War Museums, Huh, What are they Good For?

It appears that the government has picked a great time to slash £4 million from the budget of the Imperial War Museum, threatening the closure of its library, and ceasing support for educational visits. The ghost of Malcolm Tucker is probably head butting a table (or PR flunky) in Whitehall on hearing that someone chose the centenary of World War 1 to start hacking off the IWM’s core social functions. I’ll freely admit my bias in this matter – I used the IWM library for my undergraduate dissertation, and the place was my first exposure to working with archival sources. There is also the academic equivalent of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ – a research library closing is a cause for concern, regardless of its content.

The argument will play out in the same way that these arguments tend to play out: the government will say “Why should the taxpayer pay for these things?” and then a multitude of those interested will fight, perhaps in vain, to preserve an irreplaceable bit of British culture. I say irreplaceable, because it is. I have no doubt that a home could be found for the IWM’s collection somewhere, but removing the library from the institution pretty much hollows out the IWM. A national museum without links to academia, or school-level education, isn’t a museum: it’s a warehouse that charges an admission fee. I’m sure this fits with the contemporary role of cultural institutions as tourist honeypots, but it makes me uneasy.

The reason for my unease is that I have no doubt that the government will encourage private donors and philanthropists to help preserve the IWM’s functions. War, and national memory of it, will be increasingly defined by the whims of private donors. The top floor of the new IWM is a monument to this vision: one man’s trophy collection of Victoria Crosses, presented in a boys’ own history style reminiscent of a school playground. It is, to the best of my recollection, the only exhibition where I have encountered explanations urging the visitor to disregard context and revel in personal stories. Oddly enough, my BA dissertation was a comparative study of the politics of the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor. It was hours of study in the IWM’s now-threatened library that gave me the perspective on the changing use of ‘heroes’ and heroism in the decades since both awards were created. Without experienced curatorial staff able to explain the contents of the IWM to school children, the narratives written on walls will become the only narratives that they take home with them. There will be no one to explain to them why the hell people were fighting and dying for the British Empire in dozens of mostly forgotten places around the globe. The Ashcroft gallery is one of the few places in the IWM where Britain’s colonial past is readily apparent, but all they’ll get are heroes.

(Header by Martin Stitchener)


The Blogshop: Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

The flowering of writing within the military community is commendable, but with reservations. Without wishing to spoil the enthusiasm, I do want to offer the caution that simply putting pen to paper (so to speak) is not sufficient, not the end, but rather the beginning of a process which, for the best works, requires seemingly endless and brutal cycles of revisions. Ideas and the frameworks within which they are constructed need to be rigorously challenged, questioned, poked and prodded, and then brought back to the drawing board. A process which I have referred to elsewhere as a good intellectual rogering, a necessity both to keep “bright ideas” from going too far as well as to allow brilliance to justly emerge. And so, in this week’s CCLKOW installment we are introducing the Blogshop, a variation on the academic Workshop, wherein the writing itself is presented for critique. We have a piece provided by one of the regular participants in the weekly dialogue. However, rather than the usual question and discussion upon the substance of the piece, our purpose in this case is critical commentary, which the questions at the end are intended to generate. Additionally, I have recruited colleagues to provide more in-depth responses, which I will post tomorrow in the comments section. So, enjoy the piece, consider the questions, and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

When I was replacing the outgoing Infantry battalion in eastern Afghanistan in 2010, an outgoing staff officer and I were casually discussing life, combat, and the year ahead. He said something that stuck with me throughout my second deployment, “You know, if you want to be successful here (in Afghanistan), you have to keep hate in your heart.” This statement to civilians seems spiteful and monstrous, resonates with many Veterans that I have discussed our views on combat, the enemy, and our way of war. Hate viewed as a motivating force, a driving factor to defeat the enemy, overcome internal bureaucracies, and the numerous distracters to mission accomplishment. Often these statements might not come out until after a few beers and heated discussions, often in hushed tones and maybe with a little shame. It’s not an official doctrine, but in historical examples vilification of the enemy to the point of hatred seems to be a part of the American way of war, and maybe any nation’s way of war. Theorists often look at the role of hate towards the resistance for killing, that aversion to killing enemy forces is often driven by several factors proximity to the killing and aversion to the act. A strong training foundation and organizational culture can assist Soldiers in overcoming the aversion to the act of killing throughout the recruit process. When creating a service culture there are several necessary facets: Integrity, Selfless Service, Teamwork, Generating Organizational Loyalty, and in my mind, you have to mention the enemy. The French Foreign Legion does this well, recognizing the inevitability of killing enemy combatants, they engrain in new recruits the important of conduct against the enemy in combat.  In evaluation of creating a service culture in new recruits and developing battlefield ethos, what really matters in creating a Soldier from a civilian?

