Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change: Preface

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blogpost in order to bring you a public service announcement.  Before diving once more into the devilish details of Sherman Lai‘s Shandong saga Springboard to Victory, Lunghu thinks it would be appropriate to review some of the fundamental concepts currently guiding the regime preservation industry.  That’s because those who wish to change a regime hope to do so by preventing its preservation.  In this context, Sun Tzu (guess what:  born and raised in Shandong) counsels us to “Assess them to discover their plans, the successes as well as the failures.”

In the intelligence analysis domain, there’s a fundamental technique that’s used to imagine the ways that seemingly unlikely events might potentially occur.  It’s called ‘rewind analysis‘ –a term that probably needs to be updated since it’s based on obsolete technologies from the realm of celluloid film and magnetic tape recording.  However, although VHS video won’t be missed by most, the rewind analysis technique still has merit in particular situations. Unexpected regime change is one of them.  Time and again, the CIA, Stasi and similar intelligence services appear blindsided by regime change they didn’t instigate themselves.  Whether you take the examples of the Soviet Union and GDR in the 1980s or more recent cases such as Tunisia and Egypt, intelligence ‘surprises’ are a staple of analytical training.  Therefore, analysts studying regime change would use rewind analysis to envision the unforeseen outcome and then retrospectively imagine (in reverse chronological order) the most likely intermediate steps that led inexorably to the culmination of regime collapse.

Thus, in the same way that a rocket launch counts backward from T-minus-x to Zero, the step-by-step checklist progression from entrenched regime to regime change is best understood when traced back from some fixed –-but perhaps arbitrary– starting point or another.  Ideally, that starting point will be a moment in time before the regime’s running-dog lackeys begin to feel the ground actually shift beneath their feet (paws?).  So, in order to identify some of the necessary ingredients for regime change, let’s work backward from the basic formulae used by regime preservationists to assess their own safety and security.  These simple formulae are the ABC’s and 123’s of security agencies and intelligence organizations throughout the bourgeois/imperialist sphere of influence  —and beyond.  Everybody in the (English-speaking) regime preservation industry immediately recognizes these cryptic notations and knows what the letters stand for.  Whether they fully understand the implications is another matter entirely.

R = V + T

Risk equals Vulnerability plus Threat.  The continued existence of any government or public enterprise is at Risk when its Vulnerabilities can be exploited to disrupt or destroy the essential activities, services and functions it performs on behalf of the populace.  Once that happens, its legitimacy is in serious jeopardy.  At its most basic, this formula means that a regime with no Vulnerability … is not at Risk.  Moreover, even if there are vulnerabilities, there’s no (or low) Risk in the absence of a Threat with the potential to exploit them.  R = V + T  Since both variables on the righthand side of the equation are necessary but not sufficient, you also gotta have T to get R.

The regime preservation industry (should we lower ourselves to its level by using an acronym to denote a multi-word phrase?) hasn’t yet devised a dumbed-down formula to describe and define Vulnerability (this might itself indicate a regime vulnerability).  Security professionals believe that they know a vulnerability when they see one, so who needs a formula?  Of course, it’s those >         < vulnerabilities that get you every time…  In the absence of an official definition of Vulnerability, all that we have left to work with is a succinct formula to describe and define Threat:

T = I + C

Threat equals Intent plus Capabilities.  Once again both variables on the righthand side of the equation are necessary but not sufficient.  That unshaven guy mumbling incoherently on the street corner might Intend to destroy the solar system with a massive gamma ray blast, but he’s not a Threat until he gets his hands on supersized gamma ray generator Capability.  Similarly, the British Navy has submarine-launched, nuclear-tipped ballistic missile Capability that could destroy Washington, DC but because this is 2012 rather than 1812, they don’t Intend to incinerate the White House (again). You get the idea.

But we still have two undefined variables in this simple equation: what counts as Intent, and what exactly is Capability?  Let’s take the easy one first —-Intent.  In the regime preservation industry, Intent equals whatever the adversary or putative Threat says (or indicates) that s/he means to do.  Despite the fact that the United States is one great poker-playing nation, the regime preservation industry in this country generally (steeply) discounts the possibility of bluff and assumes that folks actually mean to do (Intend) what they say they will do.  You’d think that decades of listening to Congress would lead them to a starkly different conclusion, but some people never learn –or pretend not to.

