Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Republics and Maritime Hegemonies

Trireme Olympias
Two hundred and forty-one years ago today, a maritime hegemony ran into some heavy going. Squalls had been building for a year, and the hegemonic elite probably saw nothing special about a proclamation issued in Philadelphia on that particular day.

And, indeed the sun was still rising on the British Empire; full day would only break some decades later, after an artillery officer from Corsica was forcibly retired to St Helena. Only far along the plausible midfuture of 1776 would the United States take its turn on Neptune's throne.

Now that hold is being shaken, from the most bizarre of causes. Of all the many subplots of our current national nightmare comedy, none can be funnier or more nightmarish - or just plain surprising - as the ascendency of self-proclaimed nationalists who seem to regard American maritime hegemony as a dreadful thing that should be done away with, in favor of a world order (or disorder) dominated by 'spheres of influence'.

To be sure, this would be an understandable perspective for, say, Chinese nationalists. Or nationalists from another well known Eurasian power distinguished for its achievements in space. But for American 'nationalists' to share this perspective is ... remarkable.

I know there were in late Victorian days 'Little Englanders', about whom I know only the name, though a quick google shows that the term has been revived in the context of Brexit, offering some context. Indeed, some factions in ancient Athens point in a rather similar direction - providing an unexpected segue to my broader topic.

I could say a lot more about the current American moment, but there are lots of places for that discussion, and not so many for the one I will now segue to.

To paraphrase Thucydides (the ancient historian, not the commenter on this blog), the Athenians were the first polity that we know to have possessed a maritime hegemony. There is a line of speculation - with roots in Thucydides - that Minoan Crete might have had something of the sort. The unfortified palace of Knossos perhaps gives a hint in that direction, as do some frescoes, including one suggestive of a harbor ceremony, in the 'House of the Admiral' on Thera.

A hegemony, in general, is an empire that favors indirect rule and a relatively modest profile (as empires go). A maritime hegemony, naturally, is one sustained through sea power, which broadly understood extends beyond battle fleets to the 'soft power' of sea trade.

There is a certain logic to maritime hegemony: 'distant storm-beaten ships' are inherently less in your face than tanks rolling down your street, And perhaps it is rooted in the differences between soldiers and sailors.

This is reflected in myth. The Iliad is a soldier's epic, all about the dangers and comradeship of battle, and what happens when a commanding officer disrespects his troops. The Odyssey is a sailor's epic, all about the perils of the sea and the will to reach homeport.

The most notable maritime hegemonies, in Western tradition, have been  Athens, Venice, the Netherlands, Britain, and the US. (Not all sea-ruling nations have been classic maritime hegemonies. Rome and Spain, in their heydays, were more about legions and tercios than quinqueremes or galleons. Sea power was a byproduct of their power on land.)

A curious and striking fact about those maritime hegemonies is that four out of the five had republican political systems.* Even the fifth, Britain, was something of a crowned republic, the monarch a sort of hereditary Doge.
* It is an odd fact that the ancient Greeks had no word for republic, at least no familiar one. We call Plato's book by its Latin name, which surely would have puzzled the old guy. Its Greek title, Politeia, gives us our word 'polity' - not an everyday term, and its modern meaning is any form of political entity in general - not necessarily an open, collective order, a public thing, res publica.

Sea power, it appears, does not call for Caesarism. It is true that the Roman Republic had met its Ides of March well before the Battle of Actium, but - in spite of Cleopatra and her Egyptian squadron - Actium was fundamentally the last act of a Roman a civil war. And Napoleon's intended conquest of Britain met its watery Waterloo a decade before he himself met one on dry land.


All of this, as you may not be utterly surprised to hear, has potential relevance to space and space opera. Space is not an ocean, and spacehands are not sailors. But (unless you have planet-surface stargates) it is even harder to march across a few AU or light years of space than it is to march across the lagoon of Venice or the English Channel.

As I noted in comments to last post, your all conquering star legions won't conquer anyone if a maritime hegemony sends some battlecruisers (by whatever name) to zap them all en route. Or even pepper them with target seeking kinetic cans.

On individual planets, old fashioned overland conquest can be perfectly viable, depending on local geography. (On an pelagic planet, a world of islands, you presumably need boats or aircraft if you want to make everyone build huge statues of you.)

But to dominate the star roads, or even the planet paths, you need a capable astrale, or whatever you choose to call your space fleet. And in the long term big picture the best way to get one is probably to foster the sort of society - broadly, perhaps, a richly complex and open society - that has historically been associated with the great maritime hegemonies.

Not precisely the blessings of liberty, as such, but perhaps helpful in making the space opera come out your way.

Discuss:



[On edit:] Ten years ago today, I speculated on the future prospects of the American idea, through the plausible midfuture and beyond.

The image of Olympias, a modern reconstruction of an Athenian trieres ('trireme') comes from the present day Hellenic Navy. How cool is that? Click to see in full embiggened glory. (And minor note that I flipped the source image.)

105 comments:

Nyrath said...

Of course it is real hard to get your star legions transported to new planets to conquer, if some other empire has a blasted thalassocracy or other virtual monopoly on spaceflight. It is pointless to boost your troop-carriers into orbit if they are just going to be riddled with a few kilo-Ricks of kinetic energy weapons as soon as they get to LEO.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure I buy in to any serious distinction between maritime hegemony and maritime empire. After all, it's commonly called the Athenian maritime "empire". And let's not forget the Melians. Likewise, the British exercised their fair share of quite imperial land power. The US as well.

And when these things are admitted -- and how can we not retain a claim to intellectual honesty if we don't? -- then we have to recognize non-democratic maritime empires as being part of the same general historical phenomenon. Then we countenance the Swedish Baltic empire, run for the benefit of the upper echelons of the Swedish nobility, and the Baal-worshipping Carthaginians. Heck, Carthaginian maritime power was even partially based on trade, like any good hegemony is supposed to be.

BTW, hyper-patriotic Victorian Great Britain wasn't above recognizing imperial spheres of influence.

Tony said...

The immediately preceding was me, BTW.

Brian Mansur said...

I am writing my closing chapters to my first novel and it involves assaulting an O'Neill style space colony. The marine assault craft are easy pickings for a well-prepared defense. The scenario, of course, assumes that the invaders find it desirable not to nuke the colony, which is a mighty large (100 km) broadside barn to hit.

AlexT said...

"..riddled with a few kilo-Ricks of kinetic energy weapons.."
There is the intention of cloning Rick in vast numbers and using him (them?) as projectiles ? Would it be high praise, or the opposite ?

Eth said...

Right-wing nationalists being against oversea influence/imperialism has precedents indeed.
In the late XIXe Century for example, under the Third French Republic (the second biggest colonial empire at the time, may or may not count as a maritime hegemony - and as far as I can tell, as the British, the sun technically has still to set), nationalists were against all this colonial adventurism, because screw the world we should concentrate on our own nation.

Interestingly, the biggest proponents for colonialism (to simplify) were the progressist left wing whose big justification was the responsibility of "bringing civilisation to inferior races" as they put it. One big argument in favour of that, somewhat paradoxically, was to end slavery, which was endemic in Africa at the time (itself a big justification for the triangular trade of previous centuries, with the old "look they are doing it themselves already" fallacy). Of course, dirty realpolitik and the inevitable consequences of such arrogance were what we ended up with. Again, some parallels may be made with the US hegemony in both justifications and consequences.
(At least it did mostly end slavery. Yay?)

The centrists generally were against all that for reasons that may be more familiar to us: calling other races inferior and pretending to forcibly meddle with their affairs and knowing better what was good for them (even against their will) was a Bad Thing. Unfortunately, while commendable, history shows that those arguments rarely hold the sway they should in parliaments.

This three-sides political model and their positions on imperialism/colonialism/hegemony may or may not be transferable to a Space Opera Republic.

(Amusingly, while a mostly two-sides political system for decades, a few months ago a wild Third Side suddenly appeared and won by a landslide, pulling the rug out from under the far right that was precisely trying to pull that off for years.)

Nyrath said...

heh AlexT, the term "rick" is from Rick Robinson's First Law of Space Combat which states An object impacting at 3 km/sec delivers kinetic energy equal to its mass in TNT. This was

Geoffrey S H said...

"There is the intention of cloning Rick in vast numbers and using him (them?) as projectiles ? Would it be high praise, or the opposite ?"

We now have the building blocks for the most surreal hard-sci fi space opera of all time!

Thucydides said...

Walter Russel Mead wrote a great book on the topic called "God and Gold" (https://www.amazon.com/God-Gold-Britain-America-Making/dp/0375713735) which looks at this from the perspective of the "Maritime System"

Maritime powers like ancient Athens, the Hanse, Serenìsima Republic Veneta, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States have huge advantages over land powers in that they do not have to spend an inordinate amount of resources maintaining a standing army to guard their resource base from the predations of other land based powers. Semi maritime powers which had to defend a land border against aggressive Land powers have a disadvantage over island territories like the UK, since some percentage of resources still need to be applied to the defense of the land and not to the increase of maritime trade.

The other part of the thesis is maritime powers have more incentives to keep the social structures flexible, since a lot of wealth generation is tied to foreign trade rather than fixed investments in land or industrial machinery. The static hierarchical structures of feudal or aristocratic political systems is reinforced by the fixed sources of wealth (and reinforced by the need to maintain standing armies), while traders need to be quick on their feet, swift in their wits and ultimately can be supplanted by other traders who are smarter and faster than them. Since the people with power and wealth can change much faster in a merchant society, Maritime nations will tend (according to this thesis) to have more flexible and meritocratic political systems as well, hence the democratic and republican nature of most of these examples. Militarily, Maritime powers are inherently more flexible, since they are not constrained as much by geography. Land powers need to focus on likely invasion routes, while Maritime powers can send forces and resources wherever and whenever it suits them. Since Elizabethan times, the UK has generally chosen to send money and provide naval support in the form of disrupting the enemy's foreign trade, and only relatively small interventions of ground troops. The US has the only true ability to globally project power (bus given the continental scale of resources, can project power in a very massive way).

Thucydides said...

Cont:

The United States is a unique example, since while it is a Maritime Nation, it is also a Continental Power, perhaps the only one in history. America can access massive amounts of resources without resorting to external trade, but focuses a lot of its energy on expanding the internal markets for goods and services across the globe as well.

If this thesis is true, then in terms of PMF space operatic settings, there will be only a few "Superpowers" capable of acting as "Maritime" nations. Mercury has the potential to be one, given the access to massive energy and metal resources (a giant solar sail fleet would be quite evocative of the idea). Jupiter has massive resources in the form of 67 known moons and a giant magnetosphere which can be tapped for energy. Saturn has a similar "geography", and additional unique resources in the form of the hydrocarbons and nitrogen on Titan, and the possibility of easily harvesting antiprotons trapped in the planet's magnetic field. The last great "nation" might be Uranus, which has the gravity well and radiation environment to allow the relatively easy harvesting of 3He from the atmosphere.

The other planets and asteroids will generally fall into the orbit of the larger "great powers", for example Mercury could be at the hub of a "Solar Economy" stretching out to Mars (using lasers to beam energy to distant power targets), while deep space will be the domain of Uranus, with its ability to provide inexpensive fusion fuel in the form of 3He to clients out to the Oort cloud. The Jovians could choose to become insular, perhaps only being interested in their own system and the Jovian Trojan asteroids, or could become expansionist, seeking to dominate and control Saturn and the flow of traffic between the Solar Empire of Mercury and the Deep Space empire or Uranus.

For planets and moons which are not the hubs of these systems, they would become the "land" powers, with fewer opportunities to access the great wealth of Solar trade and possibly on the defensive against having asteroids and space debris dropped on them from space, developing more rigid social and economic systems (the analogy isn't exact, of course).

YMMV.

Michael Hutson said...

The relationship between land armies and political systems has been examined in depth for centuries: in general (allowing for caveats and special cases) citizen-soldiers= democracy while a professional military caste= authoritarianism. Less clear is the relationship between navies and political systems, and I'm glad to see here at least some consideration of the question. AFAIK, no government has ever been overthrown in a coup launched by its admiralty. But on the other hand how many pelagic nations have ever existed to give us examples one way or another?

Rick said...

@'Unknown Tony' ... I'm not sure I buy in to any serious distinction between maritime hegemony and maritime empire.

And I won't strain to make one. I focused on hegemony here because it seems to better fit the US global role than classic imperium does. And I'm not really trying to fasten the halo too tight, either. The Venetians pioneered a plantation system for sugar cane production in the Aegean that laid foundations for New World slavery. Closer to home, FDR famously said that Anastacio Somoza in Nicaragua 'may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch.'

Nor are the distinctions hard and fast. The Spartans were conspicuously hegemonists, not outright imperialists (at least beyond Messenia). They fought Athens to defend a Hellenic world order, not to conquer anyone.

All that said, maritime powers have a distinct lean toward hegemony and indirect rule. Victoria only became Empress of India because the Honorable East India Company, having moved into the vacuum left by the Moghuls, did a poor job of filling it. And the great African imperial land grab of the 1880s era was largely a matter of other European powers muscling in overtly on territories the Brits had previously been free to dominate indirectly.

And yes, hegemonists have often tacitly acknowledged spheres of influence. What is unusual is a US leadership that is eager to infuriate allies and blow kisses to a self-identified rival. But per my reply below to Eth's comment, there were precedents in Athens.

Rick said...

@Eth ...

Right-wing nationalists being against oversea influence/imperialism has precedents indeed. In the late XIXe Century for example, under the Third French Republic

Quite true. And also the Athenian oligarchic faction, which both disapproved of Athenian imperialism and specifically admired the Spartans. One of the interesting twists of history is that, via Socrates, this faction gave rise to Western philosophy.

This three-sides political model and their positions on imperialism/colonialism/hegemony may or may not be transferable to a Space Opera Republic.

Oh, absolutely it would transfer nicely! The Original Sin of trading powers is, roughly and to be sure simplistically, as follows:

Imagine a somewhat backwood-sy feudal society. It has lords and peasants, and of course the lords exploit the peasants, but the exploitation is pretty limited because there isn't really much to exploit. You can have the best cuts of meat and the nicest homespun, but you can only eat and wear so much. In fact, the lords display their lordliness largely by holding feasts and other 'big man' stuff.

Bilbo's birthday party is not so far off from this model. But then along come sea traders or star traders, with silks and jewels and sophisticated weapons and other cool but expensive stuff. Which they will sell to the lords in turn for grain or whatever.

And suddenly the lords have a real reason to turn the screws on the peasants. The potential objects of greed multiply, and those fancy weapons help in the screw turning ...

@Thucydides ... Jupiter has massive resources in the form of 67 known moons and a giant magnetosphere which can be tapped for energy.

Or, Jupiter could be like the Caribbean, fought over by everyone, if it cannot be unified regionally into one polity. There's a case that, apart from habitable planets, the 'natural' political unit is the individual hab or dome.

Fun fact: there were Venetians for centuries before there was a Venice. The Realtine island group was just one more little archipelago in the lagoons, and whatever town was there was less important than Torcello or Malamocco. These early local centers cancelled each other out, which is how the Venice we know came to be, well, Venice.

@Michael ...

