David R. Henderson  

Semi-Private Production of National Defense

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I was planning to post yet one more item on the Obama Council of Economic Advisers' report on monopsony. I will do so later. Now to a new issue.

The main issue that has kept me from becoming an anarchist is my fear that an anarchist society would not provide enough defense against a powerful foreign government. By the way, that is also the main issue that anarchist economist David Friedman identified in his book The Machinery of Freedom as the problem area for anarchists.

But a news story in the New York Times yesterday has shifted my priors a little. Voluntary private defense seems to me to be somewhat more viable than I had thought.

The article, "Spooked by Russia, Tiny Estonia Trains a Nation of Insurgents," New York Times, October 31, tells how volunteers in the Estonian Defense League train to be ready to fight a guerrilla war against an invading Russian government.

Here's a key paragraph:

The competitions, held nearly every weekend, are called war games, but are not intended as fun. The Estonian Defense League, which organizes the events, requires its 25,400 volunteers to turn out occasionally for weekend training sessions that have taken on a serious hue since Russia's incursions in Ukraine two years ago raised fears of a similar thrust by Moscow into the Baltic States.

Note the word "volunteers." In context, this seems to mean that they are not paid. Is 25,400 a small number? Not relative to Estonia's population, which is 1.3 million. That's 2 percent of the population, and probably well over 3 percent of the population aged 18 to 60. It's also over 4 times the size of the 6,000-person Estonian army.

The reason I title this "semi-private," though, is that the Estonian government does seem to play a role. Here's one of the parts that implies a role for Estonia's government:

Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes.

The word "Estonia" in the first sentence probably means the Estonian government. Unfortunately, the Times article does not clearly indicate how large a role. Elsewhere it's clear that the government plays a role:
Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes.

Encouraging how? The government finances it? Allows it? Inquiring potential anarchists' minds want to know.

Some other interesting excerpts:

Of the top four nations in the world for private gun ownership -- the United States, Yemen, Switzerland and Finland -- the No. 3 and 4 spots belong to small nations with a minutemen-style civilian call-up as a defense strategy or with a history of partisan war.

"The best deterrent is not only armed soldiers, but armed citizens, too," Brig. Gen. Meelis Kiili, the commander of the Estonian Defense League, said in an interview in Tallinn, the capital.


And:
Mr. Vokk served with the army in Afghanistan, where, he said, he gained an appreciation for the effectiveness of I.E.D.s.

"They scared us," he said. "And a Russian is just a human being as well. He would be scared."


Remember that to win a war against an invader, all you have to do is make the cost too high.

HT@Instapundit.

UPDATE: David Friedman just posted on this. He seems to think it's as important a piece of evidence as I do.


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CATEGORIES: Public Goods




COMMENTS (13 to date)
Mo writes:

I always thought the best argument for public armies was the cost of competition. We don't want private armies competing at who's better at fighting; nor can we tolerate too much disruption. In other words, we're willing to pay cartel prices because efficient prices carry too much risk.

GregS writes:

Interesting stuff.
If I’m remembering right, David Friedman discusses the popularity of recreational combat in his argument that a private military might be feasible. A lot of people who I do jiujitsu with also do krav maga, and someone described to me their “boot camps” for their higher levels of certification. They basically do a grueling week-long survival run in the desert (they go to Israel for this), and they do it voluntarily, in fact paying thousands of dollars for the training. These people are doing it as a hobby, but I can imagine the interest in such training might increase dramatically if there were a real threat to fight.

I’m probably not representative of the population at large, but I myself do marital arts, my brother does armed fighting with rattan swords and armor (in the SCA, the same organization that Friedman is a member of), and my brother in law (along with a few other members of my wife’s family) shoots competitively. I also know a lot of people who have done tactical firearms training, which I think entailed not just aiming and shooting but training for specific situations. Add to this all the folks who do Civil War reenactments and other kinds of play combat. I could easily believe that there’s enough recreational combat going on that, in a pinch, you could turn hobbyists into soldiers. The people who train in antiquated forms of combat could take up more effective forms of combat. Professional soldiers in an official military are probably more effective than hobbyists. Friedman discusses the “militia of hobbyists vs. professional army” issue and gives some historical examples where a relatively small professional army overcomes numerically superior but less organized militias. But conceivably the militias could train enthusiastically enough, or there could be enough militiamen, to overcome a professional army. At least they could *deter* a potential threat, which is probably a good description of what’s happening in Estonia. A pitched battle between these guys and the Russians may be no contest, but an insurgency (more to the point, the *threat* of an insurgency) is a different story.

Friedman’s discussion of this issue is fairly convincing. I’m not “all in” on it, more like 50/50 or so, and I’m not so sure that Friedman’s own confidence is much greater based on all the hedging he does. I see him as arguing, “Privatized military wouldn’t be as bad as most people think” rather than “It would definitely be superior to the alternative.”

