Friday, February 20, 2009

Technology, Queen Elizabeth's navy, and Bismarck

The BBC reports on an intriguing historical discovery that sheds light on the naval conflicts of the past:

It is known that during Elizabeth's reign, English sailors and gunners became greatly feared. For example, at the beginning of Henry VIII's reign, the English fleet was forced to run away from heavily armed French galleys.

By the time of Elizabeth, even Phillip of Spain was warning of the deadly English artillery. But no-one has ever been able to clearly show why this was.

Though Elizabeth's navy achieved its dominance before the time of Otto von Bismarck, the English edge in cannon technology serves to illustrate one of the key principles of the Bismarck strategy for successful war. A side with a decisive technological advantage tends to win.

That principle does not disappear with time.

The present age offers non-state actors with the tools to manufacture their own edge. The attack on the World Trade Center buildings serves to illustrate. The attackers used advances in communications and banking to "borrow" weapons of mass destruction from the enemy they chose to attack. Biological and chemical weapons also offer potential advantages to bad actors. James Bond style world domination plots have entered the realm of plausibility and knock on the door of inevitability.

In related news:

The Obama administration has directed defense officials to sign a pledge stating they will not share 2010 budget data with individuals outside the federal government.
Hmmm. Transparency.
The Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget have agreed on a fiscal 2010 defense budget top line figure of $537 billion. That level is nearly $50 billion lower than the $585 billion defense plan created during the final months of the Bush administration, and $24 billion higher than the already enacted $513 billion 2009 defense budget.
I guess that makes it count as a budget increase.

Granted, spending alone does not guarantee technological superiority. Let the administration receive its judgment based on its overall effects. There is reason for concern, however, given Obama's past statements about slowing the development of military hardware.

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