Why the Legion? I discovered a series of documentaries on YouTube on the modern French Foreign Legion covering troops in combat in Afghanistan and recruits during their basic training. I witnessed the professionalism and capacity of these troops in Afghanistan, and have always held the Legion in high regard. As a small all-volunteer force with incredibly high standards always embroiled in conflicts in undesirable lands they certainly hold some valuable lessons for our all volunteer force. In the American way of war, it seems easier to conduct operations against an enemy you hate. Hate of an enemy combatant allows a Soldier to dehumanize or detach from the involvement with the acts of war. A quintessential tenant of American warfare is to be the combatant in the right protecting the world or allied nation from the evils of the opposing force. Detaching our military from the emotion of killing enemy combatants has been discussed fully in various texts including SLA Marshall’s Men Against Fire and Grossman’s On Killing and On Combat. Grossman wrote in an early article, “If we understand the role of hate in the soldier’s dilemma than we can use it to obtain an understanding of the psychological underpinnings of maneuver warfare.” [1] Many of the battlefield indiscretions of U.S. forces over the years are often blamed on the emotional toll of war. I am not suggesting that the creation of robot like soldiers would make war easier, but simply evaluating how other forces mold their recruits and enforce their battlefield standards. The US Army Soldier’s Creed and the Legionnaire Code of Honor share several key themes on duty, mission, and battlefield conduct. One missing point of the Soldier’s creed is captured very aptly by the Legion.

Au combat, tu agis sans passion et sans haine, tu respectes les ennemis vaincus, tu n’abandonnes jamais ni tes morts, ni tes blessés, ni tes armes.

The seventh stanza of the Legionnaire code d’honneur: In combat, you act without passion and without hate; you respect vanquished enemies….. This emotional detachment from the situation is important. This code brings a complete focus on mission accomplishment, and even when we vanquish an enemy, to hold them in respect as our defeated adversary. This mindset is instilled starting in basic training and carried forward into combat operations. No cheering as CAS hits enemy positions, no joy in the death of an adversary; merely a continuation of a necessary part of the mission. When a target pops up, the legionnaire knocks it down and continues on towards a cold beer at the end of a mission (regardless of the country of operation). The Legionnaire does not hate his enemy; they are two parts of a transactional relationship necessary for survival in war, and in the life of a Legionnaire. This focus on eliminating a major part of the psychological underpinning of combat certainly improves their productivity and strong espirit de corps. Unlike the US Military Soldier’s Creed or Airmen’s creed, the Legion does not mention “I” as an individual in their code of honor. The code is addressed more in a third person, removing the individual identity and contributing to the group identity. The American society particularly in this era, values the individual and the US Army overly focused on this point in the past during the Army of One Campaign (well intentioned as a team ethos, created an overt focus on individualism). If we shed the individual identity in basic training, and create a team or organization ethic, how do we expect Soldiers to display an Army ethic on the battlefield instead of allowing their individual thoughts and ethos to govern their actions? Admitting to the realities of warfare from the beginning is an important first step because it instills respect for the enemy combatant as a means to maintain vigilance from hubris and prevent battlefield indiscretions.


CCLKOW Blogshop Questions: these are a departure from the usual questions on substance and are instead intended to generate critical discussion of the writing

1. Last week Tom Ricks posted on the quality of the writing in the Army’s institutional publications. Who writes institutional publications? You do. Taking one of the “sins” identified in his work, upon what unexamined assumptions does Denny’s argument rest?

