27 October 2023

WHY Did Russia Invade Ukraine on 24 February 2022?

Ray McGovern and Professor Geoffrey Roberts have collaborated to produce a deeply insightful video on origins of the Ukraine War.  It takes the form of a dialogue between the esteemed historian Geoffrey Roberts and Ray McGovern (CIA retired).  The video is long, but it is an informative and I think very accurate discussion of the US role in provoking Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.  Roberts’ essays on this subject are powerfully and elegantly written (for example, see this link), but his speaking style can occasionally be a little distracting.  I certainly recommend listening very carefully to what he has to say — he is an extremely knowledgeable and competent.  McGovern’s side of the dialogue is tip top — as usual — but is one of his best (see bio here). 

The following link will take you to the imbedded video:


Ukraine: The Why or Russia’s Invasion

October 6, 2023

Professor Geoffrey Roberts & Ray McGovern analyze “WHY” Russia invaded Ukraine and the question of whether Putin had any real options to the ‘Special Military Operation’, given Russia’s perception of a growing existential threat. Geoff leads off at minute 6:50 in the video.

18 October 2023

The Art of Grand Strategy American Style


For analyses of 

16 July 2023

Vilnius NATO Summit: Pig's Ear into $ilk Purse.

Billions to the Arms Merchants; Attrition to the Last Ukrainian

Introduction by ANDREW COCKBURN

JUL 15, 2023


I’m proud to post this succinct summary of what the NATO summit in Vilnius was all about by my friend Chuck Spinney. Spinney knows the machine from the inside, having spent thirty years working as a Pentagon analyst. His 1980 briefing “Defense Facts of Life” detailed how and why the more we spend on defense, the less defense we get. Everything he predicted in that paper has been totally confirmed over the subsequent half century of bloat, greed, and decline.

One Clapped out DoD Retiree's take on the Vilnius Summit

Chuck Spinney

Re-posted in Counterpunch, 17 July 2023

I think the Vilnius NATO summit will be remembered as a predictable, if ridiculous, effort to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  

The summit's near term goal seems to have been to squirm out of a NATO Article 5 commitment to Ukraine.  But its long term goal seems to have been to rationalize a continuation of NATO's US-driven, neocon fantasy to weaken and perhaps dismember Russia by enmeshing Russia and Ukraine in a deepening, unending Russo-NATO proxy war of attrition — i.e., attrition to the last Ukrainian. Consider the hodgepodge of contradictory policy “decisions” emerging from the summit:

  • Ukraine, the most corrupt country in Europe (with the arguable exception of Kosovo — an earlier product of NATO’s hubris) will not be offered membership in NATO for the foreseeable future, but the NATO requirement for Ukraine to pass a Membership Action Plan has been waived — effectively accelerating the procedures of joining what has morphed into a Not-So-Atlantic Alliance.
  • The NATO Summit established a potentially consequential NATO-Ukraine Council as a permanent standing institution of NATO, where the 31 NATO Allies would meet periodically with Ukraine to map out NATO's policies for dealing with emergency situations, presumably including those policies dealing with the conduct of NATO's never-ending proxy war with Russia.
  • The G7 economic grouping would work with Ukraine to ensure the continued flow of military hardware to Ukraine — read a policy to shovel ever more money to NATO’s military industrial complex, but the G7 is an economic grouping and is not part of NATO, which is a trigger-happy military alliance, because an attack on one member is deemed to be an attack on all members under the language of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

 The original purpose of the so-called Atlantic Alliance was accurately summed up by NATO’s first Secretary General, Lord Ismay, when he opined its purpose is “… to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”  

Well, the Soviet Union is not only OUT, it disappeared into the dustbin of history in 1991; the Americans are now IN Eastern Europe as well as Ismay’s Atlantic Europe; and Germany, the economic engine of the European Union, and once the Hope Diamond of Post WWII Atlantic Europe, is being pushed DOWN into the neo-liberal economic gutter. … And post-Vilnius NATO, led by the United States, wants to preserve and strengthen this absurd state of affairs by issuing its latest 90 paragraph rationalization for what is, in effect, an effort continue to shovel money into NATO's post-cold war Sow’s Ear.  

So … Cui Bono?  The merchants of death in the US Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC), which feeds off the opaque, unaccountable, and corrupt defense budgeting procedures of the Pentagon and Congress. 

The swamp of bureaucratic procedures practiced by the Pentagon and Congress, with the help of the MICC’s army of lobbyists and influence peddlers (well-greased by the revolving employment door), routinely end up producing defense budgets that [1] shrink the size of our combat forces, [2] underfund the military’s near term readiness for combat, [3] create aging inventories of existing weapons by decreasing the production rates of the new, higher-cost, more-complex new weapons in the modernization budgets, and [4], via the assistance of the MICC's army of lobbyists and subsidiaries in the media and think tanks, market the ever-higher cost but more profitable madness with glowing promises that the new technologies will be war fighting “game changers” — i.e., that the future will be different from the past!  

Yet since the end of World War II, the American ideology of game-changing miracle weapons seems to be more correlated with a growing political propensity to accept what can most charitably be characterized as a string of “incomplete successes” when it comes to our game-changing efforts in the real world — which is probably better than we can hope for in the ongoing Russo-NATO proxy war to the last Ukrainian.