Less clear is the relationship between navies and political systems, and I'm glad to see here at least some consideration of the question. AFAIK, no government has ever been overthrown in a coup launched by its admiralty.

Welcome to the discussion threads!

I vaguely think there may have been cases in Latin America, but in eras when coups were so common that eventually there'd be a couple of naval ones. But these are exceptions that prove the rule - navies have been notably more loyal than armies.

William H McNeill, in his history of Venice, gives a hilarious and plausible explanation: Quoting from memory, sailors going ashore after weeks at sea have other things on their minds than staging coups d'etat on behalf of their commanders.

Thucydides said...

There was a sort of case in Imperial Japan in the late 1920's and into the late 1930's where the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy were locked in a battle for control of the Imperial government.

The Imperial Army advocated for the invasion and annexation of China and Siberia to extract resources and gain closed markets for the Empire. This was supported by the relative closeness to Japan and the ability of the military to control the population ad resources. This faction was ascendant, until the Russians crushed the Japanese in the battle of Khalkhin Gol.

The Imperial Navy's argument was the "Southern Strategy", seizing the resources and manpower of the European Empires in French Indochina, Dutch Indonesia, the American and British possessions and ultimately India. Since the resources were already generally developed and readily available (unlike Siberia, which would have taken decades for the Japanese to develop), this strategy promised to provide Japan with far more resources far more quickly. (The idea that the local people would not be pleased to exchange one set of overlords for another set seems to have eluded the IJN leadership).

While neither the army or navy actually overthrew the civilian government (even during the war), they were effectively in control of the government right up until the surrender, which is about as close as I can think of an example of a Maritime power overtaken by the military (and especially the Navy).

Geoffrey S H said...

I imagine that empires may consist of slices of land on planets, as well as entire planets- it's hard to govern even a continent right now, so trying to administer a planet will be very difficult indeed.

Throw in the possibility that a planetary assault can only gain a continent or so before peace is declared (your armies are stopped at a particular parallel, or your space force can only take out one hemisphere's worth of defences).
Throw in the kind of political fragmenting predicted by Roger Hanson's 'Age of Em'.
Hell, throw in the possibility of secession of several planetary nations even after a planet has left an empire.

With all that, you've got the potential for a very balkanised solar system come independence day.

Rick said...

I was aware in a general way of the militarization of 1930s Japan, with minimal detail. But I get the impression that assassination was a major part of how the military cowed the nominal civilian government.

On balkanized planets ... yes, this is entirely possible, far below the serene starfleets. Which could end up causing enough disorder on some worlds that the hegemon has to get its hands dirty, or at least its feet, by dispatching large number of 'boots' to (try and) clean up the mess.

And speaking of balkanization, something I've been thinking of for this century. A revived Great Power / 'Diplomacy Board' system has become something of a trope, with half a dozen or so Great Powers.

But one interesting difference from the familiar model of Europe c 1900. In the Belle Epoque era (and in fact long before) the midrank powers had largely vanished, absorbed by the great powers. There were the three S's - Sweden and Spain on the periphery, and Switzerland in its mountains. And the Netherlands was independent and fairly rich, but could only keep a low profile (as in fact the S's also did).

But a near future to midfuture Earth has a such more spread out geography. For example, China must deal with not only India and Japan, but also Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. India has to be concerned with Indonesia and Pakistan. Brazil has to be concerned with Argentina and Chile. The US, in realpolitik, has to be concerned with Canada and Mexico.

All of which complicates the hell out of the Diplomacy board! And also offers a variety of openings and allies for potential maritime hegemons.

And if the US goes isolationist / into decline / whatever, who are prospective contenders for Neptune's throne? Japan? Big England? Who else?

Tony said...

Eth:

Amusingly, while a mostly two-sides political system for decades, a few months ago a wild Third Side suddenly appeared and won by a landslide, pulling the rug out from under the far right that was precisely trying to pull that off for years.

Viewed as purely a historical phenomenon, this, like Brexit, is a pretty predictable reaction to the political elites (on both sides) losing touch with the people. Yeah, I know, no absolute popular majority in the US general election. But look where the electoral map got flipped -- places where the elite program for globalism is really hurting voters. I'm not going to predict where things will end up, but I think it's an interesting comment on hegemony and market forces...

Tony said...

Michael Hutson:

The relationship between land armies and political systems has been examined in depth for centuries: in general (allowing for caveats and special cases) citizen-soldiers= democracy while a professional military caste= authoritarianism. Less clear is the relationship between navies and political systems, and I'm glad to see here at least some consideration of the question. AFAIK, no government has ever been overthrown in a coup launched by its admiralty. But on the other hand how many pelagic nations have ever existed to give us examples one way or another?

Well, not an institutional overthrow, but US empire in the Pacific was the handiwork of a political-military faction headed by navalist interests. This faction didn't take over the government outright, but it maneuvered, in every way that it could, within the government to leverage the results of the small, second-class US Navy, fighting the small, third class Spanish navy. This led more or less directly to a fundamental change of character in how the American nation as a whole viewed and handled its overseas interests. Once the US had this overseas empire, the navalists enlarged the accomplished fact into a perceived need for a large, world class navy. And then, a couple of decades later, the moment of US hegemony arrived, with the British Empire ceding a large portion of its naval responsibility for world order.

WRT citizen soldiers and democracy, I think the large conscript armies of the late Russian empire, and later the Soviet Union (and China as well) turns that bit of received wisdom on its head. Yes, authoritarian in the extreme, but possessed of popular -- in the purely technical sense of the word -- armies. Also, while the social status of the military officer was high in these regimes (still is in China), military professionalism not so much. Stalin, for example, perceived too much professionalism in the army as the seed of an opposing faction that might take away his power.

Tony said...

Continued:

The Republic that came out of the French Revolution created an interesting case of mass appeal to military service not previously known in France, but then evolved, with that army, into an empire. While this empire had lofty social ambitions, at its base it was a general sitting on a throne of bayonets, and we all know where that leads. Still, it was this general, in the waning years of the Empire, that still managed to appeal to popular patriotism to fill out an motivate his armies of conquest.

The German Empire is an interesting case. It was founded on a base of popular German nationalism, accelerated by the realization that a divided Germany gives lays you prostrate at the feet of French, Russian, and even Austrian imperialism. (Which makes Hitler including his native Austria in the Grossdeutsches Reich the perfect irony.) But as popular as the nationalism was, and even in the light of German imperial institutions being semi-democratic, the actual German armies were dynastic through the end of the First World War. (While they were all coordinated and equipped at the federal level, the German state armies fought the war, not a monolithic Imperial army.) And in this case, military (and naval) professionalism was a very highly esteemed virtue among the people as well as the officers.

And then there's the curious case of the US, which was founded on a theory of popular sovereignty, but which made naval and military professionalism a cardinal virtue among certain segments of the petit bourgeoisie. (Military, Naval, and Air Force Academy attendance is still very much a lower- and mid-middle class phenomenon to this day.) This professionalism, as distressing as it is to Jeffersonian pseudo-intellectuals, has served the nation and its hegemony very well.

So what am I saying here? That popular armies -- whether merely in size and manpower, or actually in political outlook of the soldiers -- are hardly the monopoly of republics. On the other hand, republics are well-advised to cultivate military professionalism and a professional officer class, in the interest of self-preservation and even hegemony.

Tony said...

Rick:

Nor are the distinctions hard and fast. The Spartans were conspicuously hegemonists, not outright imperialists (at least beyond Messenia). They fought Athens to defend a Hellenic world order, not to conquer anyone.

And that world order was particularly upset by the rowers of the triremes -- the Star Destroyers of the Athenian empire -- gaining more and more political influence in the Capital and it primary naval port of Piraeus. Not exactly a case of popular sovereignty, since most of the rowers couldn't vote. But they did exert influence through their inescapable service to the state, and the voice that gave them with those that could vote. Also, Pericles, Alcibiades, and the other demagogues exerted influence through populism aimed at non-voting but paid free men, at least as much as they targeted citizens. And then of course there was the civic and agricultural economy built on the backs of barbarian enslavement. (Where've we heard this before?) Not a very savory picture of democratic naval hegemony, is it?

All that said, maritime powers have a distinct lean toward hegemony and indirect rule. Victoria only became Empress of India because the Honorable East India Company, having moved into the vacuum left by the Moghuls, did a poor job of filling it. And the great African imperial land grab of the 1880s era was largely a matter of other European powers muscling in overtly on territories the Brits had previously been free to dominate indirectly.

Let's not forget Seeley's fit of absentmindedness. The Empire did fall into the laps of the British because they were navally everywhere, but they still had to take positive hold and make something out of it, both socially and administratively. I think the most fanatical Congress voter in India would admit to you, even if only in a private conversation and under his breath, that that was way better, in the long run. Imagine a British hegemony built on a "hands off", purely trading at the littoral periphery, policy.

The way the British hegemony cleared for other European empires is an interesting twist I hadn't considered before.

And yes, hegemonists have often tacitly acknowledged spheres of influence. What is unusual is a US leadership that is eager to infuriate allies and blow kisses to a self-identified rival.

I don't know much about blowing kisses at rivals, but if it's the Russians you're referring to, what exactly do we gain by antagonizing them? I know it seems like rampant schizophrenia in the Administration, where that power is concerned, but it's an old American diplomatic tradition that speaking softly goes hand in hand with carrying a big stick.

WRT the allies, a large portion of this particular batch deserves to be infuriated, IMO. Allies, after all, are only useful if they act in your own best interest as well as their's. If they don't they need to be told, not coddled out of misplaced fear of them getting huffy and stomping out of the room.

Tony said...

Rick:

A revived Great Power / 'Diplomacy Board' system has become something of a trope, with half a dozen or so Great Powers.

Jeepers, Rick...international power cartels? Next thing you know, you'll be singing songs to the laissez faire virtues of the Gilded Age...

Seriously, with the technological advantages that the powers of our age have (and have had, for at least 150 years) at their disposal, I think it's inevitable that the world gets divied up. The big story in the 21st Century, I think -- and which you allude to -- is how alliance factions* have taken the place of empires.

*Hehe -- just like massive, multiplayer games, be the first kid on your block to submit to the empire of your choice...

And if the US goes isolationist / into decline / whatever, who are prospective contenders for Neptune's throne? Japan? Big England? Who else?

Grrr...naval power is so expensive that it's hard to imagine anyone picking up the trident voluntarily after it has been cast down. Even Japan's commercial dominion fails to extend so far over the globe that it would see world sea power as worthwhile. I wouldn't predict anything specific, but it seems the model -- and it's only happened twice, so far, on the global level -- is some power becomes so big and so economically intertwined with some significant fraction of the whole world that it backs into the necessity.

Eth said...

And if the US goes isolationist / into decline / whatever, who are prospective contenders for Neptune's throne? Japan? Big England? Who else?

As Tony said, it is hard to imagine a single power taking the mantle at the moment.

Japan is slowly waning, and even if the current government wants to somewhat Make Japan Great Again, the days of Imperial Japan naval prowess won't come back.

China intends to become a major naval power, and will probably send its navy cruising around the world, if only because that's what major naval powers do. But they aren't that interested by the world, only by the region - which is already full of antagonised rivals who, while small, are for several developed or fast-developing, and ready to band together against their big pushy, impolite neighbour.

Russia has the will, tradition and technology to build a world-class navy, and by some regards they have one, but fixing the damage caused by post-Soviet collapse is still going to take a long time. The main problem, though, is that they simply can't afford a hegemony. Rebuilding a regional sphere of influence is hard as it is on their finances, and even then they have to spend more than anyone in what amounts to a coast guard, to secure their immense maritime borders.
If the financial situation greatly improves, though, they have everything needed to take on Neptune's throne. But that would probably require major political and financial changes, and would take decades, if it can happen at all.

England's navy and air force have been wasting away for many years now and ironically can't even control their skies and waters without US and French help. Despite some recent efforts to patch it, they probably condemned themselves to historical irrelevance anyway.

Eth said...

Europe's an interesting case. They have several first-rate navies, but nowhere near enough investment in those to make any sort of hegemonic fleet. Though now that the US are perceived as unreliable and ready to renounce their hegemony, there is suddenly an incentive to ramp up military spending, but there are several obstacles between them and hegemony.

First, they have to work together as a single entity. While cooperation (military or otherwise) is good in the EU, it has still more or less always been what prevented it for becoming a new superpower. The US has always been carefully using its influence to sabotage anything that looked like it (one example among many, the Galileo project), but now their influence, and potentially will to continue, is declining on Europe. Conversely, there is a new incentive to work together in an increasingly scary and unreliable world.

Second, they have to seriously ramp up naval (and general military) spending. For similar reasons as above, they are starting to, but it is improbable there will be a will to match anything close to the lavish spending of the Pentagon. Even accounting to the immense inefficiencies in said lavish spending, it is hard to imagine them to choose to put that kind of money in a hegemonic fleet, even though they may financially could.
Political will to meddle everywhere may also revive bad memories of colonialism, something many European polities are rather wary of.

Even worse, like Russia and its immense frontiers, Europe has big scary borders to keep: Russia in the north-east, several regional and a slew of small powers in the south-east and south, and a constant background of hotspots requiring attention in the region around.
And of course, this is assuming that the EU doesn't implode in the future. The Brexit infection seems to have been contained for now, but who knows for how long? Particularly as while US influence is waning, Russian influence is waxing, aiming at ending the EU, not just stunting its growth.
As was noted in previous comments, having to defend on land is rather bad for maritime hegemony.

In fact, the US hegemony could only emerge because the US have an unique combination of advantages: a gigantic developed, industrialised and politically unified nation, uncontested dominance of the region, access to two oceans. No-one else today has more than half of those.

Of course, this is for the next decades. Beyond that, so much can change that it's not possible to predict what could reasonably happen, things are changing too fast for that.

AlexT said...

@Nyrath
"heh AlexT, the term "rick" is from Rick Robinson's First Law of Space Combat which states An object impacting at 3 km/sec delivers kinetic energy equal to its mass in TNT."
Thanks for the link. I've been reading up RPM since the beginning, but I'm still at 2007. This blog and its comments would make a good book.

On topic:

Historically, maritime supremacy had 2 essential functions: homeland attack/defense and trade protection/destruction. Nowadays, the sea isn't the only way to transport lots of stuff so the navy exists primarily to defend the homeland and project power, whether via carrier air strikes, special forces operations or full-fledged invasions. So it would appear that, on Earth, the age of the merchant republics is at an end.

In space (which is very much like an ocean indeed, sorry) the trade part (both protection and disruption) would depend on how much space trade would be going on. I can see an economy where asteroids of various types provide various natural resources and Earth (and possibly other planetary colonies and large-scale space habitats) provide man- and brain-power. In this context, a group (space nation?) which specializes in ferrying things around has the makings to become the next Serenissima. Add competition; hilarity ensues.

Without trade, we're left with what we've got on Earth: polities enforcing their borders, controlling local space and occasionally attempting to control somebody else's. No merchant republics, no daring traders; only realpolitik and the makings of empires.

As a side note, I think humans will colonize space and (maybe) even some planets, but not because it's profitable (it probably won't be). Just like any colonization effort in history, it'll be driven by our unquestioned ability to hate our fellow man. In any case, once space settlement has gotten past a critical point, it'll be cheaper to mine resources and ship them down-well than to dig them out of someone's backyard. Especially if that someone isn't in the mood to share, and you've got a heavy-weight space industry idling away.

