Posts Tagged ‘Tarkin’

Citizen Tarkin

Posted: January 12, 2013 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized
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Grand Moff Tarkin contemplating Earth's strategic folly

contemplating your strategic folly

In response to a petition, the White House has said there is no intent for the United States to pursue a Death Star. On twitter, I voiced my objections, first captured in this storify.

In response to Death Star petition, the White House exhibits a crucial failure to understand grand strategy.…  While expensive for one planet, the Death Star is not a planetary defense but instead the crux of empire. As the Tarkin Doctrine argues, and Machiavelli himself theorized, fear is the key to control. With a Death Star, the cost of maintaining fear is cheap. Cheaper even than maintaining COIN operations and forward fleet basing against an elusive foe. With a Death Star, one can permanently deny hiding spaces, while also preventing other worlds from even considering harboring such rebellious terrorists. The Death Star makes empire cheap, and while it is expensive when the burden of the cost is on one planet, it builds and secures an entire galaxy of submissive worlds. What mere UAV, MRAP, or F-35 can offer a return like that? Yet you still pursue them. You fear not cost but glory. Useless world.

While the White House acknowledged the high cost, of the Death Star, as best put forth here,  they neglected to look beyond this initial estimate to further scholarship. In a Mother Jones (!) article, Kevin Drum does a much better job understanding that while the Death Star is expensive for earth now, it’s cost would be imperceptible to a Galactic Empire of Planets with technology 500+ years more advanced than that on Earth. He writes

We can figure that the average world in the Star Wars universe is about 20,000 times richer than present-day Earth, which means the Death Star would cost about 65 times the average world’s GDP.

However, the original Death Star took a couple of decades to build. So its annual budget is something on the order of three times the average world’s GDP.

But how big is the Republic/Empire? There’s probably a canonical figure somewhere, but I don’t know where. So I’ll just pull a number out of my ass based on the apparent size of the Old Senate, and figure a bare minimum of 10,000 planets. That means the Death Star requires .03 percent of the GDP of each planet in the Republic/Empire annually. By comparison, this is the equivalent of about $5 billion per year in the current-day United States.

In an update to the post, Drum acknowledged that the Galactic Empire actually has 1.75 million full member worlds, so the annual cost-per-planet of Death Star construction is roughly equivalent to nothing.* A hegemonic power like the United States should certainly appreciate the values of tribute extraction as a way to offset security costs.

Beyond a surprisingly low construction cost, under the Tarkin Doctrine a Death Star provides a cheaper way to maintain hegemony than the full manpower costs of a galactic fleet and Storm Trooper invasions. Co-blogger Friedman has already covered this extensively, and my initial twitter reaction states it well. The easier it is to strike complete & total fear of annihilation into a planet, the fewer non-Death Star forces have to be maintained. This is a weapon that secures hegemony, guarantees tribute, and allows for a reduction in military size. Through planet-shattering fear, order and stability in the universe can be maintained, allowing resources that would otherwise have gone to extensive land campaigns against rebellious worlds to instead clear the galactic passageways (and especially the Kessel Run) of every hive of scum and villainy that threatens the lives and security of normal, law-abiding, and annihilation-fearing Imperial subjects.

In refusing to seriously consider the strategic merit of a planet-killing gun mounted on an almost-invulnerable space fortress, the Obama administration, normally so fond of tech solutions to military problems, has been short-sighted. They have also refused to adopt the mantle of Empire that a Death Star would bring them, and instead prefer to hunt their desert-based religious insurgents the slow & painful way.

I would express my disappointment more loudly, but this leaves your world vulnerable. We will be in range shortly. This is our moment of triumph.

Grand Moff Tarkin oversees the attack on Earth

Earth will be in range soon, Sir


*My staff officer  did some back of the envelope calculations to arrive at approximately $8750/yr cost for each of the 1.75 million worlds. Let me know if you arrive at a better number, and I can send the errant accountant to Vader for punishment.

Palpatine should have been able to take it easy. He not only managed to gain absolute power over the galactic civilization, but the Senate had begged him to take control. The Jedi had been, for all intents and purposes, exterminated. Nothing should have crossed his desk besides trade disputes, the occasional bill to name a library after him, and pleas for mercy from various alien races. Instead he had this damned rebellion on his hands. His right hand man was a whiney asthmatic who couldn’t even be trusted to find two droids that used to belong to him on his own home planet. Palpatine’s a politician. He doesn’t know the first thing about military strategy. Neither does Darth Wheezey McEmo over there. What’s a Sith to do?