11 April 2022

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Pierre Sprey Award for Defense Reporting and Analysis


Long time readers of The Blaster will recognize the name Pierre Sprey, he was a close friend and colleague of mine for over 43 years.  He often contributed to the contents of the Blaster, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.  Sadly, Pierre passed suddenly last August (Washington Post obituary), profile (here), and design philosophy (here).  Several of Pierre's friends, led by Ben Cohen, a co-founder of Ben and Jerry's, have collaborated to establish an annual defense-related journalism award in Pierre's name.  Attached herewith is the press release announcing the award and its guiding philosophy.  Included are links to the award's web site and application procedures.

For Immediate Release: April 5, 2022

Contact: Edward Erikson, Edward.Erikson@Gmail.com  202-420-9947

Government Watchdogs Announce New Pierre Sprey Award for Defense Reporting and Analysis 

Funded by the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, the award celebrates “clear-thinking and courageous” analysis that exposes the military-industrial complex  

Washington, D.C. — The newly launched Pierre Sprey Award for Defense Reporting and Analysis is now accepting submissions. Named after the late defense analyst noted for his critiques of the U.S. military-industrial complex, the award is intended to celebrate clear-thinking and courageous journalism that exposes systemic, intentional, and corrupt standard operating procedures at the highest levels of the Pentagon, Congress, and weapons manufacturers. It recognizes work that furthers public understanding of the need to reform our nation’s military establishment and the systems that feed off it.

A Yale- and Cornell-educated aeronautical engineer, Sprey was one of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s “whiz kids” during the Johnson administration and was highly influential in the design of the F-16 fighter jet and the A-10 Warthog. After spending years in Washington, he became a leading critic of the war industry, revolving door, and obscene military budgets. Along with Colonel John Boyd, Tom Christie, and Chuck Spinney, he was a leader of the highly effective military reform movement in the 1980s.

He continued to be an active critic of high-tech weapons systems that are exorbitantly expensive and ineffective throughout his life. 

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of Pierre Sprey’s peers, including Tom Christie, a former Director of the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation who worked at the Pentagon for more than three decades; Franklin Spinney, a former Pentagon analyst; Winslow Wheeler a national security expert who worked on Capitol Hill with both Republican and Democratic US Senators; and Andrew Cockburn, the Washington, D.C. editor of Harper’s Magazine

“This award memorializes the work and example set by a brilliant engineer and mathematician who combined creativity and elegance of design with a fearless integrity to inspire several generations of military officers, defense academics, analysts, and investigative journalists,” says Franklin Spinney.

"Pierre was more than a good friend and extraordinary teacher. Time after time he would deliver a stunning analysis that would make me think, ‘That just can't be true.’ He would then go through his profound ability to collect data I didn't know existed and to rip it apart and then rebuild it into findings that tore huge holes in conventional wisdom that the practitioners of business as usual did their best to ignore once they found they couldn't refute it. That is the spirit of this award," says Winslow Wheeler. 

"Pierre was always Insightful, always razor sharp, often provocative, but always right," says Tom Christie.

“Absurd levels of Pentagon spending bear no relationship to what’s needed for our security,” says Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. “Pentagon spending is driven by profits for weapons manufacturers who bribe Pentagon brass with the promise of cushy  jobs when they retire. Pierre understood that and fought against it by designing cost effective weapons.”

The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2022. Winners will be announced in February 2023, with awards conferred at a ceremony in March. There will be a first prize of $10,000 and two runner-up prizes of $1,000 each.

Learn more about the Pierre Sprey Award for Defense Reporting and Analysis here.


27 February 2022

How the Narcotic of Defense Spending Undermines a Sensible Grand Strategy


by Chuck Spinney

The MICC’s grand-strategic chickens are coming home to roost big time. While war is bad, the Russo-Ukrainian War has the champagne corks quietly popping in the Pentagon, on K Street, in the defense industry, and throughout the halls of Congress.  Taxpayers are going to be paying for their party for a long time.  

It is no accident that the United States is on the cusp of the Second Cold War.

Future historians may well view the last 30 years as a case study in the institutional survival of the American Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC), together with its supporting blob now saturating the media, think tanks, academia, and the intelligence community.  Perhaps, these future historians will come also to view the Global War on Terror (GWOT) as the bridging operation that greased the transition to Cold War II by keeping defense budgets at Cold War levels after Cold War I ended.  Also, 9-11 may have re-acclimated the American people to the climate of fear now needed to sustain Cold War II for the remainder of the 21st Century.

The First Cold War’s 40-year climate of fear was something Mikhail Gorbachev tried to end.  But Presidents Clinton and Bush (the 2nd) were busy planting the seed money for a new generation of cold-war inspired weapons.  These weapons required massive future defense budgets that would require a climate of fear to sustain (especially for the across-the-board nuclear modernization program).  President Obama then locked in these programs, and won a Nobel Peace Prize to boot.  President Trump and the Dems in Congress worked overtime to ice the Pentagon’s budget cake by incestuously amplifying the growing Russophobia.  