Thucydides said...

One other metaphor which might prove useful is the contest between the United States and China is like a fight between a Dragon and a Whale; each is supreme in its own element, but cannot reach the other.

China is not and realistically can never be a "maritime" power, since its access to the blue water is constrained by the First Island chain. Even if the Chinese were to make a heroic effort and build forces capable of pushing though the choke points of the First Island Chain, the fleet is then facing the "Second island Chain", which enemies can retreat to and still contest Chinese access to the open oceans.

While the Chinese are quite clever, and I suspect the "String of Pearls" port facilities is an attempt to overcome the strategic confinement (one can imagine China slowly staging its fleet in a pre crisis environment through the First and Second Island chains for the security of the String of Pearls), they will still be in the same position as Admiral von Spee at the start of WWI, isolated from their main bases (ironically in this discussion, they were stranded in China), and only capable of either sending raiding cruisers to disrupt shipping (see the SMS Emden) while slipping away via South America in an attempt to reach the safety of European waters. Once again, somewhat ironically given the previous post on Battlecruisers, the Far East Fleet sailed to destruction near the Falkland Islands by a British Battlecruiser squadron....

Geoffrey S H said...

"Nowadays, the sea isn't the only way to transport lots of stuff so the navy exists primarily to defend the homeland and project power, whether via carrier air strikes, special forces operations or full-fledged invasions. So it would appear that, on Earth, the age of the merchant republics is at an end."

So... aerial republics?

Generally I'm seeing the China v U.S/India as a re-run of the 18th century. Two very large powers square off in a theatre filled with other significant powers. If the U.S remains powerful (or India takes the reins) then there is thew potential for a long series of "conflicts" as both sides just grind at each other for decades.

R.E British and Japanese decline: There's evidence that Japan may be getting a hold on their stagnation and boosting productivity. Britain might MIGHT be getting a hold on a host of problems that have bedeviled it since the 70's (productivity, rising bills for tuition fees and the Health Service, military procurement). What's more, there is talk of more military cooperation between the two.

They ain't gonna be superpowers, but I'd see them as being like the Dutch in the early 18th century. Still there, still noticed from time to time. Seeing that Japan is sitting in the middle of a geopolitical hotspot, she certainly won't be irrelevant.

Hugh said...

The argument that maritime powers are generally more liberal was made by Peter Padfield in a series of books. I think I've rambled about it before on this site.

However, does communications technology change the way these hegemonies operate? Neither classical Athens nor the 17th C Dutch nor the British Empire for most of its early expansion had the telegram, let alone radio. The merchants might have had their freedoms because there was no alternative.

Did the British Empire change its style of government once the telegram made central direction more practical?

Asteroid mining libertarians are a common trope in near future science fiction, but does a solar system really offer enough distance?

Geoffrey S H said...

"The merchants might have had their freedoms because there was no alternative."

The British Empire didn't have radar either. Not knowing whether a ship had got to St Eustatius or not made enforcing mercantilism very difficult. Only when Waddell Cunningham and his friends made one slip-up too many (whilst the admiralty realised an intimidated witness had been telling the truth about looted-and-sold army stores) did the authorities crack down on the smuggling perpetuated by Anglo-Irish-American merchants. Even then, merchants still got through. During the Seven Years' War, good were exchanged as part of 'prisoner' exchanges. Ultimately, mercantilism was rolled up by the 1830s.

For Thomas Truxes, smuggling contributed a great deal to the rebellious atmosphere of New York and thus to the American Revolution.

Thucydides said...

In "A Step Farther Out" Jerry Pournelle asked the somewhat rhetorical question about how time and distance would affect space farming civilizations. Only inexpensive and effective space propulsion would make colonizing the asteroids and moons possible and worthwhile, so the question is "would Earth remain fat and happy from the profits of space industry, or would they use the same technology to send the bureaucrats and police to enforce their rules and regulations on the spacers?

I suspect that contrary to the libertarian strain of SF PMFs, the Earth would be very busy sending the bureaucrats and police, both to ensure they do indeed get the profits, tax revenues and fees from the asteroid miners, and also to ensure no one gets the bright idea to drop an asteroid on Earth.

I also suspect that while there would be a huge urge for people to disperse and escape from the confines of Earth to practice their own social, religious or economic ideas, the very powers that be on Earth wold do everything in their power to quash and frustrate these desires. Looking at the reaction to the Brexit or the nationalistic parties which have gained massively in voter popularity (or in Eastern Europe, achieved the status of governments) by the EUrocrats, you can see that any challenge to their power or the underlying ideas of the EU is met with derision, interference and outright hostility. I doubt this will end well for either party. The counterpart in the United States was the TEA Party movement. When their ideas were universally mocked and rejected (even by politicians specifically elected on TEA Party platforms and tickets), the counterreation led to the election of President Donald Trump. I doubt anyone who is opposing Trump has stopped to consider what the next stage would be if they actually were to succeed.....

So if the common means of getting around is high ISP/low thrust ion drives or something similar, there may well be time and space to develop separately and allow forms of classical liberalism to develop, but high thrust/high ISP drives mean the authorities will be right on top of you wherever you go.

Tony said...

AlexT:

Nowadays, the sea isn't the only way to transport lots of stuff...

If your quantifier is "lots", then the sea really is the only was to transport stuff. From Boeing's World Air Cargo Forecast: 2016-2017:

"In 2015, the world maritime industry carried an estimated total of 10.8 billion tonnes compared to 52.2 million tonnes for the air cargo industry."

That's a factor of about 200-1.

Now, a huge portion of sea transport is bulk commodities, not merchandise. But bulk commodities are things like food and fuel. I think nations dependent on those commodities might be willing to put a navy to sea to protect them.

Cityside said...


Interesting to see the Hansa mentioned. They're sort of the odd duck as far as historical analogies go, since they managed to be a maritime hegemony of sorts without technically being an independent polity (most member cities were "Free Imperial Cities, but still owed ultimate allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor - which wasn't such an empty title during the Hansa's heyday - and others were subject to the crowns of Sweden and Poland - or the Teutonic Order). I've often wondered the Hansa might have some parallels with the orbital station based "trade federation" that Rick's posited in the past - at least in its early stages. The various habs and stations are owned by assorted governments (and corporations) but begin to cooperate and share resources out of necessity, since the only other source of aid is at the bottom of a gravity well.

Tony said...

Hugh

Asteroid mining libertarians are a common trope in near future science fiction, but does a solar system really offer enough distance?

What the solar system offers plenty of is ways to kill yourself if you don't exercise exacting discipline on yourself and those around you. The plucky asteroid prospector with his trusty mule...I mean single-ship, is a a pure fantasy trope. Prospectors would be teams of three or four highly trained scientists and engineers, spacing from place to place in a well-equipped, corporate-sponsored mobile geological laboratory. Mining operations themselves would likewise be well-equipped corporate stations.

Free enterprise and social freedom would be deep inside the cocoon of the cores of the largest stations, where the airlock is too far away for a drunk to crawl to and get himself in trouble, and the population is large enough to support retail business with their small supply of hard-to-come-by spending money. Certainly the operating entities -- corporations and governments -- are not going to set aside a whole lot of freight space for retail merchandise. The first likely small businesses would be breweries and distilleries, but they would have to steal or con the calories out of the station life support economies. Of course, the corps and govs would allow alcohol consumption long before getting high on marijuana/cocaine/heroin, because at least alcohol contains calories, while plant-based drugs just use up light (which means energy) and hydroponic space without providing any calories.

Everywhere else -- in the small stations and on the working peripheries of the big ones -- the people in charge are going to insist on some hard rules with serious enforcement policies. And they would actually be trying to do the right thing in everybody's best interest. It's not like there would be enough spare energy for executives to have their own air, food, and water. If they want to eat, drink, and breath, everybody else has to as well.

Tony said...

Cityside:

I've often wondered the Hansa might have some parallels with the orbital station based "trade federation" that Rick's posited in the past - at least in its early stages. The various habs and stations are owned by assorted governments (and corporations) but begin to cooperate and share resources out of necessity, since the only other source of aid is at the bottom of a gravity well.

Well, mutual aid societies are not quite the same thing as mutual defense leagues. And, depending on your technical assumptions, it's entirely possible that bringing help up from the ground is the most economical or even the only solution. Remember, orbital stations are not likely to have inter-orbit spacecraft available to them. Everything they need is going to come up from the ground. Maybe there's something in once or twice, ever, somebody repurposing an interplanetary spacecraft, that just happens to be available and fueled, to send help to another station in orbit. Of course, even if it was the moral and ethical thing to do, the station manager that decided to do it, and the spacecraft commander, both, would be grounded forever after.

AlexT said...

@Geoffrey S H
"So... aerial republics?"
@Tony
"If your quantifier is "lots", then the sea really is the only was to transport stuff. From Boeing's World Air Cargo Forecast: 2016-2017: "In 2015, the world maritime industry carried an estimated total of 10.8 billion tonnes compared to 52.2 million tonnes for the air cargo industry." That's a factor of about 200-1."

I was referring to rail as a mass-transport alternative to maritime shipping. Its cost is comparable, it's more predictable and you can control the whole route in a way that isn't possible on the high seas.

I suspect more bulk cargo is carried by ship than by train, but that's mostly due to the insufficient rail connections between Eurasia and the Americas and the belt of political instability that separates China from Europe.

My point, which I wasn't being too clear about, was that maritime republics were founded on (and funded by) the overwhelming preponderance of maritime trade.

Enough Earth.

"What the solar system offers plenty of is ways to kill yourself if you don't exercise exacting discipline on yourself and those around you."
That's valid for any place on Earth where it gets cold in the winter. Survival in hostile conditions is a matter of technology - we're good at that. That said, I do think space will enforce the kind of pruning that we're working very hard to eliminate here on Earth. Fools will have a hard time breeding.

I see problems with the concept of corporation-owned space habitat. For one, corporations and their influence can only exist where a state exists to enforce laws and property rights. Emphasis on en-FORCE. I doubt Earth-side CEOs would have much say beyond Moon orbit. A large-scale space habitat of any kind (population in the thousands, families and children) will be a polity of its own, much like isolated island colonies. Maybe not formally independent, but certainly able to assert itself and control its fate.

"..where the airlock is too far away for a drunk to crawl to and get himself in trouble.."
Speaking of airlocks, I always envisioned space habitats as an agglomeration of small self-sufficient modules, rather than one giant air bubble. Maybe there'll be a few large parks and farms, even whole city blocks, but not much beyond that.

"It's not like there would be enough spare energy for executives to have their own air, food, and water. If they want to eat, drink, and breath, everybody else has to as well." Humans being what they are, I think the boss would always make sure that if trouble hits, his family dies last.

Tony said...

AlexT:

I was referring to rail as a mass-transport alternative to maritime shipping. Its cost is comparable, it's more predictable and you can control the whole route in a way that isn't possible on the high seas.

Not at all obvious and highly questionable in its premises. For large economies that depend on overseas trade, rail (read "pipelines, for bulk fluids) is a means of internal transportation, and often just the final mode in a multi-mode chain from the overseas producer/manufacturer. IOW, a lot of rail tonnage first got to the railhead (or pipeline terminal) on a ship. I really don't sea how powerful navies are any kind of passe or yesteryear form of power, where trade protection is concerned.

In fact, if we didn't trade with all these places overseas, why would we have an oceangoing navy to begin with? Power projection? Why? They can be let to go to h3ll in their own way, if what they do doesn't affect us. But it does affect us,either through our own trade or the trade of our trading partners. And that's why we -- and the British and the Japanese, and, let's face it, increasingly the Chinese -- have large oceangoing navies.

I suspect more bulk cargo is carried by ship than by train, but that's mostly due to the insufficient rail connections between Eurasia and the Americas and the belt of political instability that separates China from Europe.

Well, I've dealt with what rail is really good for, in most cases for large economies. But let's imagine a Silk Railroad between China and Europe. How many tracks, with how much rolling stock, do we suppose such an adventure would require? How does one secure an all year, warm weather route? It would have to go through a region that would would be contested for oil and gas, even if it wasn't contested over religion and culture. What are the requirements for inflow and outflow along the route? It could be done, but look at the nature of branch lines and alternate routes in well developed rail systems around the word. You're talking about a several tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of miles of track, tens of thousands of engines, who knows how many hundreds of thousands of wagons, all wedded to a rigid route system that much of the world's commerce would have to travel over.

And new capacity is hard to come by. One has to widen routes, usually with many expensive cuts and fills, then lay track, then put the rolling stock on it. Or you could just build a few more relatively standard ships, navigate them to ports of interest, and let existing -- or relatively easy to build -- local railways distribute into the interior.

My point, which I wasn't being too clear about, was that maritime republics were founded on (and funded by) the overwhelming preponderance of maritime trade.

Not seeing that going anywhere.

Tony said...

AlexT:

That's valid for any place on Earth where it gets cold in the winter.

You don't have to make your own air, and you usually live close enough to some place that does it better and more efficiently than you to get food. I live in one of those places. Though our cold season in Southern Utah is, in general, very mild for the latitude, I live up in the mountains, in a place not too many people lived before the late 1980s, when the local economy grew to the point that people were interested in the extra expense of 4WD vehicles (for the snow, not any other reason), the extra fuel cost (both in terms of vehicle efficiency and driving distance), and the higher cost of clothing, building construction, and other incidentals for the environment. IOW, even in a stick-built house, with a slightly more durable than standard vehicle, and with an extra layer of clothes, even in the 21st Century the economics of living out here on the lone prairie is all about a much larger integrated economic system.

More importantly, it is an economy in which the individual has a lot of backup. People live out here because they are big enough of a community to lave a local fire department. (Yes, volunteer, but still very expensive, and funded and regulated through a government-approved special service district.) If you want TV, you have satellite. (Or cable, but that came after satellite.) You have cable or satellite internet. We have three home improvement stores in town, plus several discount merchandise outlets. Tools or replacement parts that you need can be gotten at the end of a 20 minute car ride. There are enough good jobs in town to support the upper middle class lifestyle that it still takes to live out here. You could live up here without all of those things, but who would want to?

Survival in hostile conditions is a matter of technology - we're good at that.

Yes we are -- in highly integrated modern economies. See above.

That said, I do think space will enforce the kind of pruning that we're working very hard to eliminate here on Earth. Fools will have a hard time breeding.

Believe it or not, fools can live almost anywhere, if they're born there. You wouldn't throw the autistic kids out the airlock, would you? You'd find a way to protect them. And, for the first couple of centuries at least, there ain't gonna be any fool that goes into space just because he has a lot of money. Only qualified people will get to go. Even the foolish about self-preservation among them will be protected. At one point they even padlocked the lower deck hatch of the Space Shuttle, because it wasn't needed in space and it made it safer to take up non-right stuff mission specialists and political junketeers.

I see problems with the concept of corporation-owned space habitat. For one, corporations and their influence can only exist where a state exists to enforce laws and property rights. Emphasis on en-FORCE. I doubt Earth-side CEOs would have much say beyond Moon orbit.