2. Is the comparison between organizations – the US Army or armed forces and the French Foreign Legion – reasonable? If the two are not well matched for comparability, does this fatally weaken the argument? 

3. Does the problem he sets out to address in the piece exist? Is it worth critical attention within the military community? 

My thanks to Mike Denny for being a good sport in allowing me to use his piece this way. He has set a standard here for future and further intrepid warrior scholars. 



1 David Grossman, “Defeating the Enemy’s Will: The Psychological Foundations of Maneuver Warfare,” Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, R.D. Hooker (Ed), Presidio Press, 1994.



Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure

Today’s piece is a departure of sorts from that usually provided for the professional discussion. It marks the first in what will be fairly regular pieces from a new author, whom we will be calling Colonel Panter-Downes. This name is taken from a famous London “correspondent” to America in the early years of WWII, Mollie Panter Downes. She wrote regularly for the New Yorker, describing her view of the life of London and the UK at war for an American public. In our contemporary case, we have a British Army field grade officer reporting from the US in a time of different conflict. We can consider these pieces his “American War Notes.”

Obviously it is a delicate thing for a serving officer to report and remark upon life with the armed forces of an important ally. But if done well, a professional observer able to reflect and comment sensibly can offer a novel and valuable perspective of the institution’s many sides. Our author is more than adequately experienced of service in the combat arms, repeated deployments, as well as the rigours of military administration. That is, our author has a trustworthy voice, the fruits of which are what we hope to bring to Kings of War readers.

Today’s piece was commissioned. I had heard about the program from the author and thought it a fascinating thing to put before the American readers. I shall take a small bow now for my prescience in selecting a topic that would resonate so perfectly with the publication of the Army Operating Concept. Many 1s and 0s have already been spilled on the topic over at The Bridge. Here we narrow the focus to a specific idea. 

So, dear #CCLKOW readers, I give you this British idea for your consideration. Read Colonel Panter-Downes’s piece and the accompanying questions and join the discussion on Twitter.


20 years ago as a platoon commander I led the planning and deployment of a small team of British soldiers to the volatile North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. [1]  I was responsible for all elements of the operation, from conception, to execution and then exploitation. I researched and developed the concept of operations, arranged the logistics, selected and trained the team, organized the movement and conducted the follow up briefings. In country I liaised with the Embassy and Pakistani government agencies, recruited the in-country support team, dealt with the unexpected when caught up in an anti-Western riot in Peshawar, practiced the robustness of my contingency plans when we suffered casualties [2] and conducted numerous impromptu shuras and medical clinics in my area of operations. All this was done in the absence of radio or cellular communications to my higher headquarters.  Despite already being operationally experienced from a deployment to Northern Ireland, this was the defining moment of the start of my army career. I learnt more about the art of leadership and the loneliness of command, of logistics and working across cultures in this deployment then I had before or even since in structured training. I was adventurous training.

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,”[3] AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” [4] There are currently nine core AT activities [5] and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities. I had my first taste of AT as an officer cadet and have continued active participation ever since, progressing through experience from participant to practitioner in my chosen disciplines. In all this time I have trained in many different countries, developed new skills and learnt hard lessons; I have been a planner as well as a climber, a logistician as well as a skipper and I have placed myself outside of my comfort zone and to confront my fears on more occasions than I care to remember.

The US Army has recently released its Army Operating Concept (AOC), a conceptual doctrine which “determines how we think about what the Army does”. [6] Much of the AOC emphasizes the human aspect of conflict and stresses the requirement to develop its human capability, in particular developing agile and adaptive commanders.  What is the connection between the AOC and AT? If the US Army is serious about developing its human capability, if it wants to develop leaders who “think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity, accept prudent risk, assess the situation continuously, develop innovative solutions to problems, and remain mentally and physically agile to capitalize on opportunities,” [7] then it should consider AT as a means to achieve those goals.