No one wants war, but rising tension and the politics of fear … and their bedfellow: demonization … had to be magnified to justify the huge bow wave of defense spending looming in the budgetary offing, particularly the trillion+ dollars to pay for the nuclear modernization program.  This “chicken” takes us back to the “egg” laid in the 1990s.

As it gradually sank in that the First Cold War had indeed ended when the Soviet threat evaporated in 1991, the titans in the defense industry understood their comfortable market for new hi-tech, high-cost weapons could dry up.  They also knew that sword makers do not have the management and engineering skills to make good affordable  plowshares.  So, they went on a Pentagon subsidized consolidation binge to gobble up access to what threatened to be a stagnating market.  Their collective logic was explained in October 1991 in a speech by William Anders, CEO of General Dynamics (see especially page 13). 

At the same time, the defense industrialists recognized that market diversification was necessary.  So, it was no accident that a lobbying operation named the Committee to Expand NATO emerged in the early 1990s and was headed by a vice president of Lockheed Martin — for a reminder, see Why is US Foreign Policy a Shambles?.  At the very least, in the mid-1990s, it seemed that expanding NATO implied dramatically increased requirements for what is known in NATO jargon as weapons interoperability. This promised huge new markets for American weapons, communications systems, and logistics infrastructure, as ex-Warsaw Pact countries trashed their Soviet weapons (e.g., F-16s to replace old Warsaw Pact Migs, etc.).  That this interoperability cornucopia did not materialize to the extent dreamed of is quite beside the point, when it comes to understanding the motives shaping the hopes and dreams underpinning the powerful American impulse to expand NATO — despite promises to the contrary made by leaders in the US, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom (see this page in National Security Archive). 

Against the background of broken promises not to expand NATO, Mr. Putin has made several speeches explaining why NATO expansion would be a threat to Russian security.  In this sense, NATO expansion has become both the chicken and the egg when it comes to understanding the origins of the Russo-Ukrainian war, which is now on the cusp of locking in the perpetual state of fear needed to sustain a Second Cold War for the remainder of the 21st Century. 

Washington observers have long argued that the Pentagon doesn’t have a strategy.  As the famous American strategic thinker, John Boyd opined repeatedly, “They are wrong,  … the strategy is simple,” (albeit focused more intensely on domestic politics than international relations).  “It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.” 

But the Pentagon’s strategy of maximizing its budget has created a growing dependency on defense spending in the American political economy.  This grotesque distortion was first recognized by President Eisenhower in 1961.  In 1987, George Kennan, forty years after he fathered the dominant US policy of “Containment” for the entire First Cold War, summed up the narcotic of defense spending, saying prophetically:

“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy,” 

Source: George Kennan, At Century’s Ending: Refections, 1982-1995, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996) pg.118. 

And that dear reader, is why the Russo-Ukrainian War — a predictable consequence of NATO expansion — has champagne corks popping in the Pentagon, in the defense industry, and in their wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress, think tanks, the intelligence apparat, and the press.  

Understanding the internal political-economic causes of the American addiction to the narcotic of defense spending is at the heart of the problem.  This understanding is essential to reforming the foreign policy mess exacerbated by NATO expansion.  

So, there is much work to be done, but a great beginning can be found in reading and updating the late Seymour Melman’s path breaking work, which began in the 1950s (e.g., see Profits Without Production, The Permanent War Economy for an introduction).

But a first step along a road to clearer thinking is for concerned American citizens to appreciate what Mr. Putin has been saying — and to understand why Mr. Putin thinks he is justified in saying it. 

Attached herewith is James Carden’s useful analysis of how the American impulse described above is perceived by the key decision maker on the receiving end of that impulse:

Chuck Spinney

Putin’s path to war in three speeches

The time between 2007 and 2022 was a period of missed opportunities for the West

James W. Carden, February 25, 2022 


[Reposted by permission of the author.  Reformatted and underlining by CS]

With regard to the illegal war being waged by Russia against Ukraine, no one has any right to be surprised.

For all the understandable and justifiable outrage over Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to abandon diplomacy and launch what appears to be an unprovoked act of aggression, a look at prior statements by Mr. Putin shows that, with the passage of time, patience and rationality gave way to irrationally, paranoia and ultimately the decision to launch an armed conflict.


Any proper accounting of the history of the downturn in US-Russia relations must include Putin’s 2007 address to the Munich Security Conference. To many, this was a kind of point of no return, with Putin putting the US and its European allies on notice: there are red lines not to be crossed.

Having cooperated with and facilitated the war against the Taliban in 2001, Russia, along with France and Germany, opposed George W. Bush’s unilateral war of choice against Iraq in 2003. At Munich, Putin charged, correctly, that with the actions taken by the US against Iraq and during its so-called global war on terror,

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.

Putin continued, “The use of force can only be considered legitimate if the decision is sanctioned by the UN. And we do not need to substitute NATO or the EU for the UN.”

Putin, in line with his immediate predecessors, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, also voiced grave concern over the project of NATO expansion. Today, pundits such as former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and rabid neoconservative commentators like Anne Applebaum would have us believe that the current crisis has nothing whatsoever to do with NATO expansion.

Yet a reading of Putin’s Munich address should put their thesis to bed. Said Putin:

I think it is obvious that NATO expansion…represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.


