Monday, April 15, 2019

Alliances Are Hard: GoT Version

I saw this tweet and could not help but respond:

Given that I have written about both Game of Thrones and alliance politics, I have to enter this discussion.  Spoilers dwell below as we get into this:

Alliances are always fraught with suspicion and doubt.  Glenn Snyder wrote about the alliance dilemma--that allies will always fear two things: that the ally will not show up when they are needed or that the ally will try a country into a war it does not want.  Entrapment or abandonment. Patricia Weitsman and Sarah Kreps addressed these dynamics as well.  And this is not new given that Italy, for instance, had a habit of switching sides in various World Wars.

So, Cersei is not going to show up with her forces to join the Alliance of Life against the Night King and his army of the Dead.  Ooops.  Even worse, it looks like she is going to attack while they are facing the other direction.  That makes her a worse ally than De Gaulle, who kept threatening to sit out the end of World War II (see Guns at Last Light). 

But this tweet was about command structure and battlefield effectiveness.  So, this is more about the Northern forces and their new allies of Dany's forces.  Who commands?  The Queen is the commander in chief, but the defensive plan seems to be in the hands of Jon.  She, of course, will retain control of the strategic and tactical air forces (the dragons are both).

When speaking of allied efforts or coalitions of the willing, a few key aspects come to the fore--rules of engagement and restrictions on the deployment of forces.  Countries in the real world will often have different rules for how to use force, how much tolerance of civilian casualties to tolerate, and the like.  Dany and Jon, as displayed by Sam's discussion with Jon, have different attitudes towards the handling of prisoners.  This will not be relevant in the battle against the Dead--there will be no prisoners to take.  It might become more relevant if both they and their forces win this first battle (and they must, or else the season will be mighty short) and then face other adversaries.

Regarding restrictions on contingents, that too is likely to be less relevant despite my desperate need to promote my book with Dave.  Why?  Well, the usual restrictions apply to things like where one is willing to operate (let's pick on the Italians again--they only fought in Western Afghanistan--one of the easiest parts) or when one is willing to operate (some will not operate at night).  Most importantly, a big restriction is often whether one is willing to engage in offensive operations or not.  Even those with such a restriction can defend themselves.... even Japanese forces can defend themselves.  And guess what?  The Night King is going to make it easy on the alliance by engaging in an offensive effort, so those on defense will not be burdened by restrictions.

So, in this first major campaign of the new alliance, other than Cersei's treachery, alliance dynamics are not going to be a major impediment.  Oh, and as the military folks always argue, these things can be mitigated by relationships and trust.  With Dany and Jon being so, um, ew, close, their relationship should grease the cogs of alliance dynamics... until Jon tells Dany about their genetics.

While we should always take great care to understand alliance politics, this particular alliance and this particular situation should suffer less than others.  Of course, once the Night King is defeated, all of this stuff comes back to play in a big way.

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