Now not everyone is going to undertake a high altitude trekking trip to the Hindu Kush, attempt Everest or challenge the Antarctic. [8] But year in, year out, U.K. service personnel conduct adventure training exercises in the U.K. and overseas, and in fact most overseas warfighting exercises have an adventure training element incorporated into the deployment. In all circumstances the value is always that this training challenges practical and leadership skills in uncertain environments with real risk. The skills they use are fundamental to soldiering: leadership, planning, and risk management. Conducted out of uniform and in small groups these personnel also often encounter a significantly different dynamic with the locals than when in uniform. Overseas adventure training is by definition expeditionary and physically the conditions are very often austere. Not that the U.S. Army need conduct significant amounts overseas, being blessed with some of the finest adventure training opportunities within its own boundaries, but it can incorporate adventure training into the rising tempo of small scale deployments already envisaged under the AOC.

Important to the training and the value it would offer the needs of the AOC, less specific highly qualified experts, AT tends to be a junior officer and senior NCO dominated activity. This allows these two elements to operate with normally significantly more autonomy than they get in conventional training; it fosters trust up and down the chain of command, that vital and often lacking ingredient in inculcating Mission Command. Significantly AT is also cheap compared to conventional military training. Infrastructure costs are minimal and the expertise can be brought in from a thriving civilian sector. Lastly AT is recruitment and retention positive. Soldiers enjoy adventure training and most activities undoubtedly have an element of glamour to them. [9]

If the U.S. Army is serious about developing its next generation of leaders to win in a complex world, then perhaps it should consider AT within the AOC framework.  If so, perhaps the ‘Ascent of Rum Doodle’ [10] will in future become as well read in the U.S. Army as ‘The Defence of Duffer’s Drift’ currently is.


Questions: Today’s questions are brought to you by the Editor.

First, and simply, what do the Americans think of Adventurous Training as a form of military training?

Second, do the US armed forces have the manpower flexibility to allow the pursuit of such activities? Consider personnel policies and routinized progress of billets and promotions.

Third, do the US armed forces have the institutional flexibility to allow and foster the initiative necessary for such a program? Does it trust junior leaders sufficiently?

Finally, how many of the Americans briefly wondered whether there was an exchange program to get on one of these expeditions?


Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW and keep an eye out for the Colonel’s next posts.



1 The expedition staged through Peshawar before undertaking high altitude trekking towards Gilgit.

2 Two casualties total; one was bounced over a car in Peshawar and one suffered from altitude sickness.

Joint Services Pamphlet 419 ‘Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme’ 3-1, para 7.

4 Ibid, p 1-1, para 1.

5 Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

6 Army Times, Interview with TRADOC Commander General David Perkins, Oct 13, 2014.

7 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 ‘The U.S. Army Operating Concept’ page 19, para 3-4 a. (4).

8 Everest and the Antarctic have been recent significant U.K. military AT expeditions.

9 Less caving, in my opinion a strange sport for strange people!

10 A comic novel on how not to run a mountaineering expedition.


Putin the ‘Strong Man’ has not protected his people

Despite his publicly cultivated image as a strong leader protecting his people, Vladimir Putin’s Russia still sees terrorist attacks with depressing frequency.

It is the twelfth anniversary of Moscow’s Nord-Ost theatre siege in which 130 people were killed, partly by terrorists and partly by Russia’s botched storming. Here is the story.

In 1999 Prime Minister/soon to be President Vladimir Putin raged about terrorists who blew up Moscow apartment buildings that, “we will waste them on the toilet…. the issue has been resolved once and for all.” More than one respected journalist has since cited what they say is evidence that Putin and the Russian state may have blown up the apartment buildings themselves in order to create popular support.

It was in September ten years ago that North Caucasus terrorists took hundreds of children and teachers hostage in a school in Beslan. Again the terrorists, and again what some say was a botched storming lead to more than 330 deaths, 186 of which were children. 447 Russians have gone the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Russia breached the victims’ right to life over Beslan.

These are a few examples which should prove that that Russia’s large, military and regular ‘anti-terror’ operations don’t work. In its turbulent North Caucasus, the home of Chechnya, Dagestan and countless terror attacks over the past 15 years, a suicide bomber recently blew himself up in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, which Moscow had previously thought pacified. Elections there have regularly returned near 100% of votes for Putin. But don’t mistake toleration, under the barrels of Russian guns, as support for Putin and Moscow. The security forces are about the only ethnic Russians left in the North Caucasus.

