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The Rise of Intelligence

The Rise of Intelligence

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Published by Foreign Affairs

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Published by: Foreign Affairs on Mar 30, 2012
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The Rise of Intelligence
 
DOES INTELLIGENCE MATTER?People take it for granted that good intelligence wins wars. During most of Western history,however, warriors paid intelligence little heed, because it rarely helped them. Generals sinceCaesar have sought information about their enemies, of course, but for centuries they believedonly what they could see: terrain and troops. They distrusted spies and questioned the tools of prediction -- dreams, omens, entrails, the mutterings of oracles. So inefficacious were thesemethods that of the "fifteen decisive battles of the world" described by the Victorian historianEdward Creasy, intelligence drove the outcome of only one: Rome's victory over Carthage at theMetaurus River in 207 BC. The rest were decided by strength and will.But the situation changed in the nineteenth century as armies began to use railroads anddeveloped general staffs for centralized planning, creating both a target for intelligence gatheringand an organizational home for the information gathered. Even so, intelligence did not have amajor impact on war and politics until communications intercepts in World War I helpedgenerals to win battles -- a trend that continued in later conflicts.Military intelligence thus progressed through three stages. In the nineteenth century, generalstaffs institutionalized it; during World War I, radio intercepts gave it importance; and duringWorld War II and the Cold War, it played such a large role that intelligence officers gainedequality in rank with combat commanders. The latter rightly retained priority, however, forintelligence in war works only through force. It can focus and economize efforts, it can offer anadvantage, but in the end, force is necessary for victory. This remains true even of the war onterrorism, a shadowy campaign against nonstate actors in which intelligence is playing itsgreatest role yet.THE DRAUGHTSMEN'S CONTRACTS
 
Premodern military commanders made use of advisers, but they generally derided thinking andexalted fighting. Shakespeare summed up their attitude nicely in Troilus and Cressida, when hehad Ulysses complain:They tax our policy and call it cowardice,Count wisdom as no member of the war,Forestall prescience and esteem no actBut that of hand. The still and mental partsThat do contrive how many hands shall strikeWhen fitness calls them on, and know by measureOf their observant toil the enemy's weight,Why, this hath not a finger's dignity.They call this "bed-work," "mapp'ry," "closet-war."So that the ram that batters down the wall,For the great swinge and rudeness of his poiseThey place before his hand that made the engine,Or those that with the finesse of their soulsBy reason guide his execution.In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this attitude started to change with the emergence of army quartermasters, who were responsible for scouting terrain, planning marching routes andencampments, and furnishing supplies. French military historians trace the modern general staff to an 1801 pamphlet by the adjutant Paul Thiébault; their German counterparts, to an 1801memorandum by Colonel Christian von Massenbach. Both documents mention intelligence.Thiébault proposed creating a general staff divided into four bureaus, one of which would dealwith spies, guides, and prisoner exchanges. Massenbach, then a quartermaster, noted thatofficials "must know not only their own country, they must also know the neighboring states;they must not only be in the position to indicate those positions that we, under certain conditions,would have to take, but also those which the enemy commander, under these very conditions,would take, and would have to take."
 
The French Revolutionary Wars marked the advent of large armies of civilians. This led to theevolution of officer corps and, within them, permanent planning staffs. But neither thosedevelopments nor the arrival of railroads produced special units for evaluating intelligence. Onlyafter a defeat had shamed a nation, or the prospect of one had stung it, did militaryestablishments change their ways. If armies wanted to defend themselves against an attack, theyhad to know or believe that one was coming. They needed a staff unit to gather and weigh allkinds of intelligence. The role of defeat in spurring the establishment of such branches inWestern armies is universal.LOSERS LEARNRussia was among the first countries to create a unit for intelligence evaluation, spurred by itscapitulation in the Crimean War in 1856. The newly enthroned liberal tsar, Alexander II, hadbeen impressed by Colonel Dmitri Miliutin, an instructor in the staff academy who had publisheda two-volume study of military statistics based on a sojourn in Prussia, and named him warminister in 1861. Miliutin set about modernizing the Russian military staff. By 1865, one of itssix departments was devoted to gathering and evaluating information about foreign armies.Following its defeat by Prussia in 187071 in the Franco-Prussian War, France hastily created amodern military general staff modeled after that of its enemy, which had developed one duringthe Napoleonic Wars. Improved and made permanent in 1874, the French general staff had sixbureaus, including one dealing with what was at first called "military statistics" and later"intelligence." The sting of 187071 drove France, in a revanchist fervor, to become the leader inmilitary code breaking by World War I.Meanwhile, Austria had taken similar steps. Austria and Prussia had mobilized against eachother in 1850 over the leadership of the Germanic Confederation, and although Prussiaultimately backed down, Austria had been scared. Immediately after demobilization, it combinedits staff's intelligence-gathering and intelligence-evaluating elements into the Evidenzbüro. Then,in 1911, during the Tripolitanian War (both of whose combatants, Italy and the Ottoman Empire,bordered on Austria), Austria began to intercept and solve foreign military cryptograms,developing an expertise second only to France's.

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