We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Missile defence thoughts

Those who claim they are anti-war, and for peace (inverted commas stand ready for use), have in the past often had a rather curious hostility towards anti-missile defence systems. I remember that when Donald Rumsfeld was Defense Sec. in the US in the early noughties, his support for anti-missile defence (I am using the British spelling of defence, okay?) was seen as somehow problematic, a sign of what a fool he was, etc, etc.

Well, how the world turns. From the Wall Street Journal on Monday this week:

It’s no small irony that President Biden is hailing the success of missile and drone defenses over Israel. In the 1980s there was no more dedicated foe of missile defense than Sen. Joe Biden. Democrats have resisted or under-financed missile defenses for decades on grounds that they’re too expensive and too easily defeated by new technology.

Progressives oppose defenses because they think vulnerability somehow makes war less likely. On nuclear arms, the Union of Concerned Scientists and others prefer the doctrine of mutual-assured destruction to being able to shoot down enemy ICBMs.

Israel’s defenses proved how wrong this view is, displaying their practical and strategic value. If the more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles had reached their targets, Mr. Biden wouldn’t be able to say, as he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, “take the win.” The mass casualties would have all but guaranteed a large-scale military escalation.

It seems to me that, if you are a small/minimal state sort of person, hostile to foreign interventionism (as much as of the domestic kind), and purely in favour of using force in response to the initiation of physical force, then having the ability to shoot down armed drones and ballistic missiles, fighter jets, etc, is in the same moral bracket as having locks on doors, or the freedom to carry concealed firearms, pepper spray, noise alarms, having a guard dog, a scary spouse, etc.

Here’s an item about the Iron Dome anti-missile system that Israel uses.

This article asserts that President Biden’s sceptical, even hostile approach, to missile defence goes back decades. In 2021, the Biden administration reportedly pullled a bunch of Patriot anti-missile systems from four Middle East nations.

The UK’s Royal Navy has a Sea Viper system to knock down drones. Here is an official release about such technology in the UK. The British Army has something called a Sky Sabre system.

Samizdata quote of the day – only Israel

It seems that the usual rules don’t apply when it comes to Israel. The atrocity that happened last October was a reasonable justification for turning Gaza into glass, frankly. Rooting out and killing Hamas, crushing it completely would have been a proportionate response, yet before Israel had responded, there were calls for a ceasefire and accusations of genocide (a grossly misused word and certainly not applicable here). What would any other country have done?


So, Iran, what was all that about really?

A suggestion I have heard, made almost in jest but it might be true, was that Iran launching more than three hundred drones and missiles at Israel might have been intended as some weird form of de-escalation. The reasoning behind this theory is Iran knew perfectly well that the main effect of its attack would be to demonstrate just how good Israel’s air defences are, but that the expensive gesture would satisfy their own hawks without giving Israel any emotional reason to strike back.

I read somewhere that in nineteenth-century France most professional men could expect to be challenged to a duel at some time in their career. To refuse meant dishonour. To accept meant the prospect of death or serious injury, or the lesser but still significant unpleasantness of inflicting it on someone else. To deal with this problem the custom arose that by silent mutual agreement the splendid-looking duelling pistols used would have been made in very small calibres and taking only a tiny amount of black powder. When fired they produced a reasonable bang which carried with it enough prospect of doing harm to satisfy the honour of the duellists – but in practice wearing a thick woollen overcoat was usually enough to deflect the slow-moving ball.

Perhaps Iran was, or thought it was, acting like one of those duellists. If so, we shall have to see whether Israel is on board with the “silent mutual agreement” part of the analogy.

What do you think?

Samizdata quote of the day – 1945 in reverse?

The result is that American public debate has shifted in a way that has taken America’s allies – and many Americans themselves – by surprise. The public takes peace for granted. “To some extent we are paying the price for our own success. In several generations now we have not had to deal with certain types of situations, or only very narrow slices of generations have had to deal with them since we’ve eliminated the draft. And so increasingly America is just in a very different place psychologically,” says Dr Haass.

In other words, Trumpism will not die with Trump, argues Mr Arnold, and betting British security on 300,000 swing voters every four years is not a viable long term policy.

“Trump is unpredictable. As military people say, hope cannot be part of the strategy. We have to understand there is a risk and we need to be ready for this risk,” says Mr Zagorodnyuk.

“And as such we need to understand what we are going to do to be self-sufficient. And it is actually possible. It is difficult but it is possible, especially with this massive technical transformation of the landscape of the world.”

Roland Oliphant

Cold machines versus hot blood

“The machine did it coldly: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets” – that is the title of a Guardian piece on Israel’s use of the “Lavender” AI-assisted targeting system.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza used a previously undisclosed AI-powered database that at one stage identified 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas, according to intelligence sources involved in the war.

In addition to talking about their use of the AI system, called Lavender, the intelligence sources claim that Israeli military officials permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed, particularly during the early weeks and months of the conflict.