Putin may make a macho show of things. But the words of a Russian government spokesman at the European Court hearing into Beslan are more telling: “It is no secret that terrorist attacks, particularly hostage-takings, are very difficult to predict. The sad experience has shown that even the strongest states, with a high level of public security, are not guaranteed against such cases and very often have nothing in the face of the terrorist threat.”

Before and since Beslan, huge expenditures of Russian money and the heavy handed use of force have failed for ignoring the root causes of terrorism in Russia. Kicking in people’s doors all over the North Caucasus, killing people there, and moves like trying to make the families of terrorists pay for their acts do nothing to endear the Russian government to locals. And it is that continued antipathy and fear on the part of non ethnic Russian populations which fuels the continued recourse to terrorism.

Russians shouldn’t believe in Putin’s strong man image. He promised to protect them. But he hasn’t.


The Arab Spring: The graveyard of terrorism

Eugenio Lilli, PhD Candidate, Defence Studies Department, King’s College London and Chair of the KCL US foreign policy research group. Follow me on Twitter @EugenioLilli and on webagora.wordpress.com

Soon after the outbreak of the Arab Spring in early 2011, Al Qaeda tried to take credit for the popular revolutions that were upsetting the Arab world. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed that the Arab Spring was a direct consequence of the September 11th terrorist attacks a decade earlier. Al Qaeda and other likeminded extremist groups depicted the objectives of the revolutions as in line with their rejection of the status quo in the region of the Greater Middle East. Despite their efforts, such groups had a marginal role in the initial phases of the revolutions. In fact, economic, political, and social grievances, and not violent extremist rhetoric, were the main reasons that brought the people into the streets. At the time, many observers (including myself) argued that the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the Arab Spring seemed to have fatally discredited the extremists’ argument that only violence could achieve significant change in the Arab world. After all, two weeks of peaceful mass protests in Egypt had driven Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out of office; something that extremists like al-Zawahiri had failed to achieve after decades of armed struggle.

What is the situation in late 2014?

In this post, I collected maps from recent reports produced by the US Congressional Research Service to provide a picture of the major current extremist threats in the regions of the Greater Middle East and Africa.

The first map refers to the area of the Levant and to the activity of groups such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State. (click on the maps to enlarge)


The second map illustrates the situation in the Horn of Africa and the operations of Al Qaeda affiliates there.

Horn of Africa

The third map is about the areas of North and West Africa and the activity of local extremist groups.

West and North Africa

After having seen these maps, what is your opinion about the popular argument of early 2011 that the peaceful nature of the Arab Spring had undermined the extremists’ narrative that only violence could bring about change in the region?

I would like to hear your comments.


These boots are not meant for fighting…yet?

Continuing the weekly professional discussion of military affairs upon Twitter, today’s piece dovetails off of a piece by our Defense Studies Department, “Land Power and the Islamic State Crisis.”  It is a very good summary of the issues, and leads the reader to the unexpected conclusion that the thing which had seemed to be the answer to the current conflicts may, in fact, not lead to a satisfactory conclusion. This piece, for the purposes of discussion, will argue that tactical prowess notwithstanding, at this point Western land power cannot win this war. Read Dr. Tuck’s piece and this one, then join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW. 


“In the end, then, the dilemma facing policy-makers in the fight to stop Islamic State lies is the fact that land power might have the intrinsic power of decision in war; but there is nothing intrinsic to land power that guarantees a decision in our favour.”

That is the money quote from our Defense Studies colleague, Dr. Christopher Tuck. So many have been shouting for Western “boots on the ground” over the past weeks, but there is vastly less real consideration of what that would mean at any level of concern to military affairs, from tactics to policy. Despite absolute tactical proficiency to do so, to enter the conflict on the ground to fight and defeat ISIS is not currently in American interests or, more importantly, those whose lives and fates are so intimately tied to whether and where the ISIS flag continues to fly.