You find someone in your organization with vision and strategic acumen. In Palpatine’s case, that person is Moff Milhuff Tarkin. Tarkin’s a man with a plan. He thinks that Palpatine should rule through fear of force rather than force itself. Tarkin understands deterrence. This is a man that recognizes that the Empire cannot kill its way to victory, but it can intimidate. This is counterinsurgency and stability through deterrence, based on a credible, overwhelming threat. That credible, overwhelming threat is the Death Star. Palpatine’s promotion of Moff Tarkin to Grand Moff, an entirely new rank, is evidence that 1) Palpatine recognized that Tarkin had a strategic vision and 2) the Empire heretofore lacked a military strategic vision. Palpatine rose to power through Machievellian politics and deception rather than military force. He didn’t defeat the Jedi clone army, he co-opted it. He defeated the Jedi through betrayal and deception, a skill set that may not work in the face of a galaxy-wide insurgency.

Palpatine, at some level, must recognize this as Tarkin, during the events of A New Hope, is the Stonewall Jackson to Papatine’s Robert E. Lee. Yes, Vader is present on the Death Star but he’s not in charge. Tarkin gives the order to destroy Alderaan after all. All Vader does is torture a prisoner and then reacts to the rebel assault by joining the fight himself. Both tactical level actions. Tarkin is clear-headed and cool the entire time. He never flinches as he destroys a civilization as an example while Vader is chasing after a presence he hasn’t felt in a long time and angrily taking off in his TIE fighter. Palpatine found the right man for the job, until those pesky rebels blew him up.

The strategic and operational competency vacuum left by the death of Tarkin is evident immediately upon the opening events of The Empire Strikes Back. The Imperial Starfleet arrives at Hoth too far away from the planet, leaving the rebels time to organize their evacuation. Then, rather than simply bombard the rebel base from orbit, they launch a planetside assault on the base. Sure, there was a shield generator protecting the base, but the ground assault occurred in the complete absence of suppressive fire from the Starfleet. Turbolasers may not destroy Echo Base outright, but it can keep the Rebels’ heads down long enough for the ground assault to breach their perimeter or, better yet, besiege the base. These are JV-level mistakes when it comes to coordinating forces. Fire without maneuver is a waste. Maneuver without fire is suicide. In this case, it’s total mission failure. The rebellion lives on while the entire fleet completely bungles a mission to capture HVTs. The fleet performs so poorly that Vader has to turn to contractors to capture rebel leadership for them.


It’s hard to believe that Tarkin, a man whose military acumen so impressed the Emperor that a new rank was created just for him, would not have foreseen these mistakes and better handled the Imperial Starfleet. Vader’s reactive leadership style (failure followed by force choke) was unable to cope with rapidly changing situations. Vader let his personal goals and passions get in the way of strategic and operational demands. He couldn’t bombard Echo Base because he wanted to capture Luke and turn him to the Dark Side. Tarkin, unencumbered by a hokey religion, the need for an apprentice, or sentiment of any kind, would have ended the rebellion on Hoth.

Which leads to my next point: Palpatine and Vader, just like the Jedi, are strategic incompetents. The resources of the vast Empire are directed not firstly to the defeat of the rebellion but rather to the capture of Luke Skywalker, a super-empowered religious extremist from a desert wasteland who has great symbolic value but no real command and control over the movement that he is a part of (yes, I went there). When Palpatine describes his theory of victory to Luke on the second Death Star over Endor, the defeat of the rebel fleet is barely a postscript to Luke’s fall to the Dark Side. The Empire is clearly operating without a coherent strategy as their ends are confused. Nor did Palpatine produce any useful policy that would serve to better prioritize the strategic ends. The severe lack of a healthy separation of church and state wasted Imperial resources.

What a super-empowered religious extremist from a desert wasteland might look like.

Tarkin, of course, would not have let this happen. Palpatine obviously had great trust in the Grand Moff and, had he lived, the Emperor could have delegated the military fight against the rebellion to the true military mastermind while turning to the Imperial intelligence or special forces communities to hunt down Luke Skywalker. Either that, or Tarkin’s coolness, vision, and competency would have allowed him to execute a coup d’etat that would depose the distracted and arrogant pair of Sith. This, actually, would not have been too bad of an outcome for the galaxy. While Palpatine is prone to rule through force, Tarkin intends to rule through the threat of force. This would have first required the destruction of Alderaan, the execution of Princess Leia, and the destruction of Hoth, but after that years of peace could have followed. Surely this was a bad outcome for the rebellion and George Lucas’ merchandise sales, but the people of the galaxy would have seen peace. Instead, when the only competent strategist in the entire Star Wars galaxy dies at Yavin, decades of civil strife follow. (If you follow the Expanded Universe anyway.)