Nonsense. If you need enforcement of the rules, there are plenty of qualified former soldiers, Marines, and SEALs (or their international equivalents) who would do the job just fine. It would be easier where there is no government anyway, because who are you going to complain to if a couple of tanks in human disguise knock heads to make people see reason the Boss's way? And who is going to complain in the first place, if those head knockers are fairly conscientious -- and, despite all stereotypes, most of them are, even if socially unconventional -- just trying to keep everyone safe from undisciplined lunacy?

In fact, people that have problems with discipline and doing things the company way would get weeded out during ground school, in just the same way that premium airlines like British Airways does with their cabin crew candidates.

Tony said...

AlexT:

A large-scale space habitat of any kind (population in the thousands, families and children) will be a polity of its own, much like isolated island colonies. Maybe not formally independent, but certainly able to assert itself and control its fate.

It would be the wholly owned property of whoever sponsored its construction, manning, and supply. And it would be run to a combination of industry practices an company rules. And that would be all there was to it, if everyone wanted to live and make some to take home and live in early retirement on Earth.

Speaking of airlocks, I always envisioned space habitats as an agglomeration of small self-sufficient modules, rather than one giant air bubble. Maybe there'll be a few large parks and farms, even whole city blocks, but not much beyond that.

I wouldn't expect parks. Farms would be closely guarded and highly regulated links in the station's life support economy. Not places for recreation. Like everything else in space, for a long time to come, stations, even the largest ones, will be places for work and not much else. Families, for example, would be accidental and probably shipped down as soon as the child or children could tolerate the trip.

Humans being what they are, I think the boss would always make sure that if trouble hits, his family dies last.

He won't have a family on the station any time in the next century or two. He'll have himself and a bunch of people expecting him to be a good leader, and go down himself if it's required. That's another thing bosses do.

Eth said...

It seems that the Chinese do try to open a new Silk Road
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belt_and_Road_Initiative

Which makes sense: the overwhelming majority of China's trade is maritime, with only a few percent being land-based. Trade-wise, China is an island. Which means that, as long as they don't have total control of the Island Chains, they are extremely vulnerable to maritime blockade from, say, the US Navy.
(Fortunately for them, the current US doctrine in case of conflict is more of a direct assault, which would probably go very poorly for US forces. But there is no guarantee it will last.)
Of course, despite their best efforts, it will take at best decades for them to have a navy that can beat the US beyond the Island Chains as well as increasing their land-based trade. But they do plan decades ahead on those matters.

Rick said...

Life would be much easier without a zillion comments to reply to. Of course it would also be much more boring.

The thing about this commenter community is that there is so much actual *discussion*, by no means a general rule online.

Briefly, on the current era dimension. I would like better relations with Russia, and on general principle this is surely possible. But after two US presidential administrations of 'looking into his soul' and 'reset', it is fairly clear that Putin has a very zero sum view of international relations, and regards the US as an antagonist to be cut down to size if at all possible.

And the only thing worse than having to deal with allies is not having any. Which provides a convenient segue to the broader discussion. Possibly the most important potential advantage for a would be maritime hegemon in a prospective world of great powers *and* substantial midrank powers is that the latter have an interest in a powerful if distant ally against the big kid on their bloc. Available ports of call are a handy thing for a global navy.

This was not generally the situation in Europe in the period 202-103 years ago, since the great powers were mostly directly adjacent to each other, and the remaining midrank powers kept as low a profile as possible.

On freight transportation, I believe that sea is a good deal cheaper per ton/mile than rail. Cargo ships have advantages of scale up to at least 100,000 tons; freight trains mostly top out at about 10,000 tons max. Ships only need much infrastructure at ports of call; rail needs it for the entire line, as well as dispatch control.

The Hansa was an interesting case of a 'trade federation' - and a notable contrast to the Venetians and Genoese, who were always at each other's throats. For that matter, the Holy Roman Empire was an institution that deserves more attention, even if it was 'neither Roman, nor holy, nor an empire.'

Some sort of league of midrank powers might be a potential alternative to a maritime hegemony. Tricky to bring off and hold together, but each partner has an interest in not getting *too* pushed around by the local great power, and they all have a shared interest in a world not divided into restrictive blocs.

a fight between a Dragon and a Whale

To be sure, the Pelopponesian War could have been described much the same way. But something much forgotten by the pop culture version of Ancient Guy Thucydides is that while Athens lost the big bout in 431-404 BCE, it revived pretty quickly, and was again a Hellenic great power by 380, give or take.

And when Philip of Macedon and then son Alex came along to eat everyone's lunch, the Athenians did put up a fight, while (IIRC), Sparta had already gone into a terminal fade, and wasn't really a power player any more. (If I've misremembered my history, I'm sure someone can send me a to-go order of crow.)

Rick said...

He won't have a family on the station any time in the next century or two.

In fairness all around, this is my fault. 'Maritime hegemonies' in space, or farming colonies, or any of those tropes, almost certainly lie beyond the Plausible Midfuture, even if the tech has mostly matured and is not fundamentally different from PMF tech.

As a loose comparison, speculation about American independence would have been entirely ... speculative ... for an Elizabethan, though a frigate of 1776 would be a recognizable and comprehensible tech.

If you need enforcement of the rules, there are plenty of qualified former soldiers, Marines, and SEALs (or their international equivalents) who would do the job just fine. It would be easier where there is no government anyway

No government? In this scenario, the corporate management IS the government. (My underlying grump about libertarianism is that it assumes a power vacuum won't be filled.)

Speaking of corporate worlds, see this post:
http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2010/07/corporate-worlds.html

By my own modest assertion, 'everything you need to know about them.'

The first likely small businesses would be breweries and distilleries

LOL - extremely plausible!. I'd only quibble that even inedible plants serve the oxygen cycle, and likely accepted in living spaces. Though, ahem, 'herb' would more likely be baked into brownies than smoked, which IS problematic.

(Fortunately for them, the current US doctrine in case of conflict is more of a direct assault, which would probably go very poorly for US forces. But there is no guarantee it will last.)

Since 1945, US hegemony has been so little challenged at sea that the main practical military use of sea power has been to project it ashore. Once a peer rival emerges, I imagine that the USN would shift toward a classic battle fleet posture. The historical relationship of navies to seafights is not obscure.

Tony said...

Rick:

No government? In this scenario, the corporate management IS the government. (My underlying grump about libertarianism is that it assumes a power vacuum won't be filled.)

Government is back in whatever international financial capital the home office is. The station management and their head knockers are contract performance monitors.

Thucydides said...

Sparta's terminal decline wasn't caused by the Athenians, oddly enough. They ran into a more determined "continental power" Thebes, which threw off the Spartan Hegemony in the post Pelopponesian War period and finally invaded Lacedaemonian and stripped the Helots away from the Spartans (even laying down the foundations of several fortified cities to allow them to fend off any possible Spartan reprisals). The other factor in Sparta's downfall was the Persians were no longer interested in subsidizing them after the Athenians were formally defeated. Athens could and did rebound quickly because they could access their overseas resource bases, while Sparta's internal economy was far more limited.

Phillip and Alexander III demonstrated the weakness of Maritime power on a coastal base, you always need to look out to the land side, and threats can come from both directions. This has played out through modern history as well; the Hanse, the United Provinces (the Netherlands), Sweden, the Serenìsima Republic Veneta and so on were either threatened or conquered from the land side, and a large proportion of their resources needed to be spent keeping an eye on the Continental powers ready to pounce on the accumulated wealth the Maritime powers were building. The other issue is that the coastal Maritime powers could "take their eye off the ball"; one factor in the decline of Venice is they started accumulating a large land empire of their own in Italy, and were consumed in the factional fighting between the various inland city states, rather than their traditional Maritime rivals (and then having to face the Ottoman Empire as well....)

Elizabethan England, being an island, was secure from the threat of invasion for the most part, and when the "Dragon" tried to get its feet wet (the Armada), things didn't go well for the Spanish. This pattern repeated itself to the present day, the last serious military invasion attempt was Operation Seelöwe, which was aborted as the Germans could not even control the English Channel, much less the seas.

History seems to demonstrate that non maritime powers have great difficulty in projecting power into the maritime region (especially against opposition), with few successful examples coming to mind. Even the Roman Empire is not a fair example, since they essentially conquered the entire shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea to make it a Roman lake.

The United States is unique in this regard, as a Continental power in itself, it certainly dominates North America, and has a resource and industrial base second to none. It is also the only power which fronts both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, giving it access to all the world's trade lanes, and the ability to project power in any direction. How this translates in Rocketpunk terms is more difficult, since naval analogies are not a good guide in the Space environment. Here everyone is essentially a Maritime power, but few have large and diversified resource bases. As well, what resources you need will change depending on where you actually are in the Solar System, people with the ice and volatiles have trade goods and a great position in the Solar Gravity well compared to (say) Mercury, which would probably be a huge energy and metal resource based economy. My own hand wave sees Mercury, Jupiter and Uranus as being the focal points of solar economic zones based on different resources and needs (and by extension these would be the "Great Powers" of the far future), but this isn't necessarily so, as Rick pointed out, Jupiter could also be a fragmented mess of 67 or more tiny polities fought over by other Great Powers. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

Rick said: "No government? In this scenario, the corporate management IS the government. (My underlying grump about libertarianism is that it assumes a power vacuum won't be filled.) " Libertarianism works best in a shirt-sleeve environment; The Dispossessed by (I think), Ursula LaGuin.
Anyway...If ion rockets are all the rage for a hundred years (give or take a few decades), it might be possible to develop some sort of maritime-like hegemony out around the fringe colonies and outposts of the moons of the outer worlds. Maybe the asteroid belt as well. One or two bigger outpost 'cities' send their little ion rockets out to the smaller places with booze and beer and what have you, turn a tidy profit. Maybe around Jupiter, whoever builds the better chemfuel rocket might win the prize. On Titan? if you have a bunch of competing outposts and a very long transit time from Earth...things could get interesting if one of them gets ambitious.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Thucydides:

...naval analogies are not a good guide in the Space environment.

I think at this point we can dismiss the above as pure dogma. It very much depends on your technological assumptions. At one extreme, constrained to a single solar system, but equipped with torch drives, space forces essentially become strategic air forces. Attack would be accomplished by kinetic bombers, while defense would be accomplished by defensive interceptors of some description. Taken to the other extreme, in an environment of interstellar empires where borders have practical meaning (e.g. FTL ain't really all that fast, or something else limits range) space forces come to resemble armies in densely populated fortified regions. Attackers can only advance in distinct bounds, form one defended system to the next, or at most enveloping one layer of the defense. Defenders can, on the other hand, limit damage by defending in depth, along successive lines.

In the vast middle, however, there's plenty of scope for a more naval character to space forces. Given the time and distance factors involved, there will probably be a need for long-endurance, versatile patrol cruisers, both at the system and interstellar level. There could also be a struggle between doctrines of point and fleet defense. Blockade might make sense if logistics can be made robust enough, at least in key operational zones. Concentrated battle fleets could have utility under a wide variety of circumstances. Returning to patrol cruisers, and devolving into system defense gunboats, economy of force would also have its purpose. It all seems pretty naval to me...

AlexT said...

@Rick
"No government? In this scenario, the corporate management IS the government. (My underlying grump about libertarianism is that it assumes a power vacuum won't be filled.)"
@Ferrell
"Libertarianism works best in a shirt-sleeve environment; The Dispossessed by (I think), Ursula LaGuin."

Then again, Heinlein..
But Rick's point still stands. In Harsh Mistress, the revolution couldn't have happened without the rogue AI supercomputer who is, in fact, the Moon's controlling entity in all but name. So, revolution with the aid of the de-facto civil service which conveniently disappears after victory is achieved. Instead of, you know, saying 'good job fighting, now bow before me or I let Earth enslave you all again'.
And in The Dispossessed, there are inklings throughout the book about how the colonists' Office of Personnel Management (or whatever it was called) was becoming ever more bureaucratic and dominant. I tend to think the book happens in the last stages of that planet's informal-government era.

"If ion rockets are all the rage for a hundred years (give or take a few decades)"
Personally, I think it'll be more than a century. Maybe a lot more. When self-sustaining fusion is achieved, fusion torches are still some time and lots of breakthroughs away. And I do wish they'd stop saying fusion power is 'just around the corner'..

@Tony
"constrained to a single solar system, but equipped with torch drives, space forces essentially become strategic air forces"
Correct me if my math is wrong, but assuming a super-duper torch ship that accelerates at 1g indefinitely, half a light-hour (rough distance to Mars) takes about 130 hours - over 5 days. And Mars is a neighbor, Saturn is much farther away. So, even with torch ships but without FTL, space travel time is on the scale of 19-th century ocean travel, not B-52 flights.

Tony said...

Correct me if my math is wrong, but assuming a super-duper torch ship that accelerates at 1g indefinitely, half a light-hour (rough distance to Mars) takes about 130 hours - over 5 days. And Mars is a neighbor, Saturn is much farther away. So, even with torch ships but without FTL, space travel time is on the scale of 19-th century ocean travel, not B-52 flights.

I was thinking strictly in terms of technology and tactics. Also, I didn't make it clear, but the strategic air forces I was making an analogy to were the ones employed by the Allies in 1944-45. They didn't patrol (much). They dispatched from bases, and proceeded directly to the target. After striking they returned to base. The defenders saw them coming and tried to intercept. With torch drive velocities and the kinetic energy available, plus the lack of stealth while under thrust, it seems to me that serious warfare (as opposed to minor raiding and insurgency) would take on the character of WW2 aerial strike operations. Spending days or weeks in the cockpit, instead of hours, would be a relatively minor detail.

Thucydides said...

@Tony
Naval analogies break down in the space environment because it is so different. your own analogy of bomber fleets vs fleets vs armies hows how much more fluid the environment is (especially when you consider that armies, air forces and fleets operate in entirely different environments, and take special coordination for interoperability between the environments.

Perhaps a better example of what I was thinking of is in the Space Warfare section of Atomic Rockets. We are a bit like the people in Victorian times trying to envision air combat by picturing battleships suspended under helicopter blades and flying around trying to "cross the T". Of course air combat is nothing like that. So while we may try to use analogies of earthly combat to try and predict space combat, the reality is going to be much different than we are imagining.

I am also reminded of reconstructions of galley warfare by historian John F. Guilmartin, which becomes much more complex when you start investigating everything like social and economic factors. Hapsburg galleys were quite different from Ottoman Galleys, which were different from Venetian galleys, even though to a modern eye, they would seem to be superficially quite similar. One quick example is the Venetian galleys were still manned by "volunteer" forces, which meant the rowing gangs were actually highly skilled and trained, capable of complex evolutions, while Hapsburg galleys were manned by rowing gangs of convicts and slaves, so far less able to do complex manoeuvres, so used more as troop carriers and artillery platforms in the fight. So our assumptions of how future space navies (or even wet ones, for that matter) will need to take lots of factors outside of just the physics of space travel (although that will still be the dominating factor).

Tony said...

Thucydides:

You entirely missed the point, even though I made it explicit -- non-naval conditions can be imagined at the extremes, but the vast middle has a naval-like time-distance character.