It must be very clear that casualties caused by Western and American armed forces, whether civilians or even the enemy, have a pernicious negative effect. In the former, it increases the moral and human distance between us and those on the ground we mean to support. While it is entirely possible to successfully prosecute a military campaign where local casualties are high and local support is maintained – the campaign in Western Europe to overthrow the German occupation in WWII, for example – this requires a significant foundation of trust and strong shared objectives. Neither currently exists in the region, although it may be possible that Iraq is beginning to manifest the necessary will and interest. Recent calls for increased American assistance from the Government (which is enjoying some greater amount of legitimacy than Maliki’s), from local civilian leaders, and from Iraqi Kurdistan suggest that such support might be growing. Cultivating this sentiment will take smart and sensible diplomacy, both from US/Western actors as well as regional partners. But that will take work, and does not change the contemporary problems.

With respect to the latter, you will likely pause to question why I believe that enemy losses to our military action are detrimental to our strategic purposes. However, as it must be clear at this point, ISIS’s strengths are not wholly or even in the majority on the battlefield. They are, in that domain, adequately sufficient, making good use of their strengths and mitigating their weaknesses. There are certain aspects of their campaigns that have been relatively sophisticated – the reconnaissance and battlefield preparation for the campaign in Anbar [1] should not be undervalued. Nevertheless, we should also note that their military success has been built more significantly upon their abilities to parlay the sentiments of local populations to their tactical and strategic benefit than upon their abilities to fight. But at the end of the day, ISIS’s strength is in its communications and propaganda. And it is in this realm that every fighter killed by Western action becomes nightmarish for us, as each becomes a martyred hero capable of encouraging the recruitment of future fighters. Simply put, the blood we spill is like fuel to the fire.

“We are your sons. We are your brothers. We came to protect your religion and your honour.” This, more than anything else, is ISIS’ selling point on the ground, why they have not yet been pushed out by the locals in whose name they are fighting and attempting to govern. That is where the fight is. And as it stands, on their own Western boots have neither the strategies nor the tactics to sell or make that promise.


So, simple questions for this week’s discussion.

1. In the short term you cannot change the context. So, what do you do? Contrary to the hype, “boots” are not the limit of Western military power – and for that matter, neither is airpower. So, what are the remaining elements of our military capabilities that could be used to strategic advantage against ISIS?

2. In the medium to longer term, the context is malleable. What military and political efforts would help to shape the context and increase the effectiveness of Western military activity, to include the option to use ground troops if that is deemed necessary and of potential utility?




[1] In “Clanging of the Swords, IV” the Raafidah hunters which targeted Iraqi military personnel were brutal, but that should not belie the sophistication of the preparation and execution of the mission to utterly dislocate the Iraqi Army forces. The video is awful, but does offer good military insights.


Not Ripe For Freedom

Eugenio Lilli, PhD Candidate, Defence Studies Department, King’s College London and Chair of the KCL US foreign policy research group. Follow me on Twitter @EugenioLilli and on webagora.wordpress.com

Ask a person if all men should be free and the likely answer will be “yes”.

Move the conversation from the theoretical to the empirical, from the general to the specific, and you will be surprised by the kind of different answers you may receive.


In recent conversations on the outcome of  the popular uprisings that have upset the Arab world since early 2011, I have been repeatedly confronted with the argument that some people, for cultural, religious, or whatever reason, “are not ripe for freedom.” Supporters of different strands of this argument use the current examples of chaos in post-Qaddafi Libya, violence in post-Mubarak Egypt, disorder in post-Saleh Yemen, and protracted armed confrontation in post- (?) Assad Syria to prove that some people, especially in the Arab world, are not ready to be “free”. It seems to me that hidden behind many of these arguments is the legacy of the XVIII century concept of the “white man’s burden”, according to which the “better” people should encourage the “lesser” people to develop socially, politically, and economically until the latter can eventually take their own place in the world.


Nevertheless, if one accepts the assumption that some people are not ripe for freedom, freedom will never be achieved;

for one cannot arrive at the maturity for freedom without having already acquired it; one must be free to learn how to make use of one’s powers freely and usefully.

The first attempts will surely be brutal and will lead to a state of affairs more painful and dangerous than the former condition under the dominance, but also the protection, of an external authority.