In the years between Munich and Mr. Putin’s next major international statement, his UN Assembly address of 2015, much occurred to further poison relations between the world’s two nuclear superpowers, including but not limited to: 

  • the US recognition of Kosovo (2008); 
  • a pledge by NATO that Ukraine and Georgia would become members (2008); 
  • the Russian war in Georgia (2008); 
  • US regime change wars in Libya and Syria (2011); 
  • the passage of the Magnitsky Act (2012); and 
  • the Ukrainian civil war after Russia occupied Crimea (2014-present).

At the UN, Putin took square aim at America’s self-appointed role as arbiter of the so-called international rules-based order. By 2015, it was clear that Putin’s patience with the US was at its limit.

We all know that after the end of the Cold War — everyone is aware of that — a single center of domination emerged in the world, and then those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think that if they were strong and exceptional, they knew better and they did not have to reckon with the UN.

Taking aim at the debacles caused by unilateral military action taken by the US in the name of democracy and human rights, Putin noted that the result was not a “triumph of democracy and progress.” What resulted instead was “violence, poverty and social disaster.”

Addressing America’s role in sowing instability in the Greater Middle East for the better part of a decade and a half, Putin mused:

I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.

And, yes, NATO expansion was still very much on Mr. Putin’s mind in 2015. “They continue,” he said of the US and Europe, “their policy of expanding NATO. What for?”

If the Warsaw Bloc stopped its existence, the Soviet Union have [sic] collapsed and, nevertheless, NATO continues expanding as well as its military infrastructure. Then they offered the poor Soviet countries a false choice: either to be with the West or with the East.


During last night’s address, in which Putin announced the commencement of hostilities against Ukraine, he restated his previous objections to NATO expansion, stating that 

“fundamental threats to Russia have grown yearly as a result of the expansion of NATO.” He condemned the alliance’s support for “extreme nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine.”

Going much further than he had previously, Putin tried to justify his own war of choice by claiming “we had no option but to initiate a special military operation to protect the people who for eight years have been subject to bullying and genocide from the Kiev regime.”

Yet Putin’s actions are not only a departure from the sentiments and principles he himself had once so forcefully espoused, they are a wholesale repudiation of them.

In the end, the period between 2007 and 2022 may come to be regarded, in the light of history, as years of missed opportunity. And while the ultimate responsibility for this war falls on Mr. Putin, the West’s failure to take him seriously has no doubt helped bring us to this dangerous moment.

James W. Carden is contributing opinion writer for The Asia Times and a former advisor to the US State Department.

01 November 2020

How To Design A War Technology: 

What Wins? 

What Is Reasonably Cheap Or Too Expensive?

 Purdue University, College of Liberal Arts, CLA Research Office, June 25, 2020


[Reposted with permission]

CLA’s FORCES initiative brings together scholars and students with policymakers, military commanders, and decision-makers to engage in essential strategic issues of the day, such as how politics shape war-making and defense technologies. Here, FORCES Founder Sorin Adam Matei, CLA associate dean of research, and FORCES Operations Officer Robert Kirchubel interview Pierre Sprey, co-creator of the A-10 and F-16 aircraft.

In April 2020, we invited as a virtual guest to the FORCES speaker series Pierre Sprey, co-creator of the A-10 and F-16 planes. A legend in some military and political circles, a strong-minded debater, and a dissenter during the 1980s, Sprey was a founding member of the Military Reform Movement. He defined the goal of the movement simply: “We thought that the country deserved a good defense, wasn’t getting one, and was paying too much for the one it had.”


The reform movement tried to reallocate defense spending towards winning wars and reducing costs in the face of counterproductive bureaucratic and political incentives. Sprey worked closely with Col. John Boyd, another legendary figure of mid-to-late 20th century U.S. military thinking. Boyd enlisted in the Army Air Force  at the end of World War II, returned to serve as an F-86 fighter pilot in Korea, became the Air Force’s leading air-to-air tactician, and then commanded a major air base during the Vietnam War. Boyd is best known in aviation circles for innovating tactics that changed the way every air force in the world fights and for his energy maneuverability theory which revolutionized fighter plane design. After retiring, he grew into a strategic thinker of Clausewitzian caliber. 

[CS Note: readers interested in learning more about Boyd’s strategic theories, a compendium of his works and writings about his work can be found at An Introduction to the Strategic Theories of John Boyd.]

Pierre Sprey, engineer, weapons designer, defense expert" In this interview, Sprey offers a unique perspective into his own work as a Pentagon official, and later as a consultant, who helped shape an entire generation of war-winning technologies during the 1960s and 1970s. He offers his opinions, at times strong and controversial, which are, of course, his own, on how politics and technologies of war mix (or not).  His interview, edited here for brevity and clarity, was also integrated into the Technology, War, and Strategy seminar, which Matei and Kirchubel taught in Purdue’s Honors College. 


Question. When and how did you first see the need for a Military Reform Movement?

In brief: Combat is the struggle between intelligent, thinking, responding, and reacting opponents.

