December 31, 2012: Many critical military conflicts never get much publicity. Sometimes it's because they involve espionage, often it's because, well, the media never really gets interested. Here are ten (in alphabetical order) you should at least be aware of. They are all more important than you realize:
1. Bureaucrats vs. the Troops. Increasing government regulation, which long avoided the military, now goes after the troops as well. Environmental regulations limit training and how weapons are built. Equal opportunity rules have brought calls to allow the disabled to join the military. Lawyers strive for the right to sue the armed forces for real or imagined injuries. Some armed forces have been allowed to unionize. The bureaucrats know little of how the military operates, so they charge ahead with the best of intentions and often disastrous results. In many countries the military is little more than a bunch of poorly trained civil servants with guns. That becomes painfully apparent only on those rare occasions when the troops are called out to fight. Some politicians know this and that at least makes them more reluctant to get into a fight.
2. Intelligence Operations. Oh, sure, you hear about this stuff in the news but never in detail. And it's the details that make or break intel ops. A lot of the effort is plain old detective work. There are a lot of stakeouts (electronic and physical) and many interviews with suspects or their friends, family, neighbor0,s or enemies. Even more underground are the electronic operations (bugging terrorist e-mail, phone calls, and internet use) and crypto (breaking secret codes used on phone calls and e-mail). All this work is very expensive and if the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. decide to shift their resources elsewhere, you won't see it in the news. You will see, months or years down the line, an increase in successful terrorist attacks because the intel weenies got distracted or reassigned.
3. Jointness Games. Sailors the world over have more in common with each other than they do with soldiers in their own country. Most nations just accept the fact that their army, air force, and navy don't get along much. But in the United States there has developed a minor religion called "Jointness." The American military takes war seriously, so much so that they acknowledge the need for real cooperation between the three services. Making this cooperation a reality is another matter. You don't hear much about jointness, which is just as well. It's more of an ideal than a reality. But efforts are being made and their success or failure will be known the next time there's a war.
4. Media Wars. Most of us know what putting "spin" on a story means. What we don't know is how much of this goes on all over the world and then filters back to us as "news." All the two or three dozen wars going on at the moment have layers of media spin and distortion surrounding them. This makes it hard to find out exactly what's going on. The situation has become more complex in the last few decades with the growing use of spin by NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations like the Red Cross, UN, and Oxfam). This has a big impact on how wars are reported or misreported. At least now you know you’re being spoofed.
5. Military Pork Barrel. Most of the $1.3 trillion spent each year on defense worldwide comes with political strings attached. For obvious reasons, politicians like to keep quiet about the political horse-trading that goes on when the defense budget is carved up. That’s because "defense" generally takes second place to "how can this help me get reelected, rich, or both." The battles over military pork largely take place in the shadows. But the outcomes of these conflicts eventually have an impact, usually catastrophic, on the battlefield.
6. Resurrecting the Red Army. Many Russian officers, young as well as older Soviet era men, are keen to make the Russian armed forces mighty once again, as they were in the days of the Soviet Union's Red Army. The Russian Air Force still uses the red star on their aircraft. The glory days of the Red Army are honored and hailed as a force to be emulated. Until the last few years the money wasn't there to rebuild the Russian armed forces. But the desire was there, and now the money is too. The problem is that there is also a lot of corruption and that ensures that a third or more of the extra $8 billion a year will get stolen or wasted. Then there are the problems with conscription (few Russians want it), morale (low), and capabilities (also low). Despite all this, the goal remains the same, although achieving it might take a lot longer than anticipated.
7. The Bug Race. Information warfare, centered on the Internet, is, more than anything else, a battle to find and patch (for the good guys) or exploit (for the bad guys) flaws in the enormous amount of computer software that runs the net. Much of this software is "open source" (the original instruction in plain text) and available to anyone. The black hat hackers pore over this code looking for flaws. If they find a bug before the white hat (good guy) hackers, mischief, damage, major crimes, or creation of weapons grade malware (that can do a lot of damage via the Internet) will result. There's no magic involved. In fact, the major source of serious net crime remains insiders going over to the dark side. But for anyone else, it's a matter of who gets to the bugs first.
8. The People's Liberation Army, Inc. Since the 1950s, China's armed forces (the People's Liberation Army) have fought a losing battle against corruption. Some of it has been outright theft, most of it was diversion of military resources for commercial gain (by senior officers). The government ordered the generals to get rid of all their businesses in the 1990s. The generals have gone through the motions of complying but the struggle continues over exactly where the money goes. This hurts the ability of the Chinese military to fight, but this is never discussed in China, for obvious reasons. Note that this has been a problem in China for several thousand years.
9. Tribal Warfare. Many of the smaller wars, and some of the large ones, are basically tribal conflicts. It's not politically correct to dwell on this aspect of global disorder. But until we do these wars won't go away or be addressed effectively.
10. Who's Ready for What? The size of armed forces usually is reported in terms of quantity, not quality. This is odd, since most wars are decided by the quality of the troops, not how many of them there are. "Readiness" is the term most often used to describe this and you rarely get a straight answer when looking for the readiness of any armed forces. But it's how much readiness a force has, not how many troops or weapons that says it all regarding fighting power.