Lanchester’s Laws

While playing an online multi-player wargame, someone attacked 10 units with 19 units of the same type.  How many attackers survived?  Contrary to what some might assume, it was not nine units.  They were equally matched and 16 units survived of the attacking force.

This is a very simplified version of reality, but essentially there are, initially, nearly twice as many attackers as defenders shooting, so a defender will be killed in half the time of an attacker.  Then the ratio of attackers to defenders is even greater: 19 to 9.  Now the likelihood of a defender being killed before an attacker is even greater than before.  Eventually, only a few defenders are being outnumbered 4:1 or 5:1 and so they are eliminated very quickly, with few if any losses to the attackers.

This is described in Lanchester’s Laws which say that when you have people shooting at one another at range, and each can fire on any other opponent (as opposed to one-on-one melee combat), the effectiveness of the forces are in proportion to the squares of their numbers meaning the attrition over time is far greater for the lesser force.  That is, the smaller force, will lose members faster and faster and the greater force lose them slower and slower.

One can imagine how ten people shooting at two people may manage to shoot both before any of the ten are themselves shot, contrary to what is usually represented in Wild West and action movies.

As examples, assuming a 1% chance of killing with any given shot, a battle between 100 attackers and 50 defenders will – statistically – end in victory after 55 rounds with 86 attackers surviving.  Some more analysis:

Attackers Defenders %likelihood Rounds Survivors
100 99 1% 265 13
100 90 1% 148 43
100 50 1% 55 86
100 14 1% 15 98
100 10 1% 11 99
100 99 50% 5 6
100 90 50% 3 28
100 50 50% 2 65
100 10 50% 1 95
100 99 90% 2 2
100 90 90% 2 19
100 50 90% 1 55
100 10 90% 1 91

The lower the likelihood of killing with one shot, the greater the Lanchester Law effect: the larger number of attackers will whittle away the defenders before the defenders can respond in a significant way.  At the other extreme, 100% likelihood of killing in one shot, it resembles melee combat and the number of survivors is simply the number of attackers minus the number of defenders.

What is the point of this?

  1. When playing tabletop wargaming, always attack with overwhelming numbers to maximise enemy losses while minimising your own.
  2. The Generals of the Great War were indeed incompetent buffoons, believing attrition would win them the war, by sending in wave after wave of small numbers of their own troops in short lines on the front to be massacred.

The second point is particularly so since the infantry were walking into defensive machine gun fire, where the likelihood of killing per unit of time was far greater than for the attackers.  Attacking in that way maximised the losses for the attacker.  And this would have been apparent for any player of wargames or mathematically minded person at the front.  The defence for the the donkeys running the war was that they knew no better – then they were idiots.

The Prussians had been playing wargames as a military training tool for over a century by the time of the Great War.

Why do I as a pacifist play wargames?  Partly recreation, partly research.  It helps one to understand the true horror of mechanised, organised, warfare.

A textbook on peacemaking?

One of the frustrations I felt travelling this path is the lack of an off-the-shelf textbook on “How to Do Peace”. Seeing a link to the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation raised some hope. A single reference book is what I have hoped for.

“The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation offers a continuously updated online publication platform for both academics and practitioners to review the state of the art, discuss new ideas and exchange experiences in the field of conflict transformation.”

No, it’s not a handbook, it is a web site of articles and downloads.

About the Handbook:
The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation offers a continuously updated online publication platform for both academics and practitioners to review the state of the art, discuss new ideas and exchange experiences in the field of conflict transformation.

Seemingly useful should be the Berghof Glossary on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding which sounds promising ‘We first published this small and compact booklet as a guide to our interpretation of the cornerstones of peacebuilding and conflict transformation in 2012‘. However, it is ’20 essays on theory and practice’ in 170 pages. It may be useful, but it’s not really a glossary, is it?

It is another web resource of articles, not an off-the-shelf handbook which is what is needed by those wanting to participate.

We need more data on peace-making

Accept repentant Boko Haram fighters or they go back to terrorism, presidency urges Nigerians

This is a news story about young men who had been members of a terrorist organisation being allowed to repent, and the national leader asking people to allow them back into their communities.

19/09/2019 “the establishment of ‘Operation Safe Corridor’ in Gombe State has been described as a global model in combating insurgency in the world” link.

11/06/2020 “No repentant Boko Haram Terrorists combatant who has been reintegrated into the society will evade arrest if he reneged on the pledge” link.

Anyone who thinks one cannot negotiate with terrorists and one must fight fire with fire could do worse than look at Operation Safe Corridor. The deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRR) process of ex- Boko Haram members seems to have been a remarkably impressive demonstration of best practice in tackling extremist violence.

General Olonisakin: “the Armed Forces of Nigeria is not only trying to win the war but to also win the peace”.

