Leaders failing.

Leadership is an interesting concept, and I have tried to make it the centrepiece of some of my novels, without being too obvious. The leader may appear to be obvious, but recall just because someone is in front and there are a lot behind does not mean the one in front is leading. The others could be queuing up for a backstab! And the bigger the problem, the easier it is for a leader to fail. Brexit is a clear failure of leadership. In the first place, Britain was comfortable in Europe. There were the inevitable politicians who wanted out, but there was no pressing issue requiring an immediate vote. The politicians who called it really wanted to stay in, so first, why did they call it, and second, if they felt they had to call the vote, why did they not wait until they had mounted a campaign that made it much more likely they would succeed? Having called it, they then should have campaigned hard to maximise their chances of winning. Instead, they went through the motions, and seemed like stunned mullets when they lost. They then accused the other side’s campaign of being full of lies. That might make them feel better, but if it were true, why did they not point out the lies during the campaign? Did it not occur to them that when the voters voted the way they did, just maybe what the politicians and their rich friends wanted was not representing what the voters wanted?

As for how to go about it, there are at least two pieces of advice from Sun Tzu that should have gone to the top of the list: first, know thyself, and second, know the adversary. The second one is a little more difficult but the first should be mandatory. Accordingly, the first step must be to decide whether to leave, i.e.whether to honour the referendum, and whatever you decide must be final. At first sight it might look like they did that, but nevertheless a lot of the politicians have been hoping some reason will arise whereby they can flag the whole thing away and stay. What I think Theresa May should have done was to individually make each member of her own party pledge to honour the referendum, and to work for the betterment of Britain, or resign. If they refused to do either, then she needed to call an election, and ensure those who refused to go by the decision of the party were prevented from standing for the party. That could effectively be a second referendum, but it is pointless to continue when about a third of your team are busily trying to undermine you. In any case, she called an election without anything to do with Brexit, and that was not a fortunate result for her. Had she got her party to commit, when she went to Europe she could say Brexit is going to happen, no matter what. What we are now discussing is what our relations will be then.

That leaves the question of negotiation. I have done a little of this with a multinational company that lead to two joint ventures, so I have some knowledge of what is required. The very first step is to meet with your own team and get agreement on what the bottom lines are going to be. These are the things that if you do not get them, you walk away from the negotiations. It is important that these are extremely important, and there must not be many of them. These are NOT to be used to gain an advantage over the opposition, and they are not to try to force the other side to give something up. They are simply the things that make walking inevitable. For the Brexit negotiations, one of those required bottom lines might be the question of Ireland; whatever the outcome, Northern Ireland must continue to be treated the same way as the rest of the UK. That they never recognised this until apparently now meant that they have got themselves into a position where it is difficult to see how they can progress the way they wish to progress. If you tell the opposition that something is a bottom line, and it is a reasonable one, then they will accept it and try to work around it if they want to negotiate.

Which gets to the next point: each side has to see an advantage in the end position. To some extent, Europe cannot help but see Brexit as a negative, so the emphasis has to be to determine what advantages there are for Europe for what the UK wants. That means there have to be concessions, and here the UK have made many. However, there also has to be a clear point at which if the opposition wants too much, you have to be able to say no and walk. And one of the most important points is that when you represent your team, the other side must believe that all the team will stand behind you. Of course there are also times when you must say, “I must consult my team,” over something. The leader must never wing it, other than for minor issues.

The EU leaders have also failed. They have done their best to get everything they could, which is all very well, but if they demand so much that the whole becomes unpalatable, they too end up with nothing. What they have failed to recognise is the person fronting for Britain was not really leading. So far Britain has made quite a lot of future concessions regarding payments of this and that. No deal means all those billions of pounds are lost to the EU. The EU can also lose, and the tragedy is, the various failures of the leaders have most likely ended with a lose-lose scenario.

To change the subject entirely, Christmas is near, so I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and all the best for 2019. This will be my last post for the year, and I shall resume mid January.

What now for Ukraine?

As the situation in Ukraine seems to deteriorate, the question is, what now? Accurate information is, understandably, rather scarce but from a strategic point of view, most parties seem to be digging in, more with a view to making the problem worse than in improving it. The first step in forming a strategy is to have a clear goal, and from what I can make out, the various parties have goals that are essentially irreconcilable. My guess is that the following is approximately what the goals are, but I could be wrong. Poroshenko wants to exert control over all of what he claims is Ukraine on the basis he was elected president of it, except of course the parts that don’t want him were not given a vote. The leaders of Eastern Ukraine want independence from Poroshenko. Crimea is part of Russia again. The position of the US and NATO is less clear. They claim they want Ukraine united, but the real position may be that they want to put one over Russia, and have military bases close to Russia. Russia almost certainly wants fewer missiles aimed at it, and not in Ukraine, and additionally, it wants to support Russian-speaking people in Ukraine, who reports say either are or most certainly will be oppressed by right wing militias. Missing from all this is what do the average Ukrainian want? Do they all want the same thing?

