Wednesday, March 20, 2002

From the Briny Main to the High Frontier

The Professor’s TCS article on space treaties is a good jumping off point for a subject upon which I threatened to blog months ago. It was this passage that made me Google myself in order to find my original blog on the matter:

…but as the United States is likely to play the role of space hegemon for the next several decades, it is likely to play a very important role in establishing additional law for outer space - just as Great Britain played an important role in establishing the law governing the high seas during its period as global naval hegemon. That raises the question: what sort of law should the United States want to see in outer space?

I’ll leave the law to forward thinking lawyers like Glen and discuss that with which I am more qualified (not that qualification to do so has ever stopped me from opining before- see this blog’s motto above); the US future as space hegemon as related to its past dominance of the seas.
Before I ignite the ire of the Anglos in the blogosphere, let me lay out a little naval history and, perhaps dispel some popular myths still held to this day. First of all, Britannia ruled the waves in most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While the US did in fact win a few ship to ship battles in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, with few exceptions, these were of little strategic value. British blue water naval dominance was a forgone conclusion in both conflicts (I said blue water, I’ll deal with the Great Lakes in a second). They were propaganda victories, partly owing to the fact that the Royal Navy was so highly respected that any victory over it was considered something. My point is that in both conflicts, wresting sea control from the British was never contemplated by, much less possible for the United States. So the US adopted the guerilla naval tactics suited for an inferior force, the use of privateers and concentration on coastal defense.
British Naval ascendancy can be traced to the late sixteenth century defeat of the Spanish Armada. Lessons learned there and in Anglo-Dutch sea battles of the seventeenth century would inform the Royal Navy’s Sailing and Fighting Instructions, the precursor to modern OPORDERS or Rules of Engagement. The instructions distilled lessons learned from previous battles as well as defining standard signals and procedures for the British Fleet. The admiral who deviated from them did so at his own peril. While the validity of some of the concepts propounded in various issues of the Instructions is still debated, they did, along with the Articles of War, help to form the navy that was critical to the creation and sustenance of the British Empire. While it was sometimes matched ship for ship by the other continental powers, it was never challenged seriously until the latter part of the nineteenth century, when the Empire was on the wane. Before that, though Spain or France might have sailed superior ships, they lacked the institutional traditions and hard won experience that set the Royal Navy apart from its competitors. Much of the ethic and tradition of the RN was inevitably transferred to the nascent USN. It is no accident that the few times that the British did battle their Yankee cousins on comparably equal terms ship and gun-wise that British dominance was not a forgone conclusion.
By the beginning of the twentieth century steel and steam had supplanted wood and canvas in the construction and propulsion of capital ships. In order to stay in the big navy club, a country had to be sufficiently industrialized and economically robust enough to support a great fleet. But, as the Spanish learned in Santiago and the Manila Bay, and the Russians learned at the Tsushima Straits, just having a big, steam powered and iron clad navy is not nearly enough.
Success at the highly technical endeavor of nineteenth century war at sea differed significantly from that of the continental battlefield in both preparation and execution. As Napoleon learned versus Nelson, levee en mass (sp?) worked for troops who could be trained to drill with a pike or musket in comparatively short order, but is of little use in manning warships. Just sailing them successfully is a difficult enough endeavor . This trend continued to tell into the twentieth century. The naval players in WWII were all countries which more or less modelled their navies after the RN. The Japanese even gave rudder and helm orders in in the English in which they learned them. Of course by this time, it was the American Navy that was in ascendence. After the Med and the western Pacific were pacified, the US never left, conspicuously steaming right off the coasts of their new cold war enemies, reminding them of the ease with which the US could carry the battle to them. I seem to remember that Mao once said something to the effect that Taiwan only defies the mainland by dint of the US Seventh fleet. While the Soviets at their height may have challenged the US Navy asymmetrically with submarines and nuclear cruise missiles, they never had the blue water endurance or power projection capability of a Carrier Battle Group (CBG) or an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).
One happy, if underappreciated, consequence of US naval dominance has been that the peaceful use of the world's sea lines of communication has been pretty much assured for everyone. Sure there is still occasional piracy, but overall every trading country in the world has benefited immensely from the generally benign US policy of supporting freedom of innocent passage. In this case US and global interests were in concert.
Now the US finds itself in a similar situation with regard to space policy. We would do well to look to our seafaring past for guidance. As second tier space users like Russia, Europe and Japan (not to mention up and comers like China and India) begin to inhabit the high frontier, it is important that we consider our own future role there. Antisatellite technology dates back to the cold war and is being actively pursued by the Chinese. Contemporary war games predict that within ten years regional hegemons like China may attack military and civilian space assets in an attempt to cripple any US response to their designs on their neighbors. At the same time, recent events coupled with the growing emergence of the web as a medium for trade and communication have served to highlight the common interests of much of the Anglosphere. We are increasingly reliant on space systems for security and trade. Now, while we still have the technological and economic edge, is the time to ensure unchallenged US or at least "Anglospheric" space dominance for the good of all who would use the spaceways for peaceful and profitable ends.

Update:
And another thing, who else is in any position to do anything about this?

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The Secret of Our Success

OK, I got this in Spanish, but I think it translates well enough to post.

Sila Maria Calderon (the governor of Puerto Rico) while on an official visit to the US is invited to have coffee with the President. During the meeting, Ms. Calderon asks President Bush about his leadership philosophy. He replies that the gist of his leadership style is to surround himself with smart people and empower them to make contributions to the administration’s success. Ms. Calderon mulls over this and then asks, “But how do you know if your people are smart?”
“Well, lemme demonstrate,” the President replied.
At that, President Bush called in his Vice President and asked him:
“Mr. Vice President, I’d like you to answer the following question: If your mother and your father have a child, and this child is not your brother and it’s not your sister, who is it?”
“Obviously,” replied Cheney, “it’s me.”
“Thanks Dick,” said the President, “that’ll be all.”

“So Ms. Calderon,” asked Bush, “D’ya unnerstan?”
“Absolutely Mr. President,” she replied earnestly, “I will do the same as soon I get back to Puerto Rico!”

Upon her return the Governor decided to try the question on her Secretary of State. She told him she had a very important question for him and asked:
“If your mother and your father have a child, and this child is not your brother and it’s not your sister, who is it?”

The Secretary of State puzzled over the question for a minute and then asked if he could have some time to think of an appropriate response. The Governor reluctantly acceded to his request. The Secretary of State left the capitol building in a panic and convened a meeting with all the Senators and Representatives in order to analyze the governor’s question.

Hours passed, but nobody could come up with an answer to the Governor’s query. Finally, acknowledging that they were unequal to the task, it was decided to consult with Raul, the old fisherman was known throughout the island for is common sense and homespun wisdom.

So Raul was summoned and the Secretary of State asked:
“If your mother and your father have a child, and this child is not your brother and it’s not your sister, who is it?”
“That’s easy,” replied the fisherman, “it’s me!”

Satisfied with the answer, the Secretary of State called the Governor and said:
“Madam Governor, I know the answer to your question. It’s Raul, the fisherman!”
“No, you idiot!” she replied, “It’s Cheney!”

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Sunday Fun Links
This is funny. This is hilarious. The latter is likely another case of educating people past their intelligence. Click around the site, I'm still not sure whether or not it's a joke.