Alex writes:

"The main issue that has kept me from becoming an anarchist is my fear that an anarchist society would not provide enough defense against a powerful foreign government"

What about individual rights? For example, anarchy is perfectly compatible with slavery

David R. Henderson writes:

@Alex,
What about individual rights? For example, anarchy is perfectly compatible with slavery
As you noted, I was talking about my worries, not yours. I think it highly unlikely that anarchy would lead to slavery.

Mactoul writes:

Prof Henderson,
There is not even a whiff of anarchism in the Estonian action. They are simply preparing for the resistance as was done by Baathist remnants in Iraq post-2003. The problem with anarchism is not as much material as spiritual. Who is to dictate to an anarchist fighter that he should fight a particular foreign enemy? Indeed, under anarchism the very word "foreign" loses its meaning.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mactoul,
I would recommend that you read the chapter on national defense in David Friedman’s book mentioned above, and see if you still think that.
It wasn’t intentional, but I probably assumed too much on the readers’ part. The issue that I have with anarchism is the free-rider problem in providing defense. I posted this because it says the free-rider problem might not be as big as many of us have thought. Thus there’s, to use your terminology, at least a whiff, and possibly more than a whiff, of anarchism.

Yaakov writes:

I never saw recruiting sufficient numbers of fighters for a worthy cause as a problem. I would assume you could easily find hundreds of historical examples and I do not see Estonia as an exception. I would assume the American's who fought for independence against the British were volunteers as are the ISIS fighters (I am accepting that they see themselves as fighting for a worthy cause, regardless of what we think about their cause).

In the bible, Judges 20, 2 states that 400,000 volunteers came upon the call of a single distressed person:

http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15828/jewish/Chapter-20.htm

That number is larger than the 300,000 that King Saul drafted by force:

http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15840

If we take a look at the modern Israeli case, according to Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haganah

The British estimation of the strength of the Hagannah, which was mostly illegal and was nearly entirely based on unpaid volunteers, was 75,000 men and women, with an effective strength of 30,000. This was out of a population of about 650,000. In addition to the Haganah, there was the Etzel with a strength of about 5,000 and the Lehi with a strength of about 500. So the effective combatant force was probably above 5% of the population.

The question I see is whether a volunteer army can manage the massive weapons (tanks, aircrafts, missiles) required in the modern era in order to effectively protect against well armed foreign armies. I believe a great majority of the population would prefer the current western democracies with all their flaws, over the need to fight against foreign occupation as insurgents, every decade or century.

Brad writes:

"The main issue that has kept me from becoming an anarchist is my fear that an anarchist society would not provide enough defense against a powerful foreign government."

Sadly, the only reason you (and many others) believe this is because the United States, via its "Defense" has over the decades raised up foreign enemies who would love to strike us.

Even still, I can't imagine that a foreign power would suddenly invade America in the absence of a government, and invasion is really the only "defense" our military defends against.

Mactoul writes:

Prof Henderson,
The free rider problem may not be as critical as the "lack of coordination" problem. We already have an example of anarchist militia in action: Spanish Civil War. They didn't fare too well against more organized entities.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mactoul,
We already have an example of anarchist militia in action: Spanish Civil War. They didn't fare too well against more organized entities.
I’m not familiar enough with the Spanish Civil War to comment. I do know, though, that most wars are fought between two organized militaries and approximately half of them lose.

baconbacon writes:

@ David Henderson

There was never a (theoretical) Free Rider problem in anarchistic defense. Free Rider problems specifically rely on some people being able to benefit at no cost cascading into all (or most) refusing to participate in an attempt to land in this perfect zone of benefitting with not cost. Military invasions (or the threat of them) prevent this due to their basic structure. Everyone in a geographic area knows who is closest to the enemy, and who is farthest away. Those who are closest know that they cannot rely on those that are farthest away to provide defense. Even if those that are farthest away do organize a successful defense it will be to late for those closest as the invasion will have gone through their land (as will the supply chains and all the horrors of having an occupying army parked on top of you).

Now take those that life the farthest away, it might at first seem that they would simply sit back and wait to see if the border holds before engaging the enemy, but this assumes a static cost to the war. War is most costly for those on the front lines, so those living in the interior have a large incentive to ensure that the border does hold. That is the "good" of defense is not homogeneous, defense at the border is worth much more than defense in the interior for those living in the interior.

Imagine an anarchistic society located on a peninsula. The connection to the larger body of land is the obvious invasion point, so the people that live the closest to it will have the greatest incentive to engage in preparedness. In addition the people living in the interior will also have an outsized incentive to seeing the war fought strictly at the border and so never directly risking their own lives and property. Those in the interior then will likely send many goods, logistical support, encouragement etc to help those at the border should war threaten.

Larry writes:

Would this have worked in Chechnya? It's no good against missiles, bombs and artillery. Russia is without scruples.

Thank you, David Henderson, for your post on semi-private production of national defense. It adds to the sort of work we organized in the Free Nation Foundation.

You have stimulated me to post an update on the FNF blog, and to get the 61-page Proceedings of FNF's forum on security scanned into a PDF file and posted online, here in the FNF archive.

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