The West has sent Ukraine various supplies to help those afflicted by the war, and sent them to Kiev, where they have been sent eastwards. From what I can make out, a very high per centage of these have been hijacked and looted. Further, the land near the separatists may or may not have Ukrainian regular soldiers present, but they most certainly have right wing militias and paramilitary groups. The separatists may or may not have irregular soldiers from Russia, and they may or may not have been supplied with weapons from Russia. Everyone says they have, but it should be recalled that there were a number of arsenals in Eastern Ukraine that are now under separatist control, and from what we can make out, most of the weapons used by the separatists are of Soviet age. Thus the BUK missile that brought down the airliner was designed and supplied up to thirty odd years ago.

So, what to do? Germany and France have apparently argued for a demilitarized zone between the east and west and a cease-fire. In my opinion, that is not going to work unless there are good troops there to enforce it. The problem with a cease-fire is that its only real purpose is to buy time until some permanent settlement is reached. Even in Korea, there is a permanent settlement, at least to the extent it has survived for nearly fifty years. But this will not work while the right wing militias want to bring the East to heel. The US is talking about giving Kiev better arms. What that will do, based on recent history, is to first better arm the militias, who are uncontrollable, and secondly they will be looted and sold off, and may well end up in terrorists hands. Worse still, if the US supplies military aid, Russia will be obliged to match it, which will merely escalate things. If the US sends “advisors”, or troops, Russia will match it. The danger of a real war breaking out if someone makes a mistake is only too obvious. Suppose a US weapon was used against Russians in Russia, now what?

So what should happen? My view is that the previous cease-fire was time wasted. What the West could do is to try to get Putin onside by promising not to have Ukraine in NATO and promising not to have missiles there, then offer Ukraine an independently monitored election, district by district, to decide what they want to happen. There must be sufficient external force to guarantee militias stand down, and clear instructions to the parties that undermining this process will not be tolerated. At the end of this, those districts that have a majority to secede should be permitted to do so. I know, people will say, this is interfering with a sovereign nation, but my response is, it is actually offering the people the chance to get what they want, not what various other parties that do not live there want. After the election, if any districts do secede, then there should also be financial assistance to permit those who do not want to be a minority in a district to move. In all probability, the numbers moving each way should be roughly equal. That would be expensive, but nowhere nearly as expensive as an all-out war.

What do you think?

World War 1: Stupidity and Luck

The fourth of August was apparently the anniversary of the opening of World War I as far as Britain was concerned, and also New Zealand, which, together with a number of other countries in the Commonwealth, joined in to help Britain. Thus started one of the most depressing episodes of weird luck, stupidity and criminality, possibly for ever. First, stupidity and criminality. I argue various generals committed very serious war crimes. You haven’t heard of them? No, you wouldn’t, because they committed them on their own troops! For New Zealand, the worst two were at Gallipoli and Passchendaele. The concept of Gallipoli was ill-conceived, but even then it was hopelessly executed. They landed in the wrong place, and when one landing actually could have brought success, instead what happened rated a chapter in the book “Great Military Stupidities”. Passchendaele had terrain unsuitable for tanks, weather unsuitable for artillery or any form of vehicle, so they sent in the infantry into waste-deep mud. Simple target practice. A simple strategy would have been to attack further east with tanks and artillery, which was known to work, and cut off the German army there, but that sort of strategy, known at least from the time of Tutmoses III (see the battle of Meggido), and probably earlier, seemed to lie outside the comprehension of these “professional Generals”. As the anniversaries of various battles come to pass, I shall post a few more stupidities and acts of criminality.

What about luck? The first New Zealand casualty in the war was a young soldier who was apparently the target of a long-range shooter, perhaps an early sniper. The bullet hit his rifle and ricocheted off it, into his neck and thence to spine and killing him. That has to be unlucky, although some may say he could have taken better cover. However, in war, you cannot spend the whole time taking cover.

Our History Channel has just offered a program that showed some quite remarkable aspects of luck. How true these are I do not know, but for what it is worth, two that struck me were as follows.

