliance. One thing you gotta admire about Americans: they think big! Dubious this grandiose plan will succeed, however.

    • marknesop says:

      It’s reassuring to see the absence of pressure on South Ossetia and Abkhazia in this strategy, but I wouldn’t take that to mean they’ve given up. They might also have failed to reckon with Saakashvili’s personal ambitions, which I doubt would be satisfied with a mere teaching position – I’d expect him to have his eye on something like U.N. Ambassador or something like that. I was very interested in your previous post about him having an actual mental disorder. That never occurred to me, although it should have done, considering how many nuts there are in politics.

      U.S. interest in developing and grooming Georgia has certainly not gone away. But there’s a tipping point after which the law of zero returns will apply, and once that’s reached (provided there are no major successes, such as Georgia bringing South Ossetia and Abkhazia to heel by military force without a Russian response would have been) Georgia will be dropped in favour of the next shiny toy. Recall that in the mid-1970’s the American Great White Hope in the Middle East, their proposed base for power projection in the region, was Iran. Relations with Iran now are…well, less than cordial. American patience is not inexhaustible, although they do love to tinker.

    • marknesop says:

      I meant to add to the earlier reply that the Armenian situation (similar to annexations carried out by way of Israel’s “Security Fence”) is interesting, and bears watching. I’ll be interested to see if any western media sources pick up on it.

    • mraz says:

      I thought Georgia had separatist issues with ethnic Armenians in one of its districts. I think the main reason Armenians did not try to separate was because their link to Russia is through Georgia, so if Misha is pushing for more conflict, and Georgia loses, then Georgia would be bisected.

      I would believe anything when it comes to Hillary since she is as big a warmonger as the neo-conservatives. Her husband used to Afghan Taliban/Al Qaeda in NK and to overthrow the nationalist Azeri government to replace it with the Aliyevs.

      Also, with Georgia’s rapidly shrinking/ageing population of 4.3m it would be completely swallowed up by its overpopulated neighbors in the Caucasus. Georgia could never lead such a coalition.

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