During the last months I participated in an international brain-storming network that was developed to find politically realistic ways of deterring the developing Russian threat to the Baltic States. The other active participants were mainly other Scandinavians and Americans.
After some months of otherwise highly constructive correspondence, I started to wonder why I did not provoke any reactions when I argued that the problem was not only a matter of very low West European defence budgets and new challenges as a result of Russian improved military technology and the aggressive body language of a psychologically unstable chained dog.
Why was it that I only met silence when I noted that far too many West European militaries needed not only “rebooting”, but a new operating system installation as much as a computer used constantly for a decade with an old version of Microsoft Windows?
I have realised that the unhappy situation is due to:
1) the grossly over-officered forces where only a very small fraction could get practical experience in units,
2) the unchallenged adaptation of New Public Management fads,
3) the military unionism that brought and consolidated privileges that undermined the professional ethos and behaviour,
4) the lack of realistic, unscripted exercise activities,
5) the loss of critical professional discourse, and finally
6) the de-professionalization of advanced officer education.
What happened in several places, and especially in Denmark and Sweden, was that civilian academics, and in Denmark especially theoretical political scientist (not of the British War Studies, Military History school) and New Public Managers won the high ground and key advisory positions by an unchallenged, deeply arrogant rejection of the relevance of “unscientific” military professionalism.
The supplementary contributions of civilian expertise can be sound and necessary. Since the 1950s civilian academics gained a key role in the Western political and strategic discourse about nuclear deterrence and the potential use of the weapons. This had been essential, because it added sophistication and risk awareness to the views of the USAF Strategic Command and some U.S. Army nuclear warriors.
However, with the end of the Cold War, the dams of balanced common sense broke; history was implicitly assumed to have ended in the sense that no great inter-state wars would ever happen again, at least and especially not in Europe. The core of military professionalism had previously been all the preparations necessary for intensive warfare, at least initially dominated by conventional weapons. The naval forces had to face a difficult contest in a sea-air environment before a workable level of sea control was established. The air forces would remain involved in a continuous struggle for air superiority.
The land forces prepared to become involved in a combination of attrition and manoeuvre, combine arms and air-land combat to gain or defend key geographical areas.
To prepare professionally required constant terrain reconnaissance and analysis of force requirements as technology, the political framework, own forces and the potential enemy forces developed. The operational defence planning was matched by force development, cadre education and realistic exercises from lowest to highest level. To be able to do so was at the centre of military professionalism, and few civilian defence academics felt qualified to challenge more than minor elements or assumptions of that combination of professional competencies.
All that changed in Europe with the end of the Cold War. When all future wars for the Europeans would be wars of choice, the traditional military profession would be irrelevant. Forces could be reduced to “tools” tailored for a specific mission and adjusted when initially ineffective. No comprehensive professional ability to identify military requirements, advice and develop the forces was necessary or encouraged. The professional world based on 250 years of discourse and practice from the Enlightenment via Clausewitz and Corbett to Michael Howard and John Warden had become irrelevant. The military lost their paradigm, and as a hermit crab losing its snails house, they were vulnerable to both predators and their own insecurity.
As invasive species the predators came immediately in the form of the carriers New Public Manager fads, theoretical political scientists and the heralds of waves of pseudo-strategic buzz-words. The suits and skirts than moved in to direct and be uncritically copied by the uniforms did not aspire to plan, command and take responsibility; they only sought power based on an unsupported feeling of superiority in the post-military-paradigm era of “New Wars”.
They did not consider giving practical advice, beyond not sending tanks to peace keeping missions because they would escalate violence, dropping conscription because it was obsolete, developing or accepting ideas like “smart defence” that was built on the unsupportable assumption of NATO being a supranational organisation.
They could see theoretical problems, but remained unsuited to man Colin Gray’s “Strategy Bridge”. All knew theories, some gained relevant technological insight but outside a team that included relevant military expertise, they remained nice window dressing repeating their impressively sounding theories making finance ministers and uniformed copycats happy.
If the military professionals had had some backbone, very little harm had been done, but unsure of themselves most aped the superficial theories and buzz-words of the shallow challengers, quickly losing their professionalism in the process to gain empty prestige from irrelevant and unusable academic credits in management and strategic spidery-wordery.
Now nobody is around outside the U.S., Poland and maybe Britain and France that can identify and test a military requirement for a real war problem like the one we are now facing in the Baltics.
Advanced officer education was first considered irrelevant for the new era in Sweden and now in Denmark.
However, after the unwanted therefore warning of 2008, the happy era of the irrelevance of military professionalism ended in 2014. Now it is time to crash-train and educate some of the relative youngsters that fought for us without a strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan to replace the useless empty uniforms that in best cases can give mere technical-tactical advice only, dressed-up in the lingo-feathers that the Emperor with little clothes wore.
It is time that we all start to worry about how to return to a cadre-rank “pyramid” and retirement age, that mirrors that the military profession is a practical one, where even directly professionally relevant theoretical education actually is less relevant than proven leadership experience and ability in units with tough realistic training.
It is time that we all start to study and remember what it takes from basic training to general war gaming to create effective military forces. You will find little in political science theory, but much in the analytic military history works of persons such as Michael Howard, Martin van Creveld supplemented by Jörg Muth, early Ed Luttwak, Arden Bucholz and even S.L.A. Marshall.
It is time to address the balance between regular and reserve elements, especially from conscription and part time volunteers, to develop the necessary quantity.
It is time to address what working hour rules and privileges that are compatible with an effective military.
It is time to force the uniformed state employees to become military professionals again.