The first involved a British advance. The bulk of the action went somewhere else, but a lone British soldier was walking along when an unarmed German stood up. The British soldier raised his rifle and ordered the German to stop. The German faced him, then, when the soldier did not fire, and apparently did not know how to order him to surrender, he turned his back on the Briton and walked calmly away. The Briton did not fire. The German was Adolph Hitler. Think of how history would have changed had that British soldier pulled the trigger. The second involved an Italian soldier who came across three enemy, presumably Austrians. He calmly shot each of them as they turned and ran. Taking cover or shooting back did not occur to them. The Italian was Mussolini.

Young men apparently rushed to enlist, and in Britain at least, instructors in the army camps also rushed to get to the front. Apparently they believed this would be over by Christmas, and they wanted their medals. This had the effect of leaving the newly enlisted essentially untrained, although given the way the Generals used troops, it may not have mattered that much. The war was terrible, but even worse it set the scene for even worse. The war to end all wars failed miserably in that objective.

The Ukrainian crisis

One of the issues I have put in the backgrounds of my ebook novels is governance. Thus Puppeteer was set in a failing over-leveraged democracy under siege from terrorism, Troubles involved emerging from anarchy, and how governance gets reborn, and not necessarily in the best interests of the average citizen. Thinking about the current problems in the Ukraine got me thinking about this problem. In some ways, there are similarities between what I wrote about in Troubles and what is happening in the Ukraine. We had a corrupt government there that collapsed, but rather than a period of anarchy, a government has emerged, but one based on might rather than right. Then, those in the Eastern Ukraine do not want what the West has to offer, and just as in Troubles, there is a massive force nearby. Perhaps I am taking this a little too far, because the Ukraine is not quite in such a dire situation, but . . .

One similarity with the characters in Troubles is that almost certainly none of the key players know enough about the other players, which makes for an extremely difficult situation. What do we know? The revolution was almost certainly carried out by average citizens who had had enough of Yanukovich’s corruption, however if we believe the BBC Newsnight, it did not stay that way. The revolution was somewhat taken over opportunistically by right wing militants of the Svoboda party, also known as the Social-National Party. A BBC program had one such right-winger saying that their policy was to eliminate Jews and Russians from the Ukraine by sending them elsewhere. In this context, they were wearing a Wolfsangel symbol that was also used by the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, and some western Ukrainians fought in SS divisions. Irrespective of how much of such extreme policies would be in a future Ukrainian government policy, the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east would have to be nervous. Add to that, consider the city of Kharkhov, which may have been one of the most fought-over cities in WW II, as it changed hands several times, all of them bloody battles. The third battle for Kharkhov may have been one of the greatest displays of strategic brilliance in that war as von Manstein did the near-impossible, but I doubt the Russian citizens appreciated that, nor would they be overly enthused to know of the help given to the Germans by the western Ukrainians. Since Das Reich took a prominent role in the third battle for Kharkov, the current use of the Wolfsangel by some Western Ukrainians can only be considered provocative at best.

The next question would be, faced with this, what would Putin do? Again, some background. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, countries like Poland and Lithuania promptly joined NATO. Further, despite previous agreements to the contrary, the US set up “missile defence systems” in these countries, ostensibly to defend against Iranian missiles. Russia not unnaturally considered these to be aimed at it, while the US seemed to think Russia should not be concerned in the slightest. In this context, recall what the US thought about missiles placed in Cuba, which is far further away from the US than Lithuania is to Russia. Are the missiles purely defensive? Who knows?

The first thing Putin did was to recover Crimea, which had been part of Russia until Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, transferred it to the Ukraine in the 1950s for administrative convenience. For Russia, however, it is its only seaport going towards the south. To lose that as a naval base would have been unacceptable, even though, from a strategic point of view, it really is not very effective. What about eastern Ukraine? It seems to me that Putin would be expected to have two primary objectives. The first would be to ensure that Russian-speaking citizens were not subjected to right-wing purges. The second would be to ensure that NATO did not dump more missiles on its borders. Are these so unreasonable?

Which gets to the next question, why is the US and NATO so interested in supporting a fascist coup? Yes, they will have elections, but elections there are unlikely to be truly honest because the only two parties sufficiently active in Kiev right now seem to be right wing and more right wing. If the US is a disinterested spectator, why was the head of the CIA in Kiev? More to the point, what sort of incompetence led to his being shown up being there? So far there is no sign that Russia wants to annex the east, and from a strategic point of view, it would probably be undesirable to do so, irrespective of what the West wants. Russia’s second most desirable outcome, and the most desirable of the “likely to be realized” is for partition. Which raises the question, why is the West so against partition? Scotland is about to have a referendum to see whether it wishes to secede, and nobody is too worried about this. Why cannot another group secede when they do not speak the same language, and they want no part of what the other half wants? Because the industrial strength lies in the east? Make no mistake about it, if the east is forced to join the EU, its industries will be history, because they cannot compete on even ground against the technical might of Germany.

