Last year I reviewed Andrei Martyanov’s book “Losing Military Supremacy: the Myopia of American Strategic Planning” for the Unz Review. In that book, Martyanov explained why the era of easy US victories over pretty much defenseless countries was over and what that meant for US force planners. This year it is my immense pleasure to review his latest book “The (real) Revolution in Military Affairs“. Let me immediately say that you do not have to read the first book to greatly enjoy the second one, but I still do think that the best “combo” to get a full picture would be to read both books in the order they were published. Still, today I will review only the second book.
First, debunking the many US political science canards
Martyanov begins his book by debunking the so-called “Thucydides Trap” which Foreign Policy summarized as so: “When one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result — but it doesn’t have to be” (with a clear emphasis on the first part of the subtitle). Martyanov correctly calls this (typically “political science geeks”) cliché as very dangerous and misleading. He then proceeds to debunk a who’s who list of US political science cliches, including the latest one, the so-called “hybrid warfare”. He speaks of “unnecessary and pseudo-scholastic confusion” and he adds that the current “Western think-tankdom” is “utterly unprepared” for the realities of modern warfare. As somebody who worked (during my college years) for several US think tanks in Washington DC, I can only agree. I also know for a fact that most think tanks will write anything, no matter how false, just to secure more funding (I even had colleague who worked in “respectable” think tanks laugh about the nonsense they were writing just to get more funding).
Furthermore, in most west European countries, what US think tanks write is considered as gospel, including by folks in important positions in the intelligence and military establishments. So when the latest US-canard comes out, say “hybrid warfare” everybody in Europe feels compelled to use that expression to appear semi-educated in military matters. That I have also seen myself, and many times.
Key thesis: western leaders, especially US decision makers, are out of touch with reality
According to Martyanov , western political leaders are living in a completely delusional pseudo-reality which has no connection to the real world whatsoever. I would remind those who will accuse Martyanov of being too harsh in his critique that no less than Karl Rove, the US political Uber-guru, candidly admitted that “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
You could say that Martyanov’s entire effort is aimed at one specific goal: to wake up those Americans who still care and who still have the minimum of critical intelligence left by laying out before them the reality of modern warfare in the 21st century, including against near-peer, peer and even superior adversaries (in 2019 this would only be Russia, but this is also changing very, very fast, and China has made immense progress in her military capabilities).
He begins by showing why political science models, which aim at assessing the global aggregate power of a society, the US, is deeply flawed and gives the western politicians and public a completely erroneous feeling of confidence, power and security. He then proceeds to contrast these models with something which I have not heard since my college years: the so-called “Osipov-Lanchester Laws” (well, since I was in a US college we called it only the “Lanchester equations” because western academia almost never mentions non-western authors or scientists). I won’t summarize the nature of these equations here, Wikipedia does a decent job here, but I will mention that in our military force planning classes we used these (and other) equations to make all sorts of numerical models for attrition, front movement and even nuclear exchanges between superpowers (which,of course, did not use the early 20th century Osipov-Lanchester equations directly, but did use modern equations which have been developed by the US force planning community which were at least inspired by the type of methodology used by Osipov and Lanchester).
Let me immediately reassure the math-averse readers: Martyanov’s writing does not drag the reader through any complicated equations, he just uses a simplified version of these Osipov-Lanchester equations to show that modern warfare is a science which requires a minimum of technical/technological expertise to understand and which has really nothing to do with meaningless political science buzzwords and over-hyped concepts like “A2/AD” or “hybrid warfare”, “network-centric warfare” or even “Revolution in Military Affairs”. The truth is that none of these concepts are new at all. They have existed for decades, and they are all buzzwords whose the primary function to make an otherwise clueless person appear “well-versed in the complex terminology of modern political science” or some other equally insipid purpose, like convincing clueless politicians to spend more money on “defense” thereby making it possible for the proponents of this kind of political science nonsense to fill their pockets with easily earned money.
Next, a crash course in modern warfare for beginners
The rest of the book is what I would call a ‘crash course in modern warfare for beginners’: Martyanov does an absolutely superb job explaining some (not all, of course!) features of modern warfare to a reader which is assumed to be only a curious amateur whose intellect can be persuaded by fact-based and logical arguments (as opposed to delusional, imperial hubris and feel-good flagwaving and self-worship). As a matter of fact, Martyanov’s book could be an ideal “introduction to military analysis” or a “planning military forces 101” course.
Martyanov is clearly deeply frustrated with the willful ignorance shown by a lot of US academics, politicians and other talking heads and he places the blame on the US educational system which, according to Martyanov, teaches nonsensical theories which are not just useless, but actually self-deceiving and outright dangerous. In all fairness to US colleges and academies, I think that Martyanov is just a little unfair: while it is true that most “political science” and other “conflict and peace studies” schools mostly teach nonsense, there are other US colleges and academies – both civilian and military – which, at least in the 80s and 90s – did teach real military analysis and force planning. Those courses were typically taught by adjunct teachers taken from military personnel who taught evening classes while still working in their regular DoD positions. Furthermore, many students had a military rank (typically First Lieutenant and Captains). I don’t know how good these schools are now, but in the 1980s-1990s some of these schools had superb curricula, “heavy” on technical analysis and computer modeling. I can also say that most of the US officers I studied with were very competent specialists and honorable men who were all acutely aware that being an officer in a superpower’s military, places upon you a double burden: that to protect your country by deterrence, but also to avoid a conflict at almost any cost because this is the only way to really protect your country!