Their unusually candid testimony provides a rare glimpse into the first-hand experiences of Israeli intelligence officials who have been using machine-learning systems to help identify targets during the six-month war.

Israel’s use of powerful AI systems in its war on Hamas has entered uncharted territory for advanced warfare, raising a host of legal and moral questions, and transforming the relationship between military personnel and machines.

“This is unparalleled, in my memory,” said one intelligence officer who used Lavender, adding that they had more faith in a “statistical mechanism” than a grieving soldier. “Everyone there, including me, lost people on October 7. The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier.”

The article, by Bethan McKernan and Harry Davies, contains several howlers such as a reference to “the shockingly high death toll in the war”. Even if I believed Hamas casualty figures, which I do not, the death toll in this war is shockingly low. The Allied bombing of Dresden probably killed more people over three nights than have died over six months of the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Nonetheless, as the quoted passage shows, the authors have pointed out that one of the benefits to humanity of AI targeting in war is that it takes the immediate decision to kill out of the hands of humans.

And puts it… where exactly? I am all in favour of targeted killing, if the alternative is untargeted killing. I am in favour of the decision to kill being made according to rational military and legal criteria agreed openly in advance, if the alternative is the decision being made in a split second by someone who is angry and afraid. But I share the writers’ disquiet at the idea of the process of war becoming detached from human control entirely.

What is your view?

Samizdata quote of the day – either way, China wins

The reason Beijing seems so relaxed about the crisis is obvious: this is a situation in which China wins either way. Either the threat continues but shipping is safer for Chinese vessels than for others, in which case sailing under the protection of the red and gold flag may become a coveted competitive advantage, or Beijing finally tells Iran to knock it off, in which case China becomes the de facto go-to security provider in the Middle East. Both outcomes would be geopolitical coups. No wonder China is willing to accept a little short-term economic pain as the situation plays out.

Nathan Levine

Why the Ukraine War is not actually a stalemate

A useful perspective for people who just read headlines.

Samizdata quote of the day – sage geopolitical wisdom edition

Why we can’t leave the Houthi’s to shoot at us in peace is completely beyond me.

– the indispensable Zarah Bukake MP echoing nice Mr. Corbyn.

Non-sarcastically, why am I so sure that this image is generated by AI?

This post is reposted from a source I do not trust (Double Down News) by a person I do not trust (Dr Susan Michie, adviser to the SAGE committee and literal communist) on a topic (the Israel-Hamas war) where AI-generated fakery is rampant. Remember the six-fingered Palestinian child?

Closer examination give yet more causes for doubt – the bizarrely elongated finger on the left hand of the soldier second from the left, the way that, perhaps in compensation, the right hand of the rightmost man seems to have no fingers at all. There is something wrong about the bipod of his rifle, too. The angle of the windows on the left of the picture looks off. The flame coming out of the window is too neatly defined.

But what interests me is that I thought “AI-generated” before I looked closely enough to see any of that. Possibly the thing that tipped me off, if I am right at all, was that all the elements of the alleged photograph looked exposed to the same degree, when one would think that the glow of the flames would dominate. Even that form of words, which I got from my husband, is more explanatory than whatever it was that screamed “fake” to me.

That said, this image is a great deal more realistic than those of only a few months ago. My spidey-sense for fake pictures will not last much longer.

Samizdata quote of the day – the proportionality absurdity

In a time of war, everybody makes proportionality arguments. But proportionality is a fool’s game, more suited to propaganda than to reasoned judgement.

Michael Walzer

Wars are not sporting events.

Samizdata quote of the day – Palestinian civilian deaths are at the heart of Hamas’s strategy

Hamas likes nothing better than an Israeli strike that kills civilians. That is why it has reportedly been preventing its people from fleeing the war zone, sometimes by force. They seemingly want Palestinian casualties to pile high, in full view of the world’s media. The BBC and others beam footage of the horror of war around the world to people who have lost touch with the reality of armed conflict. Hamas want people in the West to take to the streets in outrage, forgetting that even a just and defensive war is hell. They know this will help them win.

Jake Wallis Simons

Samizdata quote of the day – Do we want Ukraine to Win?

Its in many ways the crucial question that needs to be answered honestly now. Do we want Ukraine to win the war and liberate all its territory? or Do we want Ukraine to be forced to accept a deal which hands over parts of the country to Putin? The rhetoric of western leaders is the former, though to be frank the policy looks more and more like the latter. We armed Ukraine this year specifically not to give it range, air superiority, etc. We forced it to launch direct assaults on defended Russian lines. Zaluzhnyi is saying that cannot continue. Either Ukraine is armed properly to win a modern war, or the technological imperatives will necessitate the continuation of this attritional war we have seen.

Western leaders must therefore answer that question now, and act accordingly.

– Phillips OBrien