And that time-distance character governs the way to think about a lot of things. For example, galleys shooting at each other with cannon mounted in the bows or dreadnoughts shooting it out with broadsides at thousands of yards are both undeniably naval. The unifying factor is an environment where the combatants occupy distinct units, called ships, because the time-distance factors of the environment, caused by its hostility towards extended human occupation, make it advisable to have crews, in ships. For all of the environmental differences, space is still fundamentally just a hostile environment requiring crew, in ships.

Tony said...

Re: libertarianism

Libertarianism is a philosophy based on everyone thinking rationally according to a certain definition of "rational", with the added caveat that anybody who isn't thinking rationally can be deterred (in plain English, threatened enough, by enough people) to at least act rationally. It's rooted in the same fallacy that anarchism is -- that people, once liberated from tyrants, will never adopt tyrants again. That fallacy is founded on a non-evolutionary misunderstanding of human nature. Basically, it's a philosophy for angels, not people.

AlexT said...

@Thucydides
"our assumptions of how future space navies (or even wet ones, for that matter) will need to take lots of factors outside of just the physics of space travel (although that will still be the dominating factor)"
Yeah, we grok the physics and guesstimate technology, but the people involved - not so much. Still, this blog is one place where discussion tends to encompass more of the softer aspects, as it were, of space war.

@Tony
"Spending days or weeks in the cockpit, instead of hours, would be a relatively minor detail."

This got me thinking.. there's a threshold where a means of transportation becomes a home away from home. I doubt bomber crews thought of their plane in the same terms that a sea crew in the 1700s felt about their ship. Can't decide if it's due to the size, the time of travel, or rather the ship's apparent solidity and endurance, opposed to a contraption that will fall out of the sky ?

"Libertarianism is a philosophy based on everyone thinking rationally according to a certain definition of "rational" <...> it's a philosophy for angels, not people."
Nicely put. I strongly doubt that a space settlement could survive for any significant duration, without a competent central authority. Downbelow Station, anyone ? In any case, Wild-West SF does get one thing right: that authority won't have much to do with back home.

Hugh said...

Philosophies for angels have their place. Optimists need inspiration.

To me, "libertarianism in the asteroid belt" is just the current manifestation of the "getting away from it all" dream that is still common in the spinoffs of maritime hegemony, Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada. Even in the 18thC when Australia was still regarded as a dangerous wasteland, there were volunteer settlers as well as convicts.

I believe this will make space settlement happen, even if it's not economical. As Tony points out it will be most likely more corporate than libertarian (eg Cherryh "Heavy Time") but we'll go anyway.

This makes me wonder though, how do the Chinese and Indians think of space? Us westerners watch Star Trek, all about exploring the galaxy; and Star Wars, overthrowing the evil empire. What sort of hopes and dreams for the future do Chinese and Indian audiences like?

Tony said...

AlexT:

This got me thinking.. there's a threshold where a means of transportation becomes a home away from home. I doubt bomber crews thought of their plane in the same terms that a sea crew in the 1700s felt about their ship. Can't decide if it's due to the size, the time of travel, or rather the ship's apparent solidity and endurance, opposed to a contraption that will fall out of the sky ?

It's a sliding scale. Aircraft endurance is at the bottom of the "ship" barrel, but, at least through WW2, US pilots did refer to their aircraft as "ships". In the Classical age war galleys were generally hugged the coastlines, or made short island hops, beaching at night. They still maintained sea power. Even in the Renaissance galleys could not have been operated as homes for their crews, or at least not as humane ones. They were way too small, compared to crew size. In the commentary track on the Director's Cut DVD of Das Boot, Jürgen Prochnow, who played the u-boat's skipper, noted that the German Type VII submarine was really a weapon system that people could live in for a while, because they had to. When they got back to base, the crew cleared out and lived in barracks ashore, while the boat was being refurbished for its next mission.

On the other end of the scale, one sees various levels of habitability in oceangoing vessels that were definitely homes for the crews, at least while away from home port. Upper level officers always had much better accommodations. But crews could have anything from a blanket and spot on the deck of the forecastle (and the run of the passenger list not much better) to individual bunks and a decent sized locker or two in a modern vessel. But long into the age of the steel battleship, crews on even the largest warships still slept in hammocks.

I guess that's not a very definitive answer, but it gives you something to think about when considering whether some particular techno-social arrangement is "naval" or not.

Nicely put. I strongly doubt that a space settlement could survive for any significant duration, without a competent central authority. Downbelow Station, anyone ? In any case, Wild-West SF does get one thing right: that authority won't have much to do with back home.

Responsibility would be locally discharged, by explicit enforcement means if necessary. But a corporate settlement's bosses' source of authority would always be back on Earth, where the ultimate consequences would be located. Except for a very small (but growing, over decades or centuries) fraction of the population, everyone has to go home. If you want to have that nice benefits package when you get back, and all of the pay that wasn't disbursed to you during your contract, you had better behave.

Tony said...

Hugh:

Philosophies for angels have their place. Optimists need inspiration.

Man can and should do a lot of amazing things. But one thing He should never aspire to -- or even try -- is becoming Superman. I'm going to assume you know your 20th Century history, in at least broad outline. Do I need to say anything more?

..."getting away from it all" dream ...

I believe this will make space settlement happen, even if it's not economical. As Tony points out it will be most likely more corporate than libertarian (eg Cherryh "Heavy Time") but we'll go anyway.


If it's not economical, it won't happen. No dream is worth that much money. Even financing capable of fighting world wars wouldn't manage it.

This makes me wonder though, how do the Chinese and Indians think of space? Us westerners watch Star Trek, all about exploring the galaxy; and Star Wars, overthrowing the evil empire. What sort of hopes and dreams for the future do Chinese and Indian audiences like?

I think the Chinese and Indians like adventure fiction in space as much as anybody. But they have real problems here on the ground and, except for maybe a few people who can somehow get away with holding impractical ideas in their heads for more than a moment or two, space is a far distant future thing that may or may not happen. If it doesn't, then it wasn't that big a loss, compared to what would happen if hundreds of millions of people aren't lifted out of poverty this century.

Rick said...

Catching up belatedly to a reply that AlexT made on the previous thread, but deserves comment here, because part of the 'naval analogy' discussion does relate to nomenclature:

"more comfortable with 'frigate' than 'cruiser' ... because frigates have been around for so long"
Weren't frigates in the Age of Sail actually called cruisers ?


Yes. A line I happen to remember (almost the only thing I remember!) from Hawthorn's *The Scarlet Letter*:

a ship lay in the harbour; one of those questionable cruisers, frequent at that day, which, without being absolutely outlaws of the deep, yet roamed over its surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character

How can you not love 'questionable cruisers'?

To expand a bit, in the age of sail 'cruiser' did not mean a specific type or class of ship, but a mission or role, namely independent cruising. And as the quote suggests, with a whiff of piracy.

And, fun trivia fact, the classical sailing frigate, per HMS Surprise or USS Constitution, was only developed around 1750. Until that time, 'frigate' was also a fairly general term that included smaller two-deckers as well as ships with a single gundeck or 'demi batterie' ships in between. It must have been nearly synonymous with 'cruiser'.

Then the classical frigate appeared, and the word took on a much more definite meaning. Until a hundred years later, when ironclad frigates became the most powerful ships in a battle fleet.

The sudden ambiguity caused the word 'frigate' to fall out of contemporary naval usage entirely. It became frozen in the public mind with the romantic connotations of sailing frigates, while 'cruiser' became a specific ship type, fast and heavily gunned, even when intended to scout/screen for the battle fleet rather than independent cruising.

And then 'frigate' got revived last century. In the USN, when I was growing up in San Diego, frigates were larger than regular destroyers, similar to British 'leaders', while in most other navies they were smaller than destroyers. Until we adopted the international usage, and re-rated our former frigates as 'cruisers', though they operate primarily as heavy escorts.

The point of which is that there's a tension between mission names and type names, and between formal and popular uage. To me the word 'battlecruiser' has a specific connotation (with a whiff of Jutland). But to the vast majority of people who invent space battlecruisers, it probably just means Awesome, because why not?

Rick said...

@Tony (and Hugh) ... I think the Chinese and Indians like adventure fiction in space as much as anybody. But ... space is a far distant future thing that may or may not happen. If it doesn't, then it wasn't that big a loss

Surely also true for the vast majority in the Anglosphere (and general West) as well. As an illustration, I can't really think of any big space movies or TV shows since '2001' that were set in the plausible midfuture of interplanetary exploration and expansion. 'The Martian' is set in the near future, and all the Firefly/BSG type shows are in the far future, or far future-esque fantasy worlds.

Space colonization and such is very much a niche appeal, even if the niche includes a billionaire who can build his model railroad at 1:1 scale.

And, honestly, this blog as it has evolved is also not usually about the plausible midfuture, any more than it is about rocketpunk as such.

Anonymous said...

Rick:

As an illustration, I can't really think of any big space movies or TV shows since '2001' that were set in the plausible midfuture of interplanetary exploration and expansion.

Admittedly, it wasn't particularly big, even in Britain, but in the late 80s there was the BBC's Star Cops, about a small international police force solving crimes on Earth-orbiting space stations and the Moon, with a Mars base also being mentioned.

R.C.

Tony said...

Rick...

Re: Frigate (and, by extension, cruiser)

I agree that for the first couple of centuries of usage, "frigate" was a word describing any ship ship fit for a certain type of mission. But then in the late 18th century it became more a world describing a certain type of ship. More specifically, it seems to have been used to describe a ship with a single gun deck. (Though US heavy frigates were deck-and-a-half ships, with unusually heavy (24 lb, vice the more usual 18 lb) guns.) So it makes sense that the new armored ships were initially referred to as frigates, since they has a single gun deck. But even before that large shell guns were starting to make even wooden single deckers under steam the most dominant combatant type.

"Cruiser" as a term of art, has had the same kind of evolution. It initially described what a ship was doing, not what a ship necessarily was. But through the workings of technological evolution -- and much faster than the frigate -- the cruiser became a certain type of ship. It was less than a battleship, but much more than a torpedo boat or torpedo boat destroyer. It could be armored or protected, and later heavy or light, but it became a certain type of ship, not a certain type of mission.

Note that as things evolved in the US Navy, both cruisers and destroyers became escorts to large fleet aircraft carriers, and eventually converged in size. Ticonderoga class cruisers were built on lengthened Spruance class destroyer hulls, and displaced about 20% more. (In WW2 a US heavy cruiser displaced about 400-500% as much as a destroyer.) The difference had become specialization, with destroyers focused on anti-submarine warfare, while cruisers concentrated on anti-air warfare.

We have now gotten to the point where we no longer even build cruisers. We build destroyers (Arleigh Burke class) super destroyers (Zumwalt class, still nominally just "destroyer") and littoral combat ships, which seem to be a green water navy mission blown up into a whole combatant type. We no longer have frigates and destroyer escorts to protect commerce against enemy air and subs. Not sure why that is...it seems like the Navy changes it perceived mission and doctrine about as often as a supermodel changes clothes.

Tony said...

Rick...

Re: Where is my Plausible Mid-Future (PMF), and what have you done with it?

Lord, I wish I knew. I remember growing up with a space future that I could plausibly be involved in, in the near future. Then, well, maybe when I was an old man...if I played my cards right, and depending on the breaks, maybe I would settle on the Moon or Mars for a few years before I died. Now, it seems like something not even worth writing or reading about, it seems so unlikely.

Note that the same thing happened to artificial intelligence, over the same time period. In the 1950s, Minsky, Chomsky and the whole Boston AI research crowd thought they'd get human intelligence machines by the 1970s. With each decade, the culmination seemed another two decades off. Now, people like Kurzweil and his ilk are not only considered kooks for predicting artificial intelligence within decades, but their dream is considered dangerous for mankind.

The same technical and sociological process happened with fusion power. (But without the endangerment of all mankind attached, unless you want to count fusion bombs.)

It seems to me that the core PMF technologies just never happened, with the precursor technologies (chemical rockets, computers, fission power) ceasing evolution and maturing at a much lower level of utility than was ever expected of them. I think there's your answer -- the PMF didn't happen, and one has to invoke techno-magic to get to the step beyond that, where we fly to the stars, fight real dragons (or Bugs), and are just generally cooler kids overall. Which is why I don't begrudge certain kinds of magic in my SF, but also don't like seeing them invoked in anything like a future foreseeable from 2017. I'm more interested in stuff happening far enough in the future where how we got there is ancient -- and unnecessary to recount -- history. The technology just is, and doesn't have to be justified by anything more than authorial fiat. You know, much like an author today would just assume the existence of personal motor vehicles and passenger aircraft, without having to tell the reader why they existed, or even much about what they did.

G said...

"And, honestly, this blog as it has evolved is also not usually about the plausible midfuture, any more than it is about rocketpunk as such. "

"I'm more interested in stuff happening far enough in the future where how we got there is ancient -- and unnecessary to recount -- history. "

After 7 years reading this blog I've pretty much set all space travel in any setting I write as beginning 500 years from now. Some minor drone stuff in the 23rd century, but otherwise no real progression. Even then I have it starting in the 26th c simply because I want a setting that has some relatability. Settings a million years from now would be extremely hard given that I'm trying to create a detailed timeline.

That being said, I think there is a niche for a story about space travel starting in 1 million Ad or whatever. Might a loss of resources eventually drive human expansion? Barring a voluntary extinction or a catastrophe, I think it unlikely that humans would ignore space forever. If there is a clear need to go, sitting around and doing nothing as your resources dwindle and civilisation crumbles would seem rather silly.


Oh, and Rick? I have a rocketpunk style setting sitting on the back burner. Not sure if I'll ever make progress, but it is at least there.

Jon Brase said...

@Rick:
Briefly, on the current era dimension. I would like better relations with Russia, and on general principle this is surely possible. But after two US presidential administrations of 'looking into his soul' and 'reset', it is fairly clear that Putin has a very zero sum view of international relations, and regards the US as an antagonist to be cut down to size if at all possible.

What I've heard a Russian say on the subject is that the Cold War never really ended for the Russians. We saw hostile governments across the Warsaw Pact collapse and be replaced by friendlier ones, saw that the threat Russia posed to the West was gone, and figured we could take it easy. The Russians saw all their allies collapse and turn into enemies, they saw Germany get reunited under a government hostile to them, and then their own government and economy were replaced with democracy and capitalism, and it sucked just as bad as the Soviet Propagandists had told them it would, because Russia has never done democracy or capitalism before and doesn't know how to make it work. In particular, I suspect that part of the issue is that the ideology that drove American economic success has been calling itself "capitalism" for decades, but isn't the ideology that Marx was thinking of when he coined the term "capitalism" (which is more what we'd call "mercantilism"). In any case, when Russia tried implementing capitalism in the 90's, they got a bunch of rich mercantilist / crony capitalist tycoons that screwed the country over. And worse, not only did their former allies become western democracies, they also started joining the EU and Nato, to the point where three former member states of the USSR, two of them right on the current Russian border, are members of NATO (Estonia).

Considering that, in WWII, the Soviets started in Poland and were pushed back nearly all the way to Moscow (and were pushed back all the way to Stalingrad in the south), it's not surprising that the Russians would be very nervous about this situation, and that they would take any opportunity possible to do damage to the US (given that they see NATO primarily as an instrument of US hegemony).

