Archive for November, 2012

Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change: Preface

November 30, 2012

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.


Imagining the Imaginary

November 25, 2012

Speaking of regime change, here’s a news headline that’s satisfying on ssssooo many levels:

Combat Intelligence Troops Fire on Imaginary Enemies and Take Cover


Reflect deeply upon the implications.

Part Deux: East of the Mountains

November 22, 2012

In the previous post, Lunghu introduced Sherman X. Lai‘s Springboard to Victory as essential reading for would-be practitioners of regime change.  For what little it’s worth, here are some of Lunghu’s basic reactions to Springboard; the good aspects as well as the not-so-good.


  • Lai’s extensive use of Chinese primary sources to flesh out the historical record.
  • Lai’s avowed approach to the topic from an intelligence analysis perspective … and his subsequent somewhat slipshod application of actual intelligence analysis methodology.
  • Lai’s three-pronged look at political, military & economic developments in China during the crucial period 1935 – 1945.
  • Lai’s cautious willingness to critique CCP history and, by implication, its current policies.


  • Lai’s decision to use a thematic organization of the material (political, military & economic) rather than a chronological one.  This results in too much “meanwhile, back at the ranch” recapitulation of historical events when Lai discusses his second, third and fourth themes.  Let’s agree to blame his thesis advisor for this decision.
  • Sloppy writing and spelling that gets worse as the manuscript progresses.  To be fair, Lai’s English is far better than Lunghu’s Chinese, and Lunghu can definitely appreciate the mental exhaustion that begins to set in after more than four hundred pages of historical exposition.

But enough of this idle chatter!  Let us return to the stirring tale of gallant warriors and bold deeds in the fog-shrouded mountains of Shandong Province … Here, in his own words (as edited and improved by Lunghu), are the main points developed by Dr. Lai in Springboard to Victory‘s introductory chapter: {Lunghu’s gloss appears in curly brackets and red text}

  • Mythology about Chinese Communist Party (CCP’s) contributions to the struggle against Japan has been essential to the legitimacy of the PRC.
  • Scholarship to date has not explored the extent to which external circumstances contributed to shaping the CCP’s war policies. {Or, for that matter, the extent to which CCP organizational methods and practices contributed to their ultimate 1949 victory.}
  • Questions about how and when the CCP built up an infrastructure that successfully supported its army and military operations, as well as how that infrastructure operated, have long remained unexamined and unanswered.
  • Lack of knowledge about the CCP’s military history is the principal barrier to understanding the Chinese Communist revolution.  Suzanne Pepper asserts that the issue of how the CCP achieved victory can not be resolved unless military historians provide their perspective:  China historians “have no way of recognizing, for example, the point at which an overall critical mass might have been reached in terms of sources of grain and military power, making irrelevant further questions about variable civilian responses and local outcomes.”
  • {However, although} Chinese scholars have authored and published a significant number of works dealing with military operations during the War of  Resistance against Japan, the numerous studies dealing with the CCP in Shandong tend to be descriptive rather than analytic.  These efforts have been confined to case studies … and have not provided persuasive explanations for the following questions related to the CCP’s victory in Shandong:
  1. Why did Chiang Kaishek allow the CCP to control such strategically important regions as Shandong?
  2. Why was the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) under Chiang’s command unable to hold on in Shandong?
  3. When and how did Mao Zedong recognize Shandong’s strategic value?
  4. How did CCP leaders recruit, train, equip, clothe and feed their soldiers?
  5. What military strategy did the Shandong CCP adopt and why?
  6. What principal battles did CCP forces fight during the War of Resistance?
  7. How did those engagements begin and what were their significant outcomes?
  8. Why could the Japanese not eliminate the CCP guerrillas?
  • {In part, these shortcomings in historical analysis may stem from the fact that} military historians lack a general theory —a conceptual framework— to explain military change and military history … leaving the discipline in what John A. Lynn has described as “a permanent state of adolescence.”
  • {In Lai’s view} the realistic approach “on the margins of academic disciplines” that is applied in military intelligence research appears to be appropriate in pursuing regional studies such as the case of Shandong during the War of Resistance.  Military intelligence analysis examines how decision-makers perceive the world, take action and influence one other.
  • {Therefore, at the macro level, Lai’s research was} seeking to understand the internal and external frameworks that shaped the CCP’s wartime development.
  • {At the micro level, Lai’s goals were to assist a wide range of scholars in} understanding …
  1. what various CCP jargon terms implied in the context of the CCP system
  2. what CCP leaders were concerned about
  3. how leaders worked together
  4. how they made decisions
  5. how subordinates implemented their orders and directives, and
  6. why some operations were successful while others failed.