However, one can achieve reason only through one’s own experiences and one must be free to be able to undertake them.

To accept the principle that freedom is worthless for those under one’s control and that one has the right to refuse it to them forever, is an infringement on the rights of God himself, who has created man to be free.


Those are not my words but Immanuel Kant’s (the above excerpt is cited in Michael Bakunin’s Etatism et Anarchie, ed. Arthur Lehning, 1967). Kant’s remarks are especially interesting because of their context. In fact, the German philosopher wrote them during the so-called Reign of Terror (end of XVIII century) in defense of the French Revolution. Kant was defending the Revolution against those who claimed that the violence unleashed during the Reign of Terror showed that the masses were unprepared for the privilege of freedom.


I cannot help being impressed by the contemporary relevance of Kant’s words.


I believe that no rational individual should condone violence and terror. However, the same rational individual should not be too quick to condemn the violence that often occurs when long-subdued people rise against their autocratic oppressors and take the first difficult steps toward freedom.

It seems to me that when we look at the popular uprisings in the Arab world we are quick to condemn the violence associated with the upheaval but we easily forget what triggered such violence in the first place. Autocrats generally seize and maintain power through violence. Unfortunately, a certain level of violence might be the only way for oppressed people to take that power back from them.


That said, there remain several unresolved vexing issues.


In order to prompt a debate on the topic, let’s narrow down the concept of freedom to political freedoms, and in particular to those political freedoms generally enjoyed in a sound form of democratic government.

Some questions immediately come into the mind:


1) What if democratic institutions bring to power elites or groups that are not committed to democratic values? Or, at least, to the kind of democratic values that we cherish in the West? Put in other words, what if political freedom becomes license to opt for destructive radicalization?


2) Could we expect autocratic leaderships to be credible mid-wives for countries undergoing difficult processes of democratic transition? How do we value the establishment of democratic institutions and practices (a parliament or elections) in terms of achieving political freedom?


3) Is there any factual ground to the argument that a specific culture or religion makes people more or less “ripe” for political freedom?


4) What does history tell us about the path that western societies followed to free themselves from their own oppressive autocrats? Was it a peaceful or a violent one?


Let’s the discussion begin…



The Acme Co. Army?


This week’s CCLKOW piece is brought to us by another colleague in War Studies. In this one we confront the seemingly never-ending debate: Do we need a private army to do our dirty work? As domestic politics further complicate the use of own troops in defense of interests but not threat and conflicts seem to demand rapid response, the appeal of the privatization of force grows again. Although of less importance in this latest age of state war, armies for hire are not new to the battlefield. Whether this is wisdom or wishful thinking is another matter. Enjoy the post and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW


It seems to be the debate that never dies: Last week saw the airing of yet another proposal to establish an army of private contractors, armed and ready to go into combat. One US news host thought it would be a good idea to establish such an army to fight ISIS. Now the idea of a private army is of course neither new nor practicable and has rightfully not attracted much serious discussion. However, a closer consideration of the issues attached to this proposal – such as political control, military effectiveness, and lawfulness – should revive discussion about the role of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) in contemporary warfare.

First, we should remember that the idea to employ a private force in lieu of state forces has been made previously not only by those trying to sell such an army but also by leading figures in the international community. In 1997, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed to use PMSCs for peacekeeping and the running of refugee camps. This idea did not find much support, but it is worth noting that the proposal was made after the international community failed to respond adequately to the genocide in Rwanda during a period that saw much soul-searching about which reasons could provide legitimacy to an infringement of state sovereignty.

As other commentators have pointed out there are many armed contractors operating around the world at this moment [1], working not only for governments but also private clients such as oil and gas and shipping companies. Also, not all PMSC employees are armed – unarmed guarding, security risk analysis, intelligence gathering and technical support are among the functions frequently contracted out. For all these tasks it is challenging enough to maintain adequate oversight, control and coordination. So intuitively the establishment of a private army is a bad idea. Or is it?