Answer. The Reform Movement grew out of the Fighter Mafia–John Boyd and similar-minded people. A bunch of non-Air Force people, civilians, Army, Navy and Marine types joined us and it grew during the ’70s. We thought that the country deserved a good defense, wasn’t getting one, and was paying too much for the one it had. Of course, professionally we were deeply interested in improving the military. When we decided to work with some people on the Hill and form a Congressional Military Reform Caucus it became more formalized. We initially met at the Heritage Foundation; today they would disown us. [Laughs]

A very important guy in the process was Bill Lind, Sen. Gary Hart’s staff guy on military affairs. By the early ’80s we had about a hundred members from both houses of Congress, I think mainly because we were getting a lot of media attention. The major coalescing factor was that we were all admirers and participants in John Boyd’s focus on the need to pay attention to the people side [of the military], and the need for more intelligent thought about strategy and tactics. The inspiration of John Boyd’s ideas was at the heart of the reform movement.

In my assessment, and that of others more qualified than me, Boyd is the American Clausewitz. And not just the US, he’s one of the three or four great military thinkers of the world. Interestingly, Boyd was no fan of Clausewitz. His copy of Clausewitz was a treasure to behold because it was ripped apart and profusely commented on in the margins. Wherever Boyd thought Clausewitz had said something stupid or not useful, there’d be scribbled annotations. But Sun Tzu, he simply absorbed Sun Tzu. Boyd went beyond him into the modern era but never in any way contradicted his teachings. Boyd was very, very enamored with Sun Tzu’s notion that the best way to win is without battles.

I would synthesize Boyd’s contributions in the following way: He saw combat as a competition or struggle between intelligent, thinking, responding, and reacting opponents. So, everything in his conception is two-sided. There are no simple geometric solutions to how to array troops or anything like that because you always have to be thinking about move and countermove by the enemy.

By the way, there’s a very good history of the military reform movement written by Winslow Wheeler, a book titled “Military Reform.”

Q. You are known for advocating and supporting the A-10, the “ugly duckling” that has proved to be an asset for the US military. You argued against the idea the US military can rely on one type of plane to do it all – bomb, strafe, dogfight, land on carriers – an oversized Swiss Army Knife, good for all things but not very good for any one thing in particular. Did the A-10 vindicate you?

In brief: Truth tellers and blunt speakers are not welcome in the Pentagon.

A. Boyd and I started working together in 1967 to save the completely screwed up F-15 design the Air Force had come up with at the time. I largely played the role of student to John, helping on the engineering side and stuff. By 1968-69, we were so disgusted with what the bureaucracy did to ruin our upgraded F-15 design that we formed an underground guerilla campaign to build a real air-to-air fighter, the F-16. And almost in parallel with that I started working separately on the A-10.

The Air Force had a whole slew of acquisition people who were very big on multi-mission, super expensive airplanes. They’d already tried and failed with the F-111, which turned out such a disaster, the first of their really big multi-mission disasters. They then made a horrible mess of starting their next new fighter, the F-15. Because their bureaucracy proved so incompetent, the Air Force had to call in John. But truth tellers and blunt speakers like John are not welcome in the Pentagon.

Our opposition to multi-mission was not based on some theoretical consideration that single-purpose airplanes are always better than multi-purpose. I’m completely open to the idea, then and today, that if you could design an effective multi-purpose platform inexpensively enough, that’s wonderful. Except, it turned out that a force based on the multi-mission designs then available was vastly more expensive and less combat effective, (that is, effective in a historically-based sense) than one based on single-purpose designs: air-to-air, close support and deep strike.

The A-10 story is muddied by the fact that we designed it for a mission that the Air Force hated. An airplane to directly support the Army was traditionally anathema to most of the Air Force bomber generals. The A-10 only came about because of a peculiar circumstance: the Air Force wanted to kill the Army’s Cheyenne helicopter for fear of losing budget millions to the Army.

We used the excuse of killing the Cheyenne, a disaster which richly deserved killing, to put across a close support airplane that the Air Force never wanted and still doesn’t want—but one that, over the last four wars, has proved more effective in killing tactical targets than any other jet.

As a footnote to working with Boyd, one of Boyd’s unknown and brilliant strengths was that he was a brilliant bureaucratic tactician. He instinctively understood the bureaucracy and how it reacted, he viewed them and overcame just as he would a military enemy.

Q. What is the greatest weakness of the American way of using technology in war?

In brief: The really devastating, people-impacting aspect of how we use technology in war is that almost every new technology we’re developing is killing individual initiative at lower levels and putting more and more top-down control into higher level headquarters.

A. Aside from the fact that the technology we’re getting is becoming more and more grossly inadequate and badly designed and executed, the really devastating, people-impacting aspect of how we use military technology is that almost every new technology we’re developing is killing individual initiative at lower levels and putting ever more top-down control into higher headquarters. It was considered one of the great sins in the German blitzkrieg formations to tell a subordinate how to do something. You gave him the responsibility to accomplish the mission, and he determined the method. Today, we develop and use our technology for the opposite purpose.