But what about Capability?  As far as Lunghu knows, the regime preservation industry doesn’t actually have a snappy formula that neatly defines Capability.  They mostly think in terms of weapons systems, and believe they know a Capability when they see or hear it.  If it goes boom or bang, it’s a Capability.  Electronic/cyber-conflict is changing that perspective because it involves a Capability that can’t easily be defined in those classic terms.  Therefore, Lunghu hopes to do everyone a favor by modestly proposing a simple pseudo-equation that describes Capability.  It’s derived and adapted from verbal, categorical descriptions of Capability that are used as the framework for military intelligence assessment of the adversary’s Capability, but Lunghu believes that he’s the sole inventor of this pseudo-equation:

C = F + L + K + E

Capability equals Finance plus Logistics plus Kinetics plus Expertise.  Lunghu suspects that the actual formula is something much more like C = ((F + L) * K)^E [Finance plus Logistics times Kinetics to the power of Expertise], but let’s not get crazy here!  Most functionaries in the regime preservation industry can barely manage addition: algebraic calculation might leave ‘em flummoxed.  Polynomials?  Fuhgeddaboudit!

What does Lunghu mean by these terms?  Rather than subjecting the patient reader to yet more equations, Lunghu will content himself with preliminary verbal descriptions that can be disputed now and refined at a later date.  He’s also eminently willing to entertain the proposition that Finance is really just a special subset of Logistics rather than a completely distinct variable in its own right.  Be that as it may:

  • Finance is the accumulation and circulation of monetary instruments used to facilitate the goals of the individual or organization.
  •  Logistics is the set of methods and practices used to assemble, transport, store and distribute the physical resources required for the activities of an individual, organization and/or related enterprises.
  • Kinetics is the ability to apply energy or force (boom, bang, zap, etc.) in order to achieve a desired effect.
  • Expertise is a body of information organized in a way that can guide and adapt repeatable behavior or action.

These terse definitions provide only a hint of the way in which each element contributes to overall Capability and the ways in which they interact.  Each of these components will necessarily receive fuller treatment (perhaps a chapter each!) in the complete Idiot’s Guide.  For now, suffice to say that once again, each of the variables on the righthand side of the equation is necessary-but-not-sufficient to create Capability.  Kim Jong-Eun‘s fissible nuclear material (Kinetics) isn’t actually much of a Threat Capability until his scientists solve the Logistical problem of getting a functioning warhead (Expertise) far enough off the ground to clear the 38th Parallel.

So What?

What’s the point of all this tedious explication? Simply this:

  • if regime continuity and preservation requires a perception of legitimacy, and
  • if (as John Locke would have it) claims to legitimacy are mainly derived from the regime’s implicit promise to safeguard the physical security of its populace,
  • then the populace must believe that its security is threatened in order to tacitly concede that the regime is at least partially legitimate.

Thus, a predatory and corrupt regime can maintain minimal public tolerance of its manifold other deficiencies if it is able to sustain the perception that grave perils await outside the gates. For this reason, regime preservation is most easily accomplished amid a fearful populace. When people live in fear, they can be more easily controlled. So it’s not surprising that the past half-century provides numerous examples of the dishonest calculus used in public discourse by regime preservationist fearmongers around the globe, for whom:

  • virtually any Capability is a grave Threat, and
  • any Threat is a grave Risk.

Given the structure of the Risk and Threat formulae, these preemptive conclusions implicitly contain a pair of basic assumptions:

  • Vulnerability is omnipresent and nearly infinite.
  • Intent is almost always malevolent.

Reader take note: these deeply paranoid assumptions reveal that it is regime preservation functionaries who are the most fearful of all.  And that is the key to regime change.


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One Response to “Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change: Preface”

  1. twshiloh Says:

    Bravo, sir. This is a top notch post.

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