Then again, do any of the Ukrainians know what is in store for them? Going west means they will be subjected to IMF economic stringency, and of course, the first twelve billion dollars of aid has to go to Russia to pay the arrears on their gas bill. They should look at Greece, and see if they really want that. Which brings us back to the east. Suppose they do not want that? Should they be forced to? What do you think? My guess is, as in Troubles, the average citizen will get no effective voice.

America’s Cup: a Kiwi perspective

First, congratulations to Oracle. After being 8:1 down, they pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sport, but it is interesting to see what actually happened. How did they get so far behind, and why did Team New Zealand (TNZ) not finish them off? For TNZ did have their chances.

From what I can make out, there were several factors. The first was a change of critical crew, and in particular getting Ainslie on board as tactician. What is remarkable about the USA boat was that it only started winning when there was only one person from the USA on board. There was nothing TNZ could do about that. The second was a major change of the critical parts of the boat design. A triumph for American technology? Well, actually, not necessarily. Many of the changes apparently came from a small boat building enterprise in Warkworth, which happens to be in New Zealand, and is owned by Larry Ellison. It appears that what they gave was effectively the same sort of boat foils, etc., that TNZ had. How did they design that so fast? We do not know, but it may well be that information leaked out from the TNZ designers. Collaboration is being promoted in New Zealand by so-called experts in developing technology, and here it was not an advantage to New Zealand.

There was a further technology advantage to Oracle. It appears from reports that they have an automated means of foil adjustments, driven by an electric motor. The New Zealand reading of the rules prohibited that, but the rules committee permitted it. That was unfortunate, and by the time TNZ found out, when it was deployed half-way through, it was too late for TNZ to design one. What that did was to permit the boat to turn corners faster, and in a race that comprises zig-zagging, that is a huge advantage. What is also notable is that Oracle did not start with it, so I suspect they thought it was against the rules too, but only applied when the situation demanded it. Losing was not an option! The Oracle money meant that Oracle could pursue all sorts of options, just in case.

TNZ were also a little unlucky. For the Oracle crew to go through that many races without making a mistake may have seemed to be something outstanding, but they did make a huge clanger that gave TNZ one race, except it was cancelled because it could not be completed in the time limit, the time limit apparently having been set for TV convenience. Of course both sides knew the time limit before the series started, and maybe TNZ are now kicking themselves for not trying to get it extended earlier.

However, TNZ did have chances when 8:1 up, so what went wrong? The first thing was, they failed to nail it as soon as possible. For some reason, they felt they had it in the bag, and began to relax. That is strategically disastrous. They nearly lost the boat when half the crew thought they were turning and the other half did not. They then started changing tacticians, to “give the new guys experience”. Bad mistake; the new guys had no experience, and worse, by changing them, they were not learning. Then they started making further mistakes, without realizing that their opposition were improving rapidly. Some might be difficult to see. One involved a start: they did something Spithill never saw coming, and it could have been the making of the critical win. The reason it was a mistake was they pulled it off on a race where the wind speed was almost too high, and the race was cancelled effectively at the start gate, and this potential one-off race-winning tactic was exposed. The tactic was great, but the strategy awful, because they wasted a potential race winner on a cancelled race, and that would not work twice.

Once it became apparent that the opposition boat was as fast, they had to stop making mistakes, and the mistakes kept coming. The third-last race was a disastrous start, and the second-last race there was a dreadful extra jibe to avoid Oracle, when they had right of way. Whether it would have made any difference at this late stage is another matter, but it is always right to take whatever rights you have. In the last race, they did not make any, but it did not matter because by now Oracle was faster.

So, what do we learn from that? First, the idea that “the good guys always win” belongs in fiction. In thrillers, the good guys usually win because the writer is on their side. (In my novels, I try to make the winners those that do things better.) The problem with that attitude in real life is that both sides think they are the good guys, there is no writer to bring about the desired end, and the winners are the ones that make the fewest mistakes and bring the most appropriate equipment to the scene. For the second half of the America’s Cup racing that was the Oracle crew, so congratulations.

There is one more thing to learn. Oracle redesigned its boat, and kept a huge technology advantage in terms of computer software, and may have made it almost impossible for someone else to beat them. Given the cost of it, has Larry Ellison priced the event so high that next time nobody will turn up?