Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The new Byzantines

What Edward Gibbon was the Roman Empire focused on the Western Empire in his
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Luttwak is to the Eastern Empire.

Following Luttwak's
The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, has has added a focus on a little known history - that focused on what many call The Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire. Called The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, it covers the Roman Empire in the East from the fourth through the fifteenth centuries.

From Stuart Kohel in the
WeeklyStandard, something to ponder. I'm not buying into the whole premise - but it is worth a ponder.
In his FP article, Luttwak lays out seven principles of Byzantine strategy which he believes would be applicable to the United States in its present strategic situation. They are worth repeating here:

I. Avoid war by every possible means, in all possible circumstances, but always act as if war might start at any time. Train intensively and be ready for battle at all times . . . The highest purpose of combat readiness is to reduce the probability of having to fight.

II. Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his actions continuously. Efforts to do so by all possible means might not be very productive, but they are seldom wasted.

III. Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but avoid battles, especially large-scale battles, except in very favorable circumstances. . . employ force in the smallest possible doses to help persuade the persuadable and harm those not yet amenable to persuasion.

IV. Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare . . . [T]he object is not to destroy your enemies, because they can become tomorrow's allies. A multiplicity of enemies can be less of a threat than just one, so long as they can be persuaded to attack one another.

V. Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the balance of power. Diplomacy is even more important during war than peace . . . The most useful allies are those nearest to the enemy.

VI. Subversion is the cheapest path to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies.

VII. When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and fighting is unavoidable, use methods and tactics that exploit enemy weaknesses, avoid consuming combat forces, and patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time. But there is no urgency because as soon as one enemy is no more, another will surely take his place. All is constantly changing as rulers and nations rise and fall. Only the empire is eternal -- if, that is, it does not exhaust itself.
So, what would the Emperor Maurice do in this situation? Undoubtedly the first thing he would do is collect the best possible intelligence on Iran, its rulers, its society, its military and its economy, using all available sources, including spies, merchants, scholars, and traitors within. Having built up a reasonably accurate picture of the adversary and his potential weaknesses, Maurice would see that the government is becoming isolated from the people, and relies increasingly on oppression to maintain its position.
Rather than recognizing the legitimacy of the recent Iranian elections--widely regarded as farcical by the Iranian people, if not by our State Department--he would begin funneling support to opposition political groups, highlighting human rights abuses by the Iranian government to undermine its international support, and destroying its moral authority (such as it is). He would observe Iran has many disgruntled ethnic minorities, many of which have violent militant groups, such as the Baluchi separatists who recently killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders in a suicide bombing attack (the biter bit!). Maurice would delicately reach out to these groups, subverting their leadership (putting all of them on the Byzantine payroll), providing them with training and equipment (untraceable, of course) and then letting them loose on the Iranian government.
Imagine what would happen in Iran if not just Baluchis, but half a dozen other insurgent groups suddenly began staging attacks, day in and day out. But Maurice would also maintain a tight leash on his attack hounds, and through diplomatic channels would make it known that the attacks could be stopped in return for concessions. And, just to make sure his overtures would be well received, Maurice would buy key members of the Iranian government and religious councils (but of course, the United States does not engage in bribery, any more than it engages in assassination).
This can pay long-term dividends, since once an enemy official takes your money you have a hold on him for life. Finally, there must always be the iron fist in the velvet glove, so Maurice would carefully plan for a limited military strike in the event all other means fail. But he would not aim to invade and occupy the whole country, recognizing that he did not have the wherewithal to do so, and that such a war would tie down too many resources and make him vulnerable to attack from other quarters. So, he would limit his objectives to a raid to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, to cripple the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and maybe, if the situation warrants, to cut out enclaves along Iran's borders to serve as havens for Iran's dissident minority groups--a constant threat to Iran should it lapse into bad behavior in the future.
BTW, did you SAMS graduates know this?
In writing about Byzantine foreign policy, Luttwak's task was made easier because, unlike the Romans, the Byzantines did write manuals of strategy, including such classics as theStrategikon of the 6th century Emperor Maurice, or the 11th century Strategikon of Kekaumenos.

So many books - so little time.

....and another little note. From the
Wikipage (I know, I know), ponder.
....the inaction and ineptitude of the Angeloi quickly lead to a collapse in Byzantine military power, both at sea and on land. Surrounded by a crowd of slaves, mistresses and flatterers, they permitted the empire to be administered by unworthy favourites, while they squandered the money wrung from the provinces on costly buildings and expensive gifts to the churches of the metropolis. They scatterred money so lavishly as to empty the treasury, and allowed such licence to the officers of the army as to leave the Empire practically defenceless. Together, they consummated the financial ruin of the state.

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