One extreme example is when you have the president sitting at his desk and watching a drone strike on a big video screen. That is an utter disaster for the whole chain of command. There is no reason the president needs to watch drone strikes. But what happens when he does, when you hook up the huge communications network necessary? Think about what it takes to transmit that stuff up through one-star, two-star, four-star headquarters and then to the president; that’s a huge network and a huge investment in communications. That drone strike should simply be settled between the drone operator and the unit being supported. It’s nobody else’s business. But when more and more high-ranking people watch it, those poor guys at the tip of the spear are under deadly pressure. They can’t take a single risky or innovative action. If they don’t do it by the book, some four-star general is going to come down on them like a ton of bricks, court-martial them, or whatever.

Q. At times in American military history, we have adhered to the “better is the enemy of good enough” theory of our weaponry (think Sherman tank vs Panther). Yet at other times, in the quality vs quantity debate, we side 200% with the former (today’s aircraft and submarines). Please comment on this debate.

In brief: As soon as you define effectiveness in a way that includes both the effect of the individual weapon and the effect of the numbers of those weapons that you’re able to deliver in the face of the enemy, then the whole debate solves itself.

A. I’ve been fighting that canard all my life. I despise couching it as quality versus quantity, because that’s basically a sales tool for advocates who want to inflate the budget. When you couch the debate as “Well, we could build a small number of really good weapons that really save the lives of our people, or you buy a whole bunch of cheap weapons and then you’re sending our people to die,” that argument is always launched in favor of raising the budget. It’s a salesman’s tool.

Instead, the useful way to look at it is to forget about quality versus quantity and to sit down and get serious about what constitutes effectiveness. When you define effectiveness in a way that includes both the effect of the individual weapon and the effect of the numbers of those weapons you are able to deliver in the face of the enemy, then the whole debate solves itself. But of course, the bureaucrats who sit down and write the requirements for the new glitzy weapon never include the issue of how many of them show up in combat and how many of those are still working when the rifleman or the pilot or the artilleryman needs to pull the trigger.

If you couched effectiveness correctly, there would be no quality versus quantity debate at all. You would simply build the most effective weapon that delivers the force that’s most likely to make you win. But as soon as you leave out the idea of the force numbers deployed in battle, then you get into these total abortions of small buys of super expensive weapons that don’t work, of which the prime example is the F-35, which is like the F-111 on steroids. Right now, the F-35 can’t fly more often than once every three days. So, there’s your quality-versus-quantity debate, right? Nobody looked at how many F-35s we could buy within a fixed budget or how many of the ones bought would show up for combat. And if we had, we’d have come up with a much better, much bigger Air Force.

Q. If we should prepare for war with a near-peer power, what should the military technology developers and decision makers focus on?

In brief: We should prepare for war against any competent enemy and see how much defense we can get within a reasonable budget.

A. The U.S. should certainly prepare for war against a competent enemy. We should prepare for war against any competent enemy and see how much defense we can get within a reasonable budget. But at the same time, we should make sure that whatever it was we put together works at the other end of the scale. You must design a force against uncertainty. And while there’s nothing imminent on the horizon that looks like a competent and powerful enemy, it might not take long for another nation to become a competent and powerful enemy. And we should be prepared to deal with it, not on a high tech threat-concocted basis but based on what we know is happening in real world weapons production and which weapons work and which of those we should be afraid of.

It’s the same thing we did with the A-10. People keep on saying we designed the A-10 to kill tanks in the Fulda Gap. That’s hogwash. We designed it to kill everything from guys in sandals in the jungle to massed tanks in the Fulda Gap. And we were very sure and very careful to make sure that what we did to kill tanks didn’t ruin the airplane as a weapon against insurgents with rifles. And we should do the same thing at the national level. I mean, it’s the only sensible thing to do, given that we never get the threat right. And, I might add, exactly that is true of the threat that the nation is facing right now, the coronavirus, which we have horribly misestimated.

Q. Do you think the Covid-19 virus disruption, and the associated economic downturn, will have a significant impact on the technologies or systems that we have been discussing? If so, what might that be?

In brief: We have a hopelessly incompetent bureaucracy in the United States for dealing with epidemics.

A. Obviously, as we now see, the U.S. was totally unprepared, had no such plan. We have a hopelessly incompetent public health bureaucracy in the States for dealing with epidemics. And I say that by comparison with countries that have competent ones. It’s not that it’s impossible; it is definitely hard to get a competent bureaucracy. Taiwan has done a brilliant job and has essentially no deaths because they had a plan in place, more than a plan (late March 2020). They had a plan and a structure and a way of activating testing and so on that worked perfectly. And beyond a shadow of a doubt we should have something as good as what Taiwan has – I mean, a version adapted to our circumstances.

Of course, every sensible military must be prepared if they’re going to going to face a natural or planted bio threat, either way. Of course, you must be prepared for epidemics. Our offensive biological warfare capabilities are in the hands of one of the most thoroughly incompetent bureaucracies you ever saw—and should have been shut down ages ago. I’ve been tracking them since probably 1970, and the same goes for our chemical warfare. But biological warfare in the sense of protecting against epidemics is obviously necessary—how could you imagine not doing it?

Q. If you could do one thing to change American political and military establishments’ strategic choices, what would that be?

In brief: The single thing that leads us to the greatest strategic mistakes is the idea of agreed intelligence and agreed assessment of threats.