{But enough of this idle chatter: how does/did regional insurgency success translate into a larger victory?  Lai concluded that in the Shandong case, eventual military ascendancy resulted from CCP’s superior, adaptable logistics capability that nimbly supported a mobile, resilient guerrilla force.  This logistics capacity grew directly out of the CCP’s ability to create and develop proto-state institutions guided and controlled by the party itself.}

  • At the time of the CCP’s national victory in 1949, about 27 percent of PLA soldiers were Shandong natives. {In case you hadn’t guessed, Shandong has nowhere near 27% of China’s total population. This clearly suggests that Shandong Province was somehow a key to the CCP’s ultimate triumph in the struggle with the Guomindang for control of China.  This is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that Shandong had virtually no CCP presence prior to the Japanese invasion.}
  • {An important aspect of the ‘37 – ‘45 operating environment was that} Shandong’s marginal location during early stages of  the War of Resistance provided the CCP with an opportunity to fill a power vacuum created by the invading Japanese, who had made no detailed plans for their occupation and administration of China before the war began. {Does this sound typically dysfunctional to you?}
  • {What happened?  How did they do it? Lai’s core thesis is that} the Shandong CCP’s commitment to formation of a party-state reached a watershed achievement after it underwent a financial revolution in Shandong during the spring of 1944.
  • {After fundamentally revising its doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist analysis of economic activity in the light of Shandong realities} the CCP built an administrative system down to the grassroots by restoring and modifying a traditional Chinese revenue system, and in the process established {parallel, inter-linked} systems of food staple tribute and finance banking.

{The story of how this happened —and details of the conceptual outlook that facilitated this wartime CCP approach—  are intensely relevant today, because they constitute the foundation of China’s 21st century economic and monetary policy.  The economic principles that guided the Shandong Bureau in 1944 are still alive at the Bank of China in 2012.  Read Springboard to Victory if you would know more.}

Read Lunghu’s next blogpost if the actual book is too much work for you.  But remember, the Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change will also take effort.  So will regime change itself.

East of The Mountains

November 20, 2012

Readers familiar with the Western European tradition of political science probably have some vague recollection of the ‘social contract’ theory of government.  One formulation of this thesis can be found in John Locke‘s Second Treatise on Government, which asserts that government’s legitimacy originates in citizens’ delegation to government of their right of self-defense (of “self-preservation”).  In Locke’s view, the implicit bargain between rulers and ruled is this:  in return for a quasi-voluntary financial contribution (taxation), the governing regime promises to preserve the physical safety –the lives and existence– of its populace.

Of course, in truly repressive regimes the greatest threat to physical security is often the government itself, but even in these cases the enforcers of order frequently are viewed as the least of several alternative evils.

So what happens when government is unable to deliver on its promise of physical security?  In the absence of a credible best effort to do its utmost –when the implicit guarantee of life itself is revealed as hollow– the regime forfeits its claim to legitimacy.  This is the point at which regime change will become acceptable to a non-negligible portion of civil society.

Regime change happens.  Current events, recent history, the distant past and the looming future all show that it’s usually a messy business.   Even after regimes change, successful consolidation of the new order is rarely swift, almost always contentious, sometimes bloody, and generally requires serious breaches of etiquette.   Clearly, the human race would benefit from a ‘how-to manual’ that could smooth the transition from the old to the new.   Something that could compile a set of ‘best-practice’ examples from history’s most successful regime changes into an Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change.   Because all too often, regime change is left to a nation’s idiots –they’re the only ones reckless enough/desperate enough to confront entrenched power and –somehow– win.

Well, Lunghu has not yet written The Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change, but he’s claiming copyright to the title here and now:  (as Andrew Jackson once observed in a different context, “Now let him enforce it!”).  And he’s going to get the ball rolling on this project by pointing to some source material that perhaps warrants inclusion in a chapter or two of the finished volume.  But first and foremost, Lunghu is gonna lead off with banal, all-too-obvious observation: before you can have regime change, you gotta have an insurgency.  First, break eggs.  Second, make omelette.

So, how does an insurgency succeed?  And how does a successful insurgency transform itself into a successful new regime?  Where can one find the poster-children of successful revolution?  These are rhetorical questions for which Lunghu has an answer readily prepared:  China.   This ‘China’ we speak of need not necessarily be construed as the current People’s Republic.  When you have 4000+ years of history from which to select relevant examples, there’s plenty of material to be found.  Just look at Luo Guanzhong‘s classic Sung Dynasty tale ‘Water Margin.’  But in this particular case it is indeed the PRC experience that is most helpful, and it’s thanks to Water Margin that Lunghu encountered an obscure PhD dissertation which deserves much broader recognition:  Sherman Xiaogang Lai‘s “Springboard to Victory: Shandong Province and Chinese Communist Military and Financial Strength 1937 – 1945.”