To answer that question, it is worth revisiting some of the classic arguments for and against PMSC usage in armed conflict. The most common arguments for contracting are as follows. PMSCs are cheaper than the military. They are more flexible. They free up military capability. They have specialist knowledge. The public cares less about contractor deaths than about military deaths. Now none of these is actually proven across the board – as with most other things it depends on the specific situation. [2] For example, short-term savings might be eaten up in the long term when a contractor acquires specialist knowledge on a contract, meaning the company is in a prime position to bid on a follow-on contract and charge more than before.

Arguments against employing PMSCs are just a varied as those in favour of it. The most common ones are: It is unethical to use PMSCs. They are too expansive. They are unpredictable and have a vested interest in a conflict to continue. They are not accountable to the public in the way the military is. Oversight is insufficient. Each of those of course has a counter-argument. For example, PMSC oversight and regulation have improved significantly in the past few years, not least through the establishment of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers. It is also not clear why PMSCs or their employees should be more interested in the continuation of a conflict than military personnel.

Why then does the private army idea keep coming up? Because it seems to be an easy option, a ‘quick fix’ instead of developing a strategy to counter what caused a crisis in the first place. It also might seem politically more appealing to present a one-stop solution rather than spending months or years reforming outdated protocols and structures. While I am by no means in favour of it there are a few questions I would like to put up for discussion. I would especially welcome input from those with field experience with security contractors. 

With all this in mind, the questions for this week’s discussions are:


In an age of wars of choice, do ‘private armies’ offer states a better option for armed intervention than traditional armed forces?

Can PMSCs be of use in the fight against ISIL, and in which capacities?

What are the most significant challenges to their use from a military practitioner’s perspective?

 How can PMSC-military cooperation be improved?


Join the discussion on Twitter, #CCLKOW.



1. See the Washington Post blog post by Ishaan Tharoor http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/09/26/a-history-lesson-for-bill-oreilly-on-when-mercenaries-go-wild/ See also Erik Wemple’s earlier  post http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/09/24/fox-news-bill-oreilly-somehow-cable-home-run-with-mercenary-army-proposal/.

2. In fact Avant and Sigelman found that the US population cares almost as much about contractor deaths as it does about military deaths, but was less informed about the former. Avant, Deborah D./ Sigelman, Lee (2010): Private Security and Democracy: Lessons from the US in Iraq. Security Studies 19(2), 230-265.

groundhog day

Gulf War III

The new gulf war will be an amazing thing.

It won’t be like the previous two in any way.

This time there will be a clear strategy from the start: to kill the bad people.

And the range of activities to be performed will be tightly bounded: we won’t go into ground operations unless all the air operations turn out to be not quite as effective as we thought. Then we’ll vacillate about whether we meant we weren’t going to go in on the ground, agonize about whether we have the correct authorities to do so, and then under resource it. To make it interesting.

We know exactly that this is the thing that the enemy least wants: the people cutting off heads and making videos of it precisely don’t want us to attack them. That’s the thing they’re most seeking to avoid. Because if we don’t attack them they’ll be able to find cohesion amongst Middle Eastern populations to widen the caliphate. It’s either that or it’s precisely what they want. Bit like AQ and the death by a thousand cuts that bin Laden predicted for Gulf War II.

We won’t turn a blind eye to who is – predominantly – funding these groups, and we will certainly make stiff representations to them: unless they have lot of money. In which case we’ll pretend the root cause is something else. Because that’s less inconvenient.

We will give our armed forces the %GDP funding and capabilities to deal with these endless interventions: or, alternatively, we’ll keep forgetting that we said we’d stop intervening, cut the funding and wonder why it’s all a bit touch and go. God forbid we actually and seriously engage in drumming out duplication in Europe to make sure that our buck is delivering a bang not a sizzle. (Sorry, I realise I went far too far there….)

This time when we break the china in the shop, we’ll own the shop. Definitely. We won’t cut and run with the shop still broken and a big sign saying ‘easy thieving opportunities here’ placed in the window. No sir. Unless we get bored of the people not being able to stop killing each other.  Which is, afterall, very tedious.

So, off to war we go.

But it would be nicer to have an exit strategy from the start, and a range of things that looked like an understanding of what success in this space is.

Most importantly, I wonder whether Chilcot will manage to report before Gulf War IV?