A. That question relates directly to what we were just talking about. The single thing that leads us to the greatest mistakes is the idea of agreed intelligence and agreed assessment of threats, almost always inflated. We have done appallingly badly at assessing every threat the United States has faced from the Berlin Wall on. We mis-assessed the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Empire, the domino threat of Ho Chi Minh. You name it, without fail we’ve gotten all that wrong. And yet, we based the nation’s strategy on it—and then we wonder why we failed.

Of course, the reason we got the threats so wrong is that the threats are political weapons for increasing the budget, and agreed intelligence is immediately captured by the powerful political interests of the military industrial complex who need inflated threats to grow the budget.

And so we’re constantly looking at false threats on which to base a national strategy. The problems all start with the “observe, orient” beginning of the OODA loop: you know, “observe, orient, decide, and act,” and then go back and around the loop. I mean, that’s super easy to understand. The observing and orienting at the national level must start with intelligence and threats. As soon as you put the ability to shape and falsify the threat in the hands of a single bureaucracy, you’re doomed. You’ll never get the threat right because the political pressures will overwhelm and distort it.

I am very much in favor of disagreed intelligence, where you have three or four intelligence agencies, each grinding their own ax and each giving you a different assessment. Every one of our last three or four wars has been based on false intelligence and total mis-assessment of the enemy, all of it agreed intelligence that came out of the national intelligence CIA/DIA/NSA behemoths. If we would allow and encourage all of them to disagree, maybe we would get a little closer to the truth. We would at least have a very good feel for the uncertainties in the threat assessment.

Q. The students in our course come from a variety of backgrounds, and are majoring in a variety of disciplines, including accounting, economics, engineering, and political science. Presumably, each has an interest in technology, war, and strategy, and the issues that we discuss. What would you say to these students about their decision to sign up for, and attend this course? Why does it matter? And how can it help them better understand the world in which they will live in 10-20-30 years?

In brief: A course like this is for people who genuinely care about their country, and in one way or another, want it to improve.

A. There are several factors that make the course useful and worthwhile, probably more today than ever before. One is the fact that we have a voluntary military, and so the military and military knowledge is much more isolated today than it ever was when we had draft. Back then the general population, being widely exposed to draftees, kind of understood the Army, Navy, Air Force and their bureaucracies and the bumbling that goes on. We’re insulated from that today unless we know people who have joined the much smaller volunteer military. We have almost no window into that defense world, other than the press, which totally misreports it. Another reason is defense is an enormous piece of our economy. A lot of how our country is ruled has to do with the military budget. That huge defense budget carries all kinds of votes in Congress and exerts enormous pressures on the president. So, if you want to be a decent citizen, if you want to know about your government, how to make choices and who to vote for and so on, you have to know the fundamentals of what goes on inside that $750 billion budget and the huge organizations behind it.

A course like this is for people who genuinely care about their country, and in one way or another, want it to improve. They need to have some feel for the power and failings of the defense sector. They’re getting both bad media information and not getting any personal exposure to the military juggernaut. Your course addresses this gap.

18 August 2020

The Pandemic Has Revealed America’s Zip Code Map of Inequality

 Marshall Auerback, Counterpunch, 17 August


It is understandably tempting to drop all the blame for America’s catastrophic response to COVID-19 on the big desk in the Oval Office. But there’s more to the story than epic incompetence, grift and delusion at the highest levels of government. The stark divide in the level of health care from testing to treatment is divided by wealth and the legacy of systemic racism.

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In the words of Ed Yong of the Atlantic: “Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID-19.” Yong could also add Hispanics to that list, along with virtually any person of limited economic means, regardless of race.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, income and zip code determine everything. And this is not a new phenomenon. In a recent article in Le Monde Diplomatique, historian Thomas Frank quotes physician Dr. Michael A. Shadid, who was a longtime advocate for cooperative health care from the 1920s onward until his death. In his 1947 book, Doctors of Today and Tomorrow, Shadid made the case for socialized medicine on the grounds that “[p]oor people get sick quicker, stay sick longer, need medical aid most, get it least. Some are poor because they are sick. Others are sick because they are poor.”

Nothing has fundamentally changed since Shadid’s time. The United States continues to have the most expensive health care system in the world, yet a 2019 comparison of health indicators in the United States versus those of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries’ average reveals a system that persistently produces inferior outcomes relative to other nations (in spite of higher expenditures) and has done so for decades.

COVID-19 has both amplified and revealed these long-standing flaws, tragically reflected in its death count, but it is by no means a historical anomaly. Earlier pandemics reveal a similar pattern, suggesting a more widespread systemic problem: namely, that the high death counts relative to the rest of the world are an inescapable consequence of our for-profit, pervasively oligopolistic health care system. The problems of a for-profit health care system are exacerbated by the diversion of resources and skills into militarism, and unequal food distribution systems’ effect on diet and obesity. All of these pre-existing problems contribute to higher mortality rates, as does access to proper medical care, which is heavily circumscribed by income.

In terms of fatalities, COVID-19 now ranks as one of the most severe pandemics in modern history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most deadly was the 1918 influenza pandemic: 50 million deaths globally out of a worldwide population of 1.8 billion, or 2.7 percent, while the U.S. recorded 675,000 fatalities, or 0.65 percent on a per capita basis out of a population of 103 million. The only “good” thing that can be said about the 1918 tragedy is that the United States fared relatively better than the rest of the world, by this measure.