Now, that said, Eastern Europe has been part of Russia before, and is not interested in being part of Russia again. We've betrayed to the Russians before, and should not do it again.

Probably the best solution would be to offer NATO membership to any Eastern European country that wants to join, but for the US and Canada to leave (so that NATO becomes ETO).

AlexT said...

@Jon Brase
"The Russians saw all their allies collapse and turn into enemies.."

One quibble: replace 'allies' with 'satellite dictatorships maintained by the threat of military invasion'. Alliance implies a certain degree of choice; NATO is an alliance; the USSR (or whatever it chooses to call itself) haven't been and have little hope to become one.

@Tony
"We have now gotten to the point where we no longer even build cruisers. We build destroyers (Arleigh Burke class) super destroyers (Zumwalt class, still nominally just "destroyer") and littoral combat ships, which seem to be a green water navy mission blown up into a whole combatant type. We no longer have frigates and destroyer escorts to protect commerce against enemy air and subs. Not sure why that is..."

The 'destroyer' name is indeed overused. They seem like very flexible ships, capable both anti-submarine and anti-air. But it'll take a shooting war to prove whether the US Navy has the right idea.

The problem is, an actual shooting war between great powers would be fought with kid gloves to avoid nuclear escalation. Total war on Earth has never been less likely (I know, just like a century ago..); but if it does happen, God forbid, it'll be fought with ICBMs, not commerce raiders.

Re: Where is my PMF ?

There's an orbital vehicle whose booster rocket lands back on its tail. Made and flown by a
private company. There's hope yet.

Eth said...

And there are plans for a permanent international base on the Moon in the next decades.
And Europe is buying space shuttles from a private company.
And some people are still serious enough about mining asteroids that multiple nations are writing laws about it.

There is some hope indeed.


(And if things go as they should, I'm buying myself a honest-to-goodness folding helipack in a few years. I don't care if that particular technology is better used as an actual lightweight-category helicopter, I want my helipack. Much more handy than jetpack/rocketpack anyway.)

Rick said...

A little belated catch up on militaries in general. The last few hundred years have not been kind to a couple of time honored ideas. For one, that mass infantry armies correlate to a broadly democratic society; and for another, that a citizen militia is an effective defender of liberty against threats domestic and foreign.

The emergence of professional armies since c 1700 has put paid to both propositions. It turns out that conscripts can be trained to fight pretty reliably for not only 'populist' authoritarian regimes, but old fashioned autocracies Austria Hungary. (Which was not only much better than most of what took its place, but so far as I can tell only went down when the Central Powers were decisively waxed.)

As for militia, even at the time of the American Revolution they were almost always rolled over whenever they went up against regulars - which after all is basically the reason why George Washington drilled his motley colonial militia into the Continental Line.

For me, military professionalism is slightly hard to define, though I know it when I see it. Two basic prerequisites seem to be a) a bureaucratic structure that gives it institutional cohesion and durability, and b) a tacit understanding, in the officer corps and noncoms, that training and preparation are real things. So that, if it actually has to fight, it has some option besides 'when in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.'

Rick said...

@Tony ... On nomenclature, the formal definition of a classical frigate, so far as there could be such a thing, was a ship with one complete gundeck, plus guns on forecastle and quarterdeck. But Howard I Chapelle, in one of his books, has the amusing comment that some famous frigate was 'not truly a frigate at all' because it had no forecastle guns.

The real point being that there is leakage back and forth between mission definitions and configuration definitions - and also political factors. I've read that one reason the jumbo destroyer types were re-rated as cruisers in the 1970s was that the Russians had cruisers, so it was felt the USN should have them too.

And in the other direction, European countries classed (smallish) aircraft carriers as 'cruisers' because it was easier to get them approved that way. Likewise, at one point a hundred years ago, Congress was more willing to approve battlecruisers than battleships because somehow they sounded less militaristic.

On an unrelated nomenclature note, I was amused to see a 'Murrican refer to railroad freight cars as 'wagons', in perfectly British railway usage.

Rick said...

Regarding the whole space navy thing -

@Tony ... You entirely missed the point, even though I made it explicit

Not as explicit as it might seem - because it depends on a host of implicit assumptions. Which may be correct assumptions, but still need to be teased out into the open.

After all, space warfare is now a serious topic for defense planners, not just for geeks like us. But the kind of space warfare they think about is not 'naval' at all, except to the degree that surface to space weapons like ASATs can be launched from big gray boats. Arguably a special case, 'at the edges,' but it is hard to dismiss when it is the only real world case we have to deal with!

To step back and generalize, so far as individual vehicles are concerned it is indeed all about time and distance scale. Really just time scale; not how many miles/AU/light years you are going, but how long to get there. If it is longer than a day or so you need a bunk/berth, not just an airline style seat. Longer than a couple of days and you need a galley and such as well.

In an STL Solar System setting, this does indeed favor vehicles that feel like ships. With 'realistic' milligee ion drives, travel times are months to a year or more. Torch drives bring it down to days to weeks, but still a 'ship' time scale.

But with FTL, it all depends on your FTL assumption. It is popular convention - but purely convention - to make interstellar travel time also on ship scale, days to months.

If however you can make an FTL jump just beyond the atmosphere (and don't spend much/any time in jumpspace), travel would be more like air travel. Warcraft for offensive action might then be bomber-like, which could also imply a role for fighter bombers and even maybe straight fighters.

And if you have ground level stargates, both naval and air force analogies go right out the window!

A somewhat different set of considerations apply on the strategic level. As you note, Solar System warfare could resemble WW II bomber raids, even if the forces are weeks en route, while (with suitable FTL) star empires might have meaningful frontiers.

And if you have 'anywhere to anywhere' FTL - even if longish normal space travel is required in the departure and arrival systems, to and from jump points - all the naval tropes associated with trade routes become doubtful. Neither a concentrated battlefleet nor dispersed cruisers really work in that setting.

Finally, with demi-realistic normal space drives, there are considerations of propellant load and Newtonian motion that could make hostile encounters so unlike any historical form of sea battle that naval analogies may not be a helpful guide to what would happen.

Having said all that, I certainly share the tendency to default to a naval analogy. So you might regard all my strictures on that point as essentially notes of caution to myself that things might not really play out that way.

Rick said...

@Tony ... the same thing happened to artificial intelligence, over the same time period. In the 1950s, Minsky, Chomsky and the whole Boston AI research crowd thought they'd get human intelligence machines by the 1970s. With each decade, the culmination seemed another two decades off

On one level, AI seems very hot just now, with self driving cars reportedly pending, and talk about how within a decade or so the work economy could be totally disrupted. On the other hand, the sort of AI being discussed is not something you could really talk to, like HAL 9000 or a classic Asimovian robot, let alone bring on the Singularity.

So I seem overdue for another front page discussion of AI here, don't I?

AlexT said...

@Rick
"The last few hundred years have not been kind to a couple of time honored ideas. For one, that mass infantry armies correlate to a broadly democratic society; and for another, that a citizen militia is an effective defender of liberty against threats domestic and foreign. The emergence of professional armies since c 1700 has put paid to both propositions."

No arguing your point about militia - pros vs amateurs is no contest at all.

I was under the impression that pre-modern professional armies weren't quite 'mass' until the French Revolution, in France. The next time 'citizens in arms' happened en-masse was WW1. And it could be argued that it was then that the modern one-man-one-vote democracy really took hold in Europe.

Well, in any case, here's to helipacks.

Rick said...

On the PMF -

@Tony ... Where is my Plausible Mid-Future (PMF), and what have you done with it?

+10

I have pushed it safely into the past, where no one can tamper with it!

@RC ... the BBC's Star Cops, about a small international police force solving crimes on Earth-orbiting space stations and the Moon

A pretty good idea, since law enforcement (and crimes or investigative issues distinctive to the space environment) would reasonably emerge as an issue, suitable for Romance, long before stuff like interplanetary wars would be feasible.

Sadly it is also an exception that proves the rule - not very well known, and dating back to the 80s. Not a big trope generator.

@Tony ... the core PMF technologies just never happened, with the precursor technologies (chemical rockets, computers, fission power) ceasing evolution and maturing at a much lower level of utility than was ever expected of them

This.

the PMF didn't happen, and one has to invoke techno-magic to get to the step beyond that, where we fly to the stars, fight real dragons (or Bugs), and are just generally cooler kids overall

LOL ... even if the overall point is a buzz killer. Here is how I described 'rocketpunk' at SFConsim-l, shortly before starting this blog:

Rocketpunk has its hands on a technology that actually works (rockets,
after all ...), and simply assumes that human spaceflight will be only
slightly more demanding than the B-47 Stratojet.


That last part is what turned out to be the kicker. We could build a two stage to orbit fully reusable shuttle. The problem is that it would cost tens of billions to develop, and still would need to be shown so much love in operation that it would struggle to compete with expendables.

My hat is off to Elon Musk for what he has accomplished, but what I have seen of his Mars proposal is still sheer, unadulterated vaporware. Some would use a more bovine term. As a business proposition, SpaceX only needs to beat LockMart, and he may well achieve that. But orbit lift has to come down by *two orders of magnitude*, AKA a factor of 100, to get anything like the rocketpunk vision of widespread space travel.

The fundamental alternative is to accept that our space adventures are really a branch of fantasy anyway, and embrace the magic.

The problem, or at least challenge, for me is that I don't really *like* magic as such. My ideal retro-fantasy world - as embodied in Catherine of Lyonesse - has flashing swords and battling galleasses, but no hocus pocus spells or similar junk.

So my tendency is to swallow FTL as a regrettable necessity, but otherwise stick to a PMF-ish tech, where spaceships look and move like spaceships, dammit, not some Hollywood graphic artist's fever dream.

Rick said...

@AlexT ... that pre-modern professional armies weren't quite 'mass' until the French Revolution

True. But I'd guess that even 16th-18th c infantry armies had a sort of proto-mass element, being (mostly) raised from commoner subjects, not feudal retainers on one hand or mercs on the other. The fact that Louis XIV defeated the Fronde could be a hint, but I might be entirely wrong about this.

Also true about WW I and the universal franchise. The dark side of the role of the mass army is that its spread also saw the rise of 'blood and soil' nationalism, which is the only thing in the world that really scares me. Climate change has technical responses, for which enlightened self interest can be sufficient. 'Blood and soil' nationalism, not so much.

Geoffrey S H said...

"The problem, or at least challenge, for me is that I don't really *like* magic as such. My ideal retro-fantasy world - as embodied in Catherine of Lyonesse - has flashing swords and battling galleasses, but no hocus pocus spells or similar junk.

So my tendency is to swallow FTL as a regrettable necessity, but otherwise stick to a PMF-ish tech, where spaceships look and move like spaceships, dammit, not some Hollywood graphic artist's fever dream."

This. I find jedi boring. Stormtroopers and X-Wings are more interesting. Their more realistic equivalents are even better.

For myself, my rocketpunk setting tries to combine 1940s-80s technology/aesthetics with a timeline and social attitudes that tries to mimic the dark ages up to the 18th century. Probably doomed to faliure, but we'll see.

Tony said...

AlexT:

The problem is, an actual shooting war between great powers would be fought with kid gloves to avoid nuclear escalation. Total war on Earth has never been less likely (I know, just like a century ago..); but if it does happen, God forbid, it'll be fought with ICBMs, not commerce raiders.

We were certainly playing for the conventional war in Europe for a while at the end of the Cold War. Don't think restraint would have held out in the end. On the other hand, if we went to fist city with the Chinese, they might use nukes against our carrier task groups out at sea, and dare us to retaliate against an equivalent Chinese naval target. Such targets being land bases in or near large industrial cities, it seems like they might have us over an ethical barrel.

There's an orbital vehicle whose booster rocket lands back on its tail. Made and flown by a
private company. There's hope yet.


Okay, this isn't personal, but you're perpetuating a particularly pernicious piece of false knowledge here. Our rockets have always been made, and largely flown, by civilian corporations. They've all been developed with government investment. Yes, even SpaceX's. How do you undercut everybody else on launch costs? You amortize your "private" developments costs over a dozen government missions at $250M apiece, that's how.

Tony said...

Rick:

A little belated catch up on militaries in general. The last few hundred years have not been kind to a couple of time honored ideas. For one, that mass infantry armies correlate to a broadly democratic society; and for another, that a citizen militia is an effective defender of liberty against threats domestic and foreign.

Mass politics has been identified as a military revolution in its own right. It turned out that small professional armies, used to fighting largely indecisive "cabinet" wars, could be overwhelmed by poorly trained and equipped, but excellently motivated citizen armies. After the Napoleonic period, mas politics pretty much defined the nature of warfare, except, oddly enough, for the revolutions of 1848, which proved that one had to be more than just a rabble to win.

But the nature of the mass politics doesn't much seem to matter, loyalty to dynastic empires, socioeconomic ideals, and nationalism have all motivated mass armies of some pretty unsavory states. In the case of the Confederacy in our Civil War, a socioeconomic ideal managed to get 80% of the free men in a slave-based economy to fight at one point or another in four years. I think the Classical Greeks -- not all democrats, by a mile -- would have tipped their hats.

It turns out that conscripts can be trained to fight pretty reliably for not only 'populist' authoritarian regimes, but old fashioned autocracies Austria Hungary.

A moderately well-known factoid -- the Confederacy instituted conscription first, and was probably more strict about it.

As for militia, even at the time of the American Revolution they were almost always rolled over whenever they went up against regulars - which after all is basically the reason why George Washington drilled his motley colonial militia into the Continental Line.

And that's why the Revolutionary government in France insisted on building regular armies, even if composed of masses of patriotic volunteers.

For me, military professionalism is slightly hard to define, though I know it when I see it. Two basic prerequisites seem to be a) a bureaucratic structure that gives it institutional cohesion and durability, and b) a tacit understanding, in the officer corps and noncoms, that training and preparation are real things. So that, if it actually has to fight, it has some option besides 'when in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.'

Personal report from the front lines. In 10 years in the US Marine Corps, the one thing that I was never in doubt of was that Marines, as an institution, would win wars. Some individuals might fall. Maybe even some missions might not be carried out 100%. But there was never a doubt in my military mind that, as a team, we were ready and we were better. And not because we thought we were all that bad-@ss. It was just taken as a proven fact of life that we trained right, we trained hard, and the bad guys did neither.

Tony said...

Rick:

The real point being that there is leakage back and forth between mission definitions and configuration definitions - and also political factors. I've read that one reason the jumbo destroyer types were re-rated as cruisers in the 1970s was that the Russians had cruisers, so it was felt the USN should have them too.

The US was always building cruisers up until recently. What may be true is that the Soviets were building a large number of cruisers, and it made a kind of political sense to reclassify large guided missile destroyers as cruisers, to keep the numbers looking good. Given some of those ships' armament, it wasn't all that far off anyway.

WRT the armored frigates of the 19th Century, they displaced as much as a two or three decker and were just as long. (Though not as beamy, because they were designed for 12-14 knots under steam, which required a finer hull.) But all of that weight went into waterline armor and an armored box, usually on a single deck, for the main armament. A single deck says "frigate".

And in the other direction, European countries classed (smallish) aircraft carriers as 'cruisers' because it was easier to get them approved that way. Likewise, at one point a hundred years ago, Congress was more willing to approve battlecruisers than battleships because somehow they sounded less militaristic.