It must be incredibly tough on those still displaced or still in areas affected by Boko Haram. Forgiveness does not come easily.

It’s quite an example though of how violent groups recruit and kidnap young people to do their fighting for them, and how such fighters themselves can also be the victims.

I’ve written before about trading justice for peace. Punishing these young men would have been injustice on injustice and not resulted in any peace.

Violence is complicated. Peace is really hard.

I do hope all this gets researched and documented. An observation:

“The operation Safe Corridor is good, but how much have been invested in communities to bolster their resilience capacities, heal their grievances and give them back their lives to enable them embrace these formers? What is the post deradicalisation programme that can effectively monitor these formers to track their progress in reintegration or further resurgence in their old tracks? What has been the role of formers in the process deracalisation or PVE? These and many more should be reassessed and appraised.”

Absolutely – data is needed and needs to be published about conflict interventions and resolution as a bigger picture. This was a major conclusion from my Master’s in Peace Studies – a lack of off-the-shelf case studies fro those new to or outside the field.

Essentially we have the Oxford Research Group’s ‘War Prevention Works : 50 Stories of People Resolving Conflict’ from 2001 and High Miall’s ‘The Peacemakers: Peaceful Settlement of Disputes Since 1945′ from 1992.

I think there is a desperate need for Practitioners’ Manual for Peace based on evidence from past interventions, which requires that consolidation of data to underpin and inform it.

I do find it interesting it appears to be being led by the Armed Forces of Nigeria. How’s that for defence diversification?

Nobody talks about peace

A recurring theme when studying international relations and diplomacy is the need for secret talks between parties in conflict.  This allows concessions to be discussed without the leaders on either side losing face.  So we do not hear about moves made toward peace-making, what the methods are, how many are involved, how much work gets done and how successful it may or may not be.  This gives us the impression that there is no peace-making going on, merely a cessation of hostilities.

It also came up when I was researching The Troubles in Northern Ireland.  The ‘politics of research’ means information on security matters is not researched, not talked about, not documented and not publicised.  So we do not hear about the successes and achievements toward peace making.

I am now going through a list of case studies called ‘War Prevention Works’ published by the Oxford Research Group.  They say in their book that finding out about interventions in conflict is hard because they are kept quiet.

It is no wonder the general public think peace is an impossibility, war is inevitable and that peace-making does now work.  It receives no publicity for multiple reasons, whereas war is newsworthy every day.  And if you don’t talk about something, it does not exist.  There needs to be evidence for people to learn from and believe in.  If you don’t study your history, you can’t learn from it.  Keeping peace-making secret may be a short-term requirement, but it is a medium and long term hindrance.

We need to publicise methods and successes somehow, somewhere.  Which takes me back to where I started in 2012: where is the manual on how to do peace as a practitioner?  What are the methodologies?  What is the learned journal for peace?  What is the code of conduct?  What is the professional body?

Is a PhD a possibility for me?

So I am preparing for my Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies at Lancaster University and reviewing my plan.  My intention was to get a Peace Studies MA then a job in conflict prevention somehow such that I could do my bit to stop the UK starting any new wars by providing evidence-based arguments that there are better alternatives.

A few people have – in jest? – asked if I am intending to do a PhD or suggested I do one.  Having looked again at the university I have chosen – a “triple top ten university” with a joint top best research library and one of the top 3 research universities in the UK – and it seems I have chosen well.  One that prides itself on the quality of its research.  I wonder if that applies to the social sciences too, specifically the politics and international relations?  If so, I would be in the right place.

I had an idea the other day regarding modelling of the kind done in IT, physics and maths: are there models for conflict resolution?  If not, fame and fortune awaits if I invent the first.  If so, there is the opportunity to learn about them and apply them in the workplace.  But an academic view might be to review them, compare them, evaluate them – that could be what I do with this MA.

But there is a further opportunity. I am a practitioner by nature, not an academic.  I have been seeking ‘the learned journal for peace’, the professional body for peacemakers, the text books, the methodologies, the best practice for the people working in the field.  Do these things exist?  If not, they need creating and there is the scope for a PhD.

If I could create or document a framework for peacemongery such that practitioners could take it off the shelf and use it, that would be a heck of a legacy.  If I could form a ‘professional body’ or a methodology, that would also be a great contribution.  Even creating something so that when someone says “There is no alternative to war”, I can say “Yes there is, I wrote the book!” would be an immense move forward.

I shall keep pondering on this idea…


Empowering nonviolence – so much to learn

I need to read more information from War Resisters’ International.  They have so much useful information on nonviolent campaigns in opposition of war, that it is overwhelming, so I have not looked at it at all.  It is hard to know where to start.