By contrast, a notable feature of four major pandemics over the past 63 years* (the 1957-1958 H2N2 influenza virus, the 1968 H3N2 influenza virus, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus or so-called “swine flu,” and COVID-19 today) is America’s persistent underperformance in terms of fatalities relative to the rest of the world in spite of the vastly higher sums the country devotes to health care expenditures (in both absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP). For all of the talk about American exceptionalism, the only thing “exceptional” about the U.S. health care system is this profound systemic failure.

The 1957 H2N2 flu virus caused 1.1 million deaths globally out of a worldwide population of 2.9 billion, or 0.038 percent on a per capita basis; whereas in the United States, it caused about 116,000 deaths out of a U.S. population of 178 million, or 0.065 percent on a per capita basis. The 1968 H3N2 virus resulted in 1 million fatalities worldwide out of a global population of 3.6 billion, or 0.028 percent on a per capita basis; in the United States, there were 100,000 deaths out of a population of 203 million, or 0.049 percent on a per capita basis. The 2009 H1N1 virus caused far fewer overall deaths both globally and within the U.S., with 284,000 fatalities globally and a mere 12,469 fatalities in the U.S.; per capita fatality rates were the same (.004 percent on a per capita basis). But COVID-19 has reflected the reversion to American underperformance: as of August 13, confirmed global fatalities (out of a worldwide population of 7.8 billion) were 749,776, or 0.0096 percent on a per capita basis, versus 169,488 deaths in the United States out of an existing population of 331 million, or 0.051 percent on a per capita basis.

Even more disturbing is that American fatalities are profoundly impacted by income disparities. Low-income communities and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) are experiencing substantially higher rates of mortality. Examining by zip code the geographic distribution of the segments of the population most likely to die from COVID-19—BIPOC, as well as people over the age of 65, and those of any age who are nursing home residents (other than those in luxury elderly care facilities)—these three overlapping segments account for most deaths. It may be that in the northern states these most vulnerable people are heavily concentrated in densely populated areas and thus are quickly exposed to infection and die relatively soon after COVID-19 starts spreading in their area. The New York experience validates that assessment.

In the southern and western states, these most vulnerable populations are more widely scattered across vast suburban and rural areas, which likely explains why the United States as a whole has experienced rolling hot spots, in which the more diffuse population centers become infected and die relatively later after the initial outbreaks of the virus that were largely experienced in heavily urbanized regions. We see this pattern manifested in a recent Arizona compilation of new cases by zip code, as AZ Family reports using analysis by CBS 5 Investigates. Arizona has been one of areas most badly affected by COVID-19 during the summer months, and the AZ Family report illustrates that the hotspots for new cases are dominated by zip codes with “large minority populations” living in areas that are rural or on the outskirts of urban centers.

Why is this significant? David Dayen of the American Prospect explains: “Rural hospitals… are in total crisis in the U.S., with 19 closures last year and 120 since 2010. As hospital networks consolidate and strive for ever-greater profits, rural hospitals that fail to bring in the necessary revenue fall away.”

In the same piece, Dayen quotes a study from Health Affairs, which reports that “49 percent of the lowest-income communities had no ICU beds… whereas only 3 percent of the highest-income communities had no ICU beds.” He highlights an extreme example of this problem, originally reported by the Houston Chronicle: the Rio Grande Valley, along the Texas-Mexico border, “home to 1.3 million residents… [with] no public hospital. Starr County is one of the only in America to have to resort to triage, choosing who to care for and who to send home to die.”

Dayen’s analysis illustrates the fundamental flaw in the system: Levels of provision are a function of profitability; they do not reflect health care priorities. Hence the lowest-income hospitals are often shut down, which means worse health care outcomes for residents in these poorly serviced areas.

The other problem in Texas is that the state historically has also featured a high concentration of undocumented (largely Hispanic) immigrants (the second-highest “unauthorized immigrant” population in the U.S., behind only California), who are being forced to work even when sick, since they are, by virtue of their undocumented status, largely excluded from any and all virus-relief economic aid and access to primary health care. As ProPublica noted: “Texas is also the largest state in the nation that refused to expand health insurance for low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act… Nearly a third of adults under 65 in Texas lack health insurance, the worst uninsured rate in the country, and more than 60% of those without health insurance in the state are Hispanic.”

Furthermore, living in crowded multigenerational settings, workers infected on the job come home and risk spreading the illness to their parents and grandparents (many of whom may also have problematic immigration status in the country and risk deportation if they seek to address their health issues). Consequently, Hispanics are now suffering some of the worst health outcomes in the U.S.

With this information in context, it’s clear the more we lay blame at Trump’s feet, the further we’re going to be from confronting that COVID-19 fits neatly into a decades-old pattern of pandemic response. American health care can literally impoverish its citizens even as it undermines their physical well-being. Breaking the pattern can only happen if Americans keep putting pressure on institutionalized racism, get serious about inequality, and flip the switch on our employer-based private health care system.

*Chuck Spinney provided research assistance on the compilation and analysis of the pandemic data. (see table)

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.