The original Lexington and Saratoga, when converted from those battlecruisers to aircraft carriers, had 8 x 8-inch guns on the starboard side of the flight deck. (Basically a heavy cruiser outfit.) The Japanese Kaga and Akagi also had 8-inch guns, though distributed somewhat differently. The idea in both navies was that in the 1920s, when these ships were being built, nobody assumed that carriers could protect themselves with their won aircraft, especially at night or in bad weather. But carriers were, up until the mid-30s at least, thought of as scouting platforms, meaning that they would be out in front and could run into enemy cruisers. So therefore the cruiser armament.

On an unrelated nomenclature note, I was amused to see a 'Murrican refer to railroad freight cars as 'wagons', in perfectly British railway usage.

You're welcome, I think...

Tony said...

Rick:

True. But I'd guess that even 16th-18th c infantry armies had a sort of proto-mass element, being (mostly) raised from commoner subjects, not feudal retainers on one hand or mercs on the other. The fact that Louis XIV defeated the Fronde could be a hint, but I might be entirely wrong about this.

They were kind of a royal reaction to the military aristocracy. When you could borrow money -- and then effectively taxt to meet the debt service -- hired armies were just easier to deal with. I do find it kind of ironic that after having their castles cannoned down by the king, they nobles allowed themselves to be co-opted into the officer class of the new armies. Any port in a storm, hey?

Also true about WW I and the universal franchise. The dark side of the role of the mass army is that its spread also saw the rise of 'blood and soil' nationalism, which is the only thing in the world that really scares me. Climate change has technical responses, for which enlightened self interest can be sufficient. 'Blood and soil' nationalism, not so much.

I would place ideology above any other threat.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

I find jedi boring. Stormtroopers and X-Wings are more interesting. Their more realistic equivalents are even better.

I just take Star Wars as high adventure and don't try to make any more of it than that.

Funny thing,,,for lack of anything better to do, I re-read the first chapter of Starship Troopers while eating dinner tonight at our local mongolian. Ignoring the politics, and even the technomagic of the MI combat suits, it still stands up pretty well as military fiction of a distinctly WW2 flavor. An I think that's an interesting comment on a skilled craftsman -- well, in this case, polemicist -- using well understood (at the time of writine) genre conventions so that scene setting doesn't detract from his rhetorical purpose. Also, an I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating, Heinlein got really, really, really good advice on the nature of infantry combat in the technological age. When I first read the Battle of Klendathu passage, I knew it was true on a deep level, even though I was only 12 and had some really boneheaded ideas about the services and combat. Ten years of military service and some (very slight) combat experience of my own just confirm me in that impression. When Rico gets back up to the transport and is in so much shock he can't even remember his serial number, one just has to say to himself, yeah, I get it, bro...I really do.

Thucydides said...

Go away for a week and look what happens!

Circling back to the entire issue of Maritime powers vs Continental powers, one thing that strikes me is that Maritime powers generally have far more power (hard and soft) than their Continental counterparts relative to their size. Athens certainly had the wherewithal to take on the Persian Empire, Sparta and her Allies and even continue fighting the Peloponnesian War for almost a decade after losing the flower of their army and fleet own the disastrous Sicilian campaign. Looking at other contests such as Elizabethan England vs Hapsburg Spain, or Venice vs the Ottoman Empire, it would seem that the manpower and financial resources of the Continental powers would allow them to simply roll over the opposition. Yet it took either long, grinding campaigns to defeat the enemy, or the Continental powers came home empty handed.

Maritime power vs Maritime power is a bit harder to quantify. Imperial Japan vs the United States was always a lopsided contest, even at the beginning, the US had a steel output (a common metric of industrial power at the time) something like 8-10X that of Imperial Japan. Logistically the Japanese never had a chance and Admiral Yamamoto was well aware of this, suggesting that the Japanese would only have the upper hand for 6 moths to a year. Britain vs the USA is also a bit of a difficult one, the Revolutionary wars and the War of 1812 took place while Britain was either recovering from or engaged in large scale wars in Europe. I suspect that iif Britain had nor distractions or competing demands on her plate, things would have turned out quite differently. OTOH, had the US ever activated War Plan Red or Crimson (the war against the British Empire or the Invasion of Canada, respectively), the gigantic American logistical advantage in being a Continental power as well as a Maritime power would have decisively tilted the balance for the US.

Thucydides said...

Rocketpunk as such was overtaken by the unanticipated speed of solid state computing. Programs like RoBo (Rocket Bomber) were embarked upon because in the 1950's no one thought that a nuclear bomb could be delivered accurately from space without a human pilot doing the aiming. I believe the projected in service date for squadrons of rocket bombers was the early 1970's. Arthur C Clarke also thought about the peaceful uses of space, and his proposed geosynchronous satellites would include crews of technical staff to change vacuum tubes to keep the telecommunications relays functioning.

Had we been stuck with vacuum tubes, electromechanical relays or even mechanical calculators and computers, there would be no reason not to go into space, but the need for human crews and technical staff on board would have been the driving factor behind every space program or mission. Von Braun wrote Das Marsprojekt around a fleet of spacecraft and a crew of @ 70 men for precisely that reason. Of course that ended up going on the shelf, as solid state computers allowed spacecraft to carry out missions autonomously (think of the USAF's MOL vs unmanned "spy" satellites) or with minimal crew (look at 1950 era pictures of moon missions vs the actual Apollo hardware).

Rocketpunk could be considered a subset of "Dieselpunk", and if something had caused things to happen differently in WWII (for example the US and USSR had continued a hot war in 1945), then perhaps rocket technology would have been pushed to the point of actual space warfare in LEO and rocket bombers screaming across the stratosphere on their final approach. Certainly the Germans had plans in that direction with ideas like the A-10, "Silverbird" and even a giant space mirror, however impractical these ideas were in reality, and desperate Allied or Soviet planners might have pushed to make such ideas reality. With far more resources than the Germans, and with time and space factors protecting their heartlands until the moment rocket bombers and so on could be perfected, there would be plenty of incentive to start going down that route.

Thucydides said...

Mass armies were primarily a function of logistics. Ancient armies could be quite large. The Greeks assembled a force of between 80-100,000 men for the battle of Plateau, and the Thebans assembled an army of @ 70,000 to invade Sparta and strip away the Helots. The Romans may not have had such huge standing armies, but could continue to assemble forces even after defeats and keep on going. So long as there was a functioning economy and the ability to move men and supplies, a polity can keep large armies in the field.

Perhaps the primary reason armies fell in size after that was the logistical ability to feed and move large armies had devolved in the "dark ages" and slowly recovered by the 1700's. The industrial revolution expanded the ability to raise, equip and supply mass armies with the World Wars being the climax of that approach.

In today's environment we are probably approaching something similar to the "Infantry revolution", where people can fight effectively against "knights" with weapons and tactics which require minimal training (mass produced and inexpensive "smart" weapons), or attack in places where the exquisite and expensive forces of the West are not well equipped to defend (the examples of cyber war, economic attacks against the stock market and psychological operations aimed at the home nation's populations and decision makers are some examples).

Keith Halperin said...

As an illustration, I can't really think of any big space movies or TV shows since '2001' that were set in the plausible midfuture of interplanetary exploration and expansion.

Admittedly, it wasn't particularly big, even in Britain, but in the late 80s there was the BBC's Star Cops, about a small international police force solving crimes on Earth-orbiting space stations and the Moon, with a Mars base also being mentioned.

R.C.

================================================================

"The Expanse"
I have some minor problems with the multi-G torch drives, the spinning up of major asteroids, and the limited computing power people use in 200 years, but other than that, it looks very good to me.



Thucydides said...

@Keith Halperin
I have some minor problems with the multi-G torch drives, the spinning up of major asteroids, and the limited computing power people use in 200 years, but other than that, it looks very good to me.


I suppose you can always rationalize some of this away. Multi-G torch drives are ORION Pulse drives or their analogues (probably using some form of ICF fusion). This sort of energy also allows you to spin up asteroids and do lots of other great things like running large scale ecosystems inside the spun up asteroids..

Lack of computing power might be due to the oppressive government of Earth in the story. After all, oppressive governments learned the hard way back in the closing days of the XX century what sort of damage could occur if the Hoi polo got access to large amounts of computing power and communications, so now deliberately limit what is accessible and what is available, even to government organs. Perhaps there is a Facebook like repository of personal information and data in their version of the "Ministry of Love" somewhere offstage, but there isn't any conclusive way to prove or disprove this in the series that I have seen so far.

YMMV

Keith Halperin said...

Thanks again,Thucydides. I always value your comments here and on the "EngFi" site- ToughSF.

I know that Expanse has to do some compromising for the story. I'm fine with that. However lets do a little number-crunching, a little because I'm no engineer-

As our Esteemed/Moderator Host pointed out for us in 2010:

"As for a true, Heinleinian torchship? Heinlein's torch is a mass conversion torch. He sensibly avoids any details of the physics, but apparently the backwash is a mix of radiation, AKA photon drive, and neutrons, probably relativistic.

Torchship Lewis and Clark, pictured above, is about 60 meters in diameter, masses in on the order of 50,000 tons, and in Time for the Stars she begins her relativistic interstellar mission by launching from the Pacific Ocean at 3 g. I don't know how to adjust the rocket equations for relativity, but the naive, relativity-ignoring calculation gives a power output of 225 petawatts, AKA 225,000 TW, AKA 53 megatons per second.

Do not try this trick at your homeworld....."

In "The Expanse," there are ships 5x the mass of the L&C. Assuming they can do no more than the 3G the L&C is supposed to do (and there's frequent mention of high-G maneuvers), then we're dealing with 1.125 exawatts (~75,000x WW contemporary power production/consumption), AKA 265 megatons per second or ~5.9kg/s of Amat totally converted. (I don't know how much power it would take to spin up Ceres' rotation so it produces the 0.3G I've read it's supposed to have, but I bet that's A LOT, too.) As (I think) Rick has said in other ways, "You're not going to have our friendly Belters moseying about unsupervised when you're dealing with power like that..."

As far as computing power:
I'd think at least the elite would have something more 23rd century than "pink transparent pre-Siri iPhone". Anyway, not a big showstopper...

Jon Brase said...

Rick:

If however you can make an FTL jump just beyond the atmosphere (and don't spend much/any time in jumpspace), travel would be more like air travel. Warcraft for offensive action might then be bomber-like, which could also imply a role for fighter bombers and even maybe straight fighters.


If you can make an FTL jump just beyond the atmosphere, interstellar travel might be exactly air travel (depending on other assumptions). Accelerate out to Mach 5 or 10 on jet power, start a zoom climb, and coast on up into space as your engines flame out. No need to waste a bunch of energy on getting up to orbital velocity: At apoapsis you put four thousand volts through a lump of Norwegian Blue MacGuffinite, and VOOM, you're suddenly falling back towards the surface of Delta Trianguli II, rather than Earth. If this is a military mission, you dive as fast as you can and pull out at treetop level to get below the radar. You deliver your payload to the target, turn around, get out of SAM range, climb back to altitude and accelerate to Mach whatever, zoom climb, zap your lump of MacGuffinite, and you're falling back towards home.

Jon Brase said...

And if you have ground level stargates, both naval and air force analogies go right out the window!

Depends. I have an idea for a sailpunk to present-day setting (developing over the course of three centuries) where there's this patch of ocean not far from the Canaries that has a sinister reputation among sailors, with several ships having disappeared after having last been seen in that vicinity. In 1705, a British frigate is passing through the area while returning from a voyage during which it stopped in South Africa, where a VIP passenger and gentleman naturalist (one Angus MacGuffin) had picked up a fairly hefty quantity of stone with fairly peculiar properties (which he has modestly named "MacGuffinite"), which is sitting in the ship's hold. The ship is a bit leaky, and there's some water in the hold, and the gentleman naturalist's cargo is getting a bit wet. Suddenly, the ship is engulfed in a dense fogbank that forms out of nowhere and finds itself in stifling heat and unfamiliar seas. It turns out that if there's surface liquid in particular locations on a planet, and a lump of MacGuffinite comes into contact with liquid within a certain radius of such a location, the MacGuffinite, and everything around it in a fairly decent radius, is exchanged with everything thing the same radius around a corresponding point on another planet. Depending if your course is off center to the left or to the right while sailing through such a location, you end up on different planets. Our hapless frigate has been transported to the surface of good ol' rocketpunk Venus, complete with lush vegitation and lots and lots of rain. Mr. MacGuffin manages to figure enough of this out to get everybody safely back home to Britain, is instantly rich and famous. The Canaries become the focus of a struggle by the various powers of Europe to control humanity's one known gateway to the stars. Then another stargate is discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the mouth of the Mississippi. New Orleans becomes, from its foundation, a bustling "spaceport". Eventually, explorers reach Mars, where they discover a network of canals, built by some long dead civilization, connecting the stargates on the surface of Mars. The arrangement of the canals leads to the discovery that stargates on any given planet are layed out in an icosahedral arrangement, with two at the poles and the rest arranged around the 26 degree lines of north and south lattitude, without exception (though there may not be any liquid at a stargate, in which case it is inactive). Meanwhile, the crew of a ship a ship surveying the stargates on Mars dies horribly discovering the hard way that a stargate only requires the presence of liquid at the appropriate point on the surface of a planet, it doesn't have to be water. They jump into the middle of a lake on Titan, and that stargate isn't explored successfully for a century or two.

So if you construct your setting right, you can have surface level stargates and not just naval analogies, but actual navies of wooden ships and iron men! A red dwarf sun hangs eternally on the horizon of a tidally-locked planet and an icy gale blows just as eternally from the night side. A British fleet bears down on its foe from windward, and a cheer is raised as the flagship signals "England expects that every man will do his duty."

Jon Brase said...

But orbit lift has to come down by *two orders of magnitude*, AKA a factor of 100, to get anything like the rocketpunk vision of widespread space travel.

But I think the real sticking point is the lack of low-hanging fruit for colonization: If we had rocketpunk Mars and rocketpunk Venus with breathable atmospheres, I think we'd be putting much more effort into brining the cost of orbital lift down, and by this point, orbital lift might well be one order of magnitude cheaper, with two orders of magnitude lying in the PMF.

My ideal retro-fantasy world - as embodied in Catherine of Lyonesse - has flashing swords and battling galleasses, but no hocus pocus spells or similar junk.

It's arguable that the real difference between sci-fi and fantasy is that sci-fi enumerates its departures from reality, has rules for how they work, and applies those rules with rigorous consistency, while fantasy goes with "rule of cool".

So the medieval setting that works out the economic implications of eye of newt being an alchemical reagent that transforms copper into titanium (newts being farmed for sale to the metalsmiths, cheapish titanium in a medieval setting, etc) is sci-fi, while the setting with a farmboy living on an alien planet who learns to control a mystical energy field and fight with a laser sword, and where fighter pilots topple giant battle mechs by lassoing them around the shins, is fantasy.

Sorry for the triple-post, it wouldn't let me post anything bigger than 4k characters as a single comment.

Keith Halperin said...