Web sites:


Loads of articles:

Potential employers for me:

The USA is happy with itself as it is: frightened

Having wasted most of the weekend online arguing with pro-gun people in the USA, I have given up.  I have tried this before and keep coming to the same conclusion: they are happy as they are.

They believe the level of violence and gun-related deaths is quite low compared to other causes of death, and so is quite acceptable.

They believe there is a huge threat to society waiting to get them and, unless there is a ready civilian militia armed to a military standard, it could get them at any time.  They need to be ready.

They believe that people being armed is why their society is so peaceful, that it is only unarmed people that are victims of crime, and it is their own fault for not being armed.

It is a belief system.  Facts and statistics are immaterial and disregarded.  You cannot argue using logic against a belief system.

Essentially what they have developed is a Gun Faith.  Guns are worshipped, adored, protected by the constitution and idolised.  ‘Idolised’ being the operative word.  Some people carry a St Christopher, some wear a cross, some carry a picture of Mary and some wear a birthstone crystal.  In the USA people carry a gun for the same reason: faith it will protect them.  Despite the factual evidence to the contrary.

A funny thing about religions is how people take it to extremes to prove their faith: growing a couple of locks of hair really long, totally covering their women, refusing to shave.  In the USA Gun Faith the extremists carry semi-automatic rifles simply as symbols of devotion.  The NRA is the church of this religion.  I get all that now.

That’s why people have started referring to the pro-gun lobby online as The American Taliban.

Scientists for Global Responsibility

At some time in 2016, for rather convoluted reasons to do with supporting the Peace Tax Seven,  I started getting emails from a Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) mailing list.  Today’s was a job ad for them.  I can’t apply because I don’t have the essentials in the person spec., but their web site is interesting.

The ethics around the technology developments required of modern warfare are a major part of their raison d’etre, and they were formed from peace groups merging.  They are affiliated with a number of peace organisations, each of which I need to investigate as both sources of information and as potential employers.  They are concerned about the military influence on science and technology research.  They have information booklets on ethical careers.  They have a list of potential ethical employers in the peace sector.  They have resources on security and disarmament.  They produce reports and briefings including security.  They have dozens of newsletters I need to go through.

I have joined their mailing list proper.  I have joined their LinkedIn group.  Today I post my membership off to them.

Their Wikipedia page is a bit thin.  Here’s someone else’s words about them.

They do get articles published like this one in the Guardian.

I firmly expect a bunch of committed scientists can provide me with loads of data for evidence-based peace.

I had not heard of SGR before – this highlights the problem I found at the start in 2012: where is the peace industry? The arms industry has a fantastically high profile, the peace industry is barely mentioned other than to criticise white poppies.

Bias regarding fear of war allowing wars to happen

As creatures, we are very poor at assessing risk.  This knowledge was reinforced by what I learned in the Open University module DD210 Living psychology: from the everyday to the extraordinary.  I suspect that is one of the reasons we allow wars to happen.

On the same theme The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther may be a relevant and useful read.  It looks as though they consider why we allow things to happen.  They highlight six behaviours:

  1. Amnesia bias: only focussing on recent experience so we forget the experience of past wars.
  2. Optimism bias: we are optimistic by nature and although know wars happen, believe wars will not happen to us.
  3. Single action bias: it is enough to make one small act of protest thinking that will be enough to protect us.
  4. Myopia: only considering the short term, that war won’t happen soon so it will never happen.
  5. Inertia: it is too hard to face the problem and tackle it, when it might not even happen, thereby allowing it to happen.
  6. Herding: doing what we perceive everyone else to do, which is nothing, so nobody does anything.

But that list does not tell us what to do about them; perhaps the rest of their book does.

Optimistic about water wars

I have often heard it suggested or assumed that the next wars will be over water.  The International Water Management Institute is not so pessimistic.  Their article ‘Promoting cooperation through management of transboundary water resources‘ says:

Research is challenging the conventional wisdom that conflict over water leads to war.  The water wars hypothesis has its roots in earlier research carried out on a small number of transboundary rivers such as the Indus, Jordan and the Nile…because they had experienced water-related disputes.  Specific events cited as evidence include Israel’s bombing of Syria’s attempts to divert the Jordan’s headwater and military threats by Egypt against any country building dams in the upstream water of the Nile.  However, while some links made between conflict and water were valid, they did not necessarily represent the norm.


while it is true that there has been conflict related to water in a handful of international basins, in the rest of the world’s approximately 300 shared basins the record has been largely positive.

War is not inevitable.

This paper is an example of research into alternatives to international conflict over a specific resource resulting in evidence-based cases of violent conflict not being required to resole international problems regarding resource issues.  So if someone says to you “The next wars will be about water” you can now say “No, they won’t.  Water may be involved but we now know it is more likely to result in international co-operation.