By the way, at that time a senior officer of the DoD’s Office of Net Assessment openly told us “no US President will ever sacrifice Boston or Chicago for the sake of Berlin or Paris; but we will never admit that publicly“. In my experience, US Cold War officers were very competent, cautious and acutely aware of the immense responsibility placed upon their shoulders. Furthermore, I will say this: during the Cold War both the USSR and the US acted responsibly, even during major crises. Finally, in spite of Reagan’s (stillborn) idea of “Star Wars” aka “SDI” – I never met a single US officer who believed, even for a second, that the US could ever stop a Soviet retaliatory second strike (never mind a first one!).
During the Cold War – deterrence worked and both sides played by the same rulebook. This is not the case anymore, and that is very frightening.
Likewise, while the official USN posture was that it needed 600 ships to then “forward deploy” and “bring the war to the Soviets” (by, for example, striking the Kola Peninsula). Yet, all the USN officers whom I met and who served on US carriers told us that this was all propaganda and that due to the “extreme” missile threat from Soviet Bears, Backfires and Oscar-class SSGNs the navy would immediately pull back south of the so-called GIUK Gap. Keep in mind that this was long before the advent of long range hypersonic anti-ship missiles!
At the time (late 1980s) what I typically saw in US military oriented schools was very competent military specialists who, when indeed, did give the obligatory lip-service to the official flag waving propaganda, but who never, not for one second, took all that silly propaganda seriously. Not one. As for the folks whom these military specialists typically called “political science geeks” – nobody ever took them seriously and there was a great deal of dislike between the political science departments faculty and students and the “security studies” or “national security studies” schools (a lot of proto-Neocons amongst these political science geeks, by the way).
Is that still true today? I don’t know, but my fear is that the Neocons have gutted DoD from its most competent specialists, leaving only “political generals” (really political clowns à la General “Betrayus” whom Admiral Fallon openly called an “Ass-Kissing Little Chickenshit”). And, frankly, the (rather credible) rumor that General Jim Mattis aka “Maddog” was the (lone) voice of reason in the Spring of 2017 in Trump’s otherwise wall-to-wall Neocon Cabinet is outright frightening. Especially since Mattis eventually was shown to the door…
But the reality might be even worse.
What happens when the “third A” is gone
During one of these courses, I don’t remember which one, I remember an officer telling us that the process of intelligence can be summarized by what he called the “three As”: acquisition, analysis and acceptance. The first ‘a’ is simply about getting the raw data by whatever means, technical or “human”. The next ‘a’ is the analysis of the obtained data by specialized folks who are supposed to be the experts in parsing and evaluating that data and its source, and then working on a readable summary to be presented to decision makers. The third ‘a’ is simply acceptance, or lack thereof, by the decision makers of the reports presented to them. Judging by the kind of language now used by almost all US politicians (except Ron Paul and Tulsi Gabbard and maybe a very few others), the process of intelligence in the US appears to be completely broken, whether at the level of the first, second or third ‘a’ makes very little difference. Why?
Because speaking the truth about modern warfare or about the dismal state of the US armed forces is an instant “career killer” in the modern US political context. Anyone who breaks this taboo is instantly destroying his or her prospect of being heard, never-mind listened to. In the modern political culture the knee jerk response to any such “crime-think” is a typical combination of accusation of “anti-Americanism” or “lack of patriotism” or some other ad hominem which skillfully avoids any discussion of the actual reality of the topic being discussed. So let me address this attitude frontally and state the following:
I strongly believe that any American who loves his/her country should carefully read BOTH of Martyanov’s books!
Furthermore, far from being anti-US, Martyanov’s books represent a herculean effort to try to wake up the comatose US public about the reality of modern warfare and to show that a continuation of the flagwaving delusional imperial hubris which is so pervasive in the US political discourse could lead to an absolute disaster: a full-scale war between Russia and the US, China and the US or, even worse, Russia and China against the US. And that is a war which, for the first time in history, will devastate the US mainland with both conventional and even nuclear weapons.
Finally, if you really could never wrap your head around the new Russian weapons announced by Putin in his now famous speech, you can also think of Martyanov’s book as a study-guide for curious civilians in which he will explain not only what these weapons can do, but what their introduction into the Russian armed forces really means for the US.
With this book, you will get your third ‘a’ back again
The biggest benefit from Martyanov’s two books is that they give you, the reader, all three As: you are presented with the real-world “hard” data about what new weapon systems and tactics of the 21st century are, then Martyanov presents you with a simple but extremely convincing analysis of what all that data means and, finally, Martyanov spells out why all this is crucial for every US citizens who wants his or her country to be peaceful and prosperous. As such, I can only repeat that I consider both of Martyanov’s books as a “must read” for any member of the Saker Community or for anybody wanting to understand the real nature of the current Revolution in Military Affairs unfolding before our eyes.
The book is very well written and pretty short (193 pages). My only regret is the very poor index at the end (such a seminal book really ought to have a full index).
This is a great read and I urge you all to get a copy of this book.
ANDREI MARTYANOV: is an expert on Russian military and naval issues. He was born in Baku, USSR in 1963. He graduated from the Kirov Naval Red Banner Academy and served as an officer on the ships and staff position of Soviet Coast Guard through 1990. He took part in the events in the Caucasus which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In mid-1990s he moved to the United States where he currently works as Laboratory Director in a commercial aerospace group. He is a frequent blogger on the US Naval Institute Blog.
He also blogs at Reminiscence of the Future…