The link between Water Margin and the PRC is two-fold:  first, both Song Jiang’s insurgency and the Communist guerrilla war were played out in the mountains and marshes of Shandong Province  –separated by (only) ten centuries of Chinese history.  Secondly, both stories contain valuable lessons in methods used by insurgencies to recast themselves in the public eye as agencies of legitimate governance.  For those reasons, Lunghu recommends reading both Water Margin and Sherman Lai’s  Springboard to Victory  –probably in that order.  Maps of Shandong Province will come in handy.  Dr. Lai  –an emigre Chinese historian now working at Oxford University–  examines a (previously) little-known chapter in 20th C. Chinese history:  the story of how the People’s Liberation Army managed to gain control of Shandong during WWII in a three-way struggle with the Japanese Imperial Army and Chiang Kaishek‘s Nationalist forces.  Almost, but not quite, a how-to manual.


Lunghu stumbled across the work of Dr. Lai while engaged in a tangentially related project: a half-assed historical inquiry into the origins of and influences on modern-day U.S. counter-insurgency policy.   Superficial pundits with short historical memories usually trace the lineage back through the Vietnam War to the British experence in colonial Malaya, and then just stop there.   Historians within the U.S. armed forces often cite additional precedents:  the U.S. Civil War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the work of French counterinsurgency specialist Col. Bernard Trinquier.   Almost nobody likes to take a long, hard look at what the British have done in Ireland, India, Palestine, Kenya and Cyprus  –partly because what little documentation may still exist is probably still covered by the Official Secrets Act.   And also because that kind of behavior is considered to be ‘crimes against humanity’ in this day and age.

Euro-American understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine in the mid-20th century Japanese Imperial Army is also rather limited.   Beyond mental images of bayoneted babies and “The Rape of Nanjing,” there’s not much available.   Japanese scholars have penned a few monographs based on surviving archives of Imperial Army intelligence echelons, but the record is very much incomplete (and completely one-sided).   However … in a brief online description of a Harvard University conference on the Sino-Japanese War (aka the War of Resistance), Lunghu spotted an even briefer reference to some guy named Sherman Lai, who was writing his dissertation on Communist guerrilla resistance to the Japanese.   Mediated by the modern-day miracle of internet search engine algorithms, a PDF of the dissertation was soon in Lunghu’s electronic possession … Several days and five hundred thirty-two double-spaced pages later, valuable insights and priceless inferences cascaded out of Lunghu’s ears.

Read the next blogpost if you would know more …

Across the Meadow

November 17, 2012


Shimmering filaments strung between blades of grass tremble slightly in a gentle breeze, glistening in the low-angle light of late afternoon sun.

Autumn’s spiders await their next meal.


Kalash of Titans

November 13, 2012

Somehow, Lunghu has become an uncompensated, unacknowledged strategic brand advisor to the Russian Federation.  Emphasis is on the uncompensated aspect of this dubious honor, which turns out to be a good thing, because who wants the hassle of having to register with the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice as an agent of a foreign principal?

How did this happen? The slippery slope began with a gentle gradient, when Lunghu made some offhand, less-than-flattering comments about Mosfilm’s back-catalog that drove ’em straight into the arms of Google’s YouTube.   Then, a bit later, he pointed out that (despite Rosneft, Gazprom, Rusal and the rest) Russia really only has two 21st century global brands:  Comrade Bear and the AK-47 Kalashnikov.

Someone has been listening:

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin called on Saturday for a merger of two of Russia’s leading small-arms makers, Izhmash and Izhmekh, under the Kalashnikov brand.
“We need to set up a new-old brand, named ‘Kalashnikov.’  Izhmekh and Izhmash, with all due respect, are not a brand.  Kalashnikov –that’s a brand,” Rogozin said.


This didn’t exactly come out of the blue.   Rogozin has had prior run-ins with Izhmash management, and he probably hasn’t seen many recent improvements to their past performance:  Izmash’s foray into production of paintball guns hasn’t been too profitable.  Even worse, there’s been a recent optics issue:

Long-serving employees at Russian weapons manufacturer Izhmash, including the legendary Mikhail Kalashnikov, sent a letter to the Kremlin [in October] complaining about falling production and low wages.  Employees claim that bad management has led to the loss of several export contracts, [which] prompted wage cuts, forcing skilled personnel to leave in droves.
“Irreversible changes may take place at the enterprise, leading to the disappearance of brands such as Kalashnikov, Dragunov and Nikonov,” the letter said.


Given this context, it’s not surprising that Comrade General Mikhail K. is completely onboard with Dimi Rozgozin’s merger proposal:

Mikhail Kalashnikov, who turned 93 on Saturday, personally authorized the use of his name for the [combined Izhmekh/Izhmash enterprise], Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Sunday.
Izhmash has manufactured Kalashnikovs since the rifle first went into mass production in 1949, while Izhmekh is best known for producing Makarov and Yarygin handguns.

As long as the Russian Federation is accepting free and unsolicited advice, Lunghu suggests that the merger deal includes a generous personal-services contract for Comrade General Mikhail and his family.  A gesture of good will can be worth more than gold.


And The Winner Is …

November 7, 2012

Dave Plouffe.  Again.