Jon Brase: I like your Forester + Burroughs + Wells + Bermuda Triangle Scenario. Please include some 18th Century pirates, too- maybe have the Martians sign on as pirates...

Geoffrey S H said...

Interesting premise!

(Sounds abit like that 'Destroyermen' series.)

Question is, are the local Venusian squids sentient enough to be recruited and given letters of marque?

Thucydides said...

There was a Stephen Baxter novel where squids were genetically engineered to sentience, but things didn't turn out so well for the humans, as I recall.....

Geoffrey S H said...

Most Baxter novels do seem to turn out badly for the humans!

I sometimes wonder if the mournful tone of some hard sf novels (and films- see Kubrick) reduced the sub-genre's popularity for a time.

Hugh said...

We need more talking squids in outer space portrayed in TV and film!

As the website Talking Squids in Outer Space puts it, the pinnacle of SF.

Elukka said...

@Rick: My hat is off to Elon Musk for what he has accomplished, but what I have seen of his Mars proposal is still sheer, unadulterated vaporware. Some would use a more bovine term. As a business proposition, SpaceX only needs to beat LockMart, and he may well achieve that. But orbit lift has to come down by *two orders of magnitude*, AKA a factor of 100, to get anything like the rocketpunk vision of widespread space travel.

Well, while a Mars colony is so far off and so uncertain I wouldn't get too excited (though I appreciate a honest attempt at taking the first step) the vehicle seems about as real as it can be in an early (and thus uncertain) development phase. They are building actual prototype hardware after all, and their stated plan is to attack the issue with the brunt of their engineering force once Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy are finished.

They have already scaled it down a tad, though they're still likely looking at a Saturn V-class vehicle. They've also began talking about using it for purposes other than Mars, indeed seeking to address the launch cost issue with a fully reusable two stage launch vehicle. Will it ever fly? Depends on many things, not least the vagaries of space politics, in particular the inevitable clash with the politically important SLS.

Blue Origin probably has similar plans in the long term, though they talk about theirs less.

Tony said...

My question is, who's the customer for Mars colonization. In fact, who is the customer for Dragon Heavy to Mars. I know Musk thinks that if you build it they will come, but just putting it on the schedule for 22, without having to start assembling materials and bending metal until 2019, means that it's pure vaporware. SpaceX has found customers and manifested flights that I never thought they would. But that was with destinations that a lot of entities pay for year in and year out. Now we're getting into an unexplored and so far unproven market realm that has never had a customer that couldn't also make his own rocket, i.e. large space powers, like the US, Russia, and ESA. Where is the private -- or even government -- customer for a scheduled service to Mars?

Thucydides said...

Much of what Musk does is essentially pumping up the base, rather than serious proposals in the sense that metal is being bent as we speak. Some of it, like speculation about the Hyperloop or talking about digging tunnels at much faster speeds than the current snail's pace may be a form of market research, to see just what sort of interest there is in these ideas. You sort of see this if you think back to the launch of Tesla, and the rollouts of each vehicle since the initial "Roadster".

Elon keeps his name front and centre, generates excitement, shakes potential partners and investors from the trees and distracts people since they need to follow multiple announcements and threads to understand what is going on. President Trump uses a similar tactic with his multitude of Tweets, if you read his 16 tweets a day you don't know which one to focus on, and miss what is actually occurring.

The entire Colonial Transport thing may be to test the waters for just how large a jump is actually possible, has the potential to demoralize ULA, Boeing, LockMart, and other competitors, keep his own team interested and focused so they don't jump ship either to the competition or start their own companies and generate lots of electrons and clicks in blogs and internet posts like this. And if anything lie this is actually possible, then he may run with it as well, since his dream isn't bounded by rational thoughts or resource considerations like most of ours.

Jim Baerg said...

Rick: JULY 10, 2017 AT 5:00 PM
"On freight transportation, I believe that sea is a good deal cheaper per ton/mile than rail. Cargo ships

have advantages of scale up to at least 100,000 tons; freight trains mostly top out at about 10,000 tons

max. Ships only need much infrastructure at ports of call; rail needs it for the entire line, as well as

dispatch control."

True about infrastructure, but see
http://www.withouthotair.com/c15/page_92.shtml
Ship & rail are about equally energy efficient & far more efficient than road for cargo transport.
See http://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_128.shtml
for a similar comparison of various modes of passenger transport.

Thucydides said...

The issues of transport are not just how much you can carry, but issues like cost and flexibility. Transportation in North America has largely transitioned to trucks because trucks are inherently more flexible, not because they are cheaper. In many older cities you can see old factory buildings and warehouses along the path of the railroad tracks, but they are largely abandoned or repurposed now. You only have to do one move of a product via truck; straight from the factory to the customer, with no bulk breaking or changing modes of transportation. Even the warehouse industry is having serious trouble because you don't store products, you ship them right away "just in time".

There are obvious exceptions, like unit coal trains running straight to power plants, or using 747 freight jets to transport cut flowers daily from Columbia to markets in the United States, but this are special circumstanses.

Translating this int the space environment involves doing the calculus of how much energy you want to expend, how much deltaV you are willing to use and how much time you can afford to take in transporting goods and services. Perhaps instead of tramp freighters crossing the solar system, people will send encrypted blueprints and plans, and when you purchase the key you get to build the devices on your local 3D printer using local materials. How this translates into "Maritime" or "Continental" analogues is difficult to say.

Eth said...

Jumping (back) topics to laserstars and laser point defences, a few questions (sorry if it was already discussed to death elsewhere, but for some reason I can't find it back):

- How feasible are high-frequency (optical+) phased array lasers? Compared to mirror lasers, what would be the performance impact regarding mass, size, efficiency, max power, precision...
Phased array lasers not having to physically steer, could aim extremely fast, and even split beams between projectiles, or even cycle-pulse targets - that is, hitting another target while letting plasma get out of the way of the first one.

- How much would it balance point anti-saturation point-defence back in laser's favour? There is still the problem of target acquisition, at the very least.
How can we expect it to fare against, say, a million high-velocity fragments?

Thucydides said...

@eth
It took a while, but the answers to most of your (and our) questions are actually all here on this blog.

The actual worked example with calculations on the saturation point of a laser is in this post here: http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/09/further-battles-of-spherical-war-cows.html

This is also the origin of the "Soda Can of Death" (SCoD)

Other links which cover various aspects of laser vs kinetic warfare are in these posts (but feel free to peruse the catalogue of this site for other observations, ideas and commentary):

http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/09/battle-of-spherical-war-cows-purple-v.html

http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/08/space-warfare-v-laser-weapons.html

http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/08/space-warfare-vi-kinetics-part-1.html

http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/08/space-warfare-vii-kinetics-part-2.html

As for information on phased array lasers, I have never seen anyplace where this has been developed in real life, although there seems to be no physical reason it cold not be done. The AESA radar arrays on US warplanes and Aegis cruisers (among others) is a steerable phased array in the microwave radar frequency range, so there is a demonstration in principle. Indeed, I suppose a honking AESA array can be used as a weapon against the electronic systems of drones, UAVs and other systems.

AlexT said...

May I take a few pot-shots:

Thucydides: "Transportation in North America has largely transitioned to trucks because trucks are inherently more flexible, not because they are cheaper."

Correct me if I'm wrong but they might actually have been cheaper, for a while, until US gas prices became sane again. At least cheap enough that their other advantages (flexibility etc) made them preferable. But if you're doing heavy-duty transportation, you want it to be as cheap as possible. Rail.

Rick: "Ships only need much infrastructure at ports of call; rail needs it for the entire line, as well as dispatch control."

It may be argued that ships, by their nature, carry that infrastructure right along with them. And dispatch control. And they still sink sometimes.

Tony: "In fact, if we didn't trade with all these places overseas, why would we have an oceangoing navy to begin with? Power projection? Why? They can be let to go to h3ll in their own way, if what they do doesn't affect us."

Power projection, because it sucks to be the world's cop, but it sucks even more when somebody else is.

Tony: "My question is, who's the customer for Mars colonization.<...>Where is the private -- or even government -- customer for a scheduled service to Mars?"

Agree. Mars colony: pointless. Asteroids, now..

Keith Halperin: "In "The Expanse," there are ships 5x the mass of the L&C. Assuming they can do no more than the 3G the L&C is supposed to do (and there's frequent mention of high-G maneuvers), then we're dealing with 1.125 exawatts"

Haven't watched the show, but I imagine High-G maneuvers are temporary and could be done with chemfuel or at least some kind of fission/fusion/both thermal rocket. Don't think you could drive a crewed ship at 3g for any extended period.

"As far as computing power:
I'd think at least the elite would have something more 23rd century than "pink transparent pre-Siri iPhone"."


I'm always intrigued by the fact that space-based computers are assumed to be the best there is. Nobody thinks about the fact that, currently, only a small percentage even of Earth population has access to decent hardware. Also, space seems to be quite hostile to computers, and it gets worse as computer tech gets more sophisticated / miniaturized. I'll not consider quantum and optical computers because we're not talking magic here. Anyway, those might prove to be even more susceptible to cosmic rays etc. than what we have now.

Rick: "I've read that one reason the jumbo destroyer types were re-rated as cruisers in the 1970s was that the Russians had cruisers, so it was felt the USN should have them too. And in the other direction, European countries classed (smallish) aircraft carriers as 'cruisers' because it was easier to get them approved that way. Likewise, at one point a hundred years ago, Congress was more willing to approve battlecruisers than battleships because somehow they sounded less militaristic."

A cruiser, by any other name, would shoot as sweet.. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

Thucydides said...

@AlexT
While fuel prices vary, the move to truck based logistics encompasses many other factors. These include "just in time" production, where the truck delivers the widgets to the assembly line as needed, reducing or eliminating the costs of warehousing and bulk breaking, loading/unloading and double handling the cargo and of course eliminating the labour costs associated with these activities. For the bean counters, eliminating relatively fixed costs like warehouse infrastructure (including O&M and property taxes) and the wage and benefit costs of warehouse workers probably outweighs the fluctuating costs of diesel fuel (most transport trucks use diesel fuel, not gasoline).

Indeed, following that sort of logic in space, I suspect the preferred method of transporting bulk cargo is not going to involve transport spacecraft at all, but rather sending unpowered cargo pods on ballistic orbits to their destinations. Large mass drivers on either end will accelerate and decelerate the cargo pods, and there will be no associated costs or mass used for crews, life support and so on. (A small "cheat" might be that the post have tiny engines to make fine course corrections to ensure they pass through the centre of the receiving apparatus, but certainly no large nuclear drives or anything else).

Passengers and priority cargo will be sent via fast packets, which will use the most advanced and powerful drives possible to minimize transit time.

AlexT said...

@Thucydides
"I suspect the preferred method of transporting bulk cargo is not going to involve transport spacecraft at all, but rather sending unpowered cargo pods on ballistic orbits to their destinations. Large mass drivers on either end will accelerate and decelerate the cargo pods, and there will be no associated costs or mass used for crews, life support and so on."

One very cool thing about Lagrange points is that you can hurl stuff there without needing to brake it (much) on arrival.

So it's a wonderful place to put factories. You can have mining/processing units roaming the asteroid belt and sending the refined good stuff via mass driver, without needing to put rockets on each slab. If the shot was aimed just right, it'll approach the L point at very low velocity so it can be intercepted by low-power tugs and directed into whatever shipyard/factory/plant requires it.

Travel time will be slow, but you don't need another mass driver at the receiving end, nor the accuracy required to hit it. That would be similar to shooting a rifle into the sky so that the bullet falls back into the barrel, more or less..

So I think sending finite products from the L point will involve actual ships. Conveniently, one of the finite products are likely to be those very ships.

AlexT said...

Continuing an interesting point from a while back:

@Tony:
"We were certainly playing for the conventional war in Europe for a while at the end of the Cold War. Don't think restraint would have held out in the end. On the other hand, if we went to fist city with the Chinese, they might use nukes against our carrier task groups out at sea, and dare us to retaliate against an equivalent Chinese naval target. Such targets being land bases in or near large industrial cities, it seems like they might have us over an ethical barrel."

Not sure what you're referring to, concerning conventional war in Europe, at the end of the Cold War.

Your nuclear Pearl Harbor scenario is assuming the Chinese don't care about losing their cities. I think that's fallacious. A nuclear strike against US military forces could very well trigger a US counterforce or even an all-out strike. I doubt anyone would stop and consider ethics. It'd be a huge risk for the Chinese. A lot like Pearl Harbor, in fact, except that the US retaliatory potential would be completely untouched.

AlexT said...

@Rick:
"On one level, AI seems very hot just now, with self driving cars reportedly pending, and talk about how within a decade or so the work economy could be totally disrupted. On the other hand, the sort of AI being discussed is not something you could really talk to, like HAL 9000 or a classic Asimovian robot, let alone bring on the Singularity."

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for driverless cars/trucks/anything. The IT industry is really good at hype. In all honesty, with this as with fusion power, seeing is believing. Actually, seeing and checking repeatedly.

Phillip Huggan said...

It will soon be possible to assess general utilitarianism with a bicycle helmet or scalp sticker MRI, and eventually it will be a component of assessing expert knowledge competency to make quick decisions. Whatever space gvmt exists will need to weight votes based on this and enforce checks on power.
"Society" needs to read and accept merit-based hiring/vocations, just like the UK Navy and the Scottish pre-cursor Celtic tribal chiefs did.

Phillip Huggan said...

"On one level, AI seems very hot just now, with self driving cars reportedly pending, and talk about how within a decade or so the work economy could be totally disrupted. On the other hand, the sort of AI being discussed is not something you could really talk to, like HAL 9000 or a classic Asimovian robot, let alone bring on the Singularity."

You don't need an AI able to bring about the Singularity in order to be extinct in a war. California futurist culture (hippies) in general, is not very good at preventing WMDs as this requires gvmt. An AI can hack and win. It can hack a vacuum 3D printer in a decade or two and blot out the Sun or launch lunar substrate and its toxic metal dust into Earth. By specializing in geological mapping, I am missing out on THz building mapping, as well as actuary analysis of what not to invent. Singularity philosophers are to date, wrong; the ability to hack 2025 and 2050 technologies should be the focus and maybe 1776 is the reason Earth will be wiped out.

Thucydides said...

One thing which commentators never seem to take into account is the ever evolving dance between offence and defence. Here is an article about the repurposing of railgun projectiles for use in 155mm cannon and 5" naval guns. The article is specifically how the aerodynamic projectiles, with twice the velocity of regular projectiles fired from the same guns, can be used as a lawyer of missile defence. Not stated is these projectiles can also double the range of conventional artillery when used in the offensive role as well.

https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2017/08/how-hvp-can-revolutionize-south-korean-missile-defense-in-2018.html

For navies (particularly the USN and the Marine Corps), ships have another engagement zone and layer for defence against anti-ship, cruise and tactical ballistic missiles, and can fire twice as far in support of troops ashore. For the Marines, a battery equipped with these shells and a suitable fire control system (something like Iron Dome, maybe) can provide a protective bubble against incoming missiles and support troops to twice the range of conventional 155 mm artillery as well.

Of course the next generations of ships with real railguns can engage targets as far as 200km away (with suitable spotting and fire control), but even giving the conventional artillery a reach approaching 80km is quite impressive.

Diane C. Brown said...

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