Sins of a Solar Spymaster #62: The Crisis of the Northern Coalition
Another EVE alliance is faltering thanks to some poor strategic decisions. Find out how it all happened and what The Mittani thinks is needed to save the day in this week's Sins of a Solar Spymaster #62: The Crisis of the Northern Coalition.
The Crisis of the Northern Coalition
Vale of the Silent has fallen, Geminate is long-lost, Majesta Empire and RAGE (for their sake, I have helpfully eliminated no less than four periods in their alliance name) are in retreat, evacuating to Tribute, the bastion of Morsus Mihi and the core territory of the Northern Coalition bloc. Tribute itself is now at risk, and the eyes of EVE are watching, wondering if the largest bloc in the game (with some 50k members, depending on how you do the math) is about to shatter in the face of an assault spearheaded by the Drone Russian Federation. Six months ago, the commentariat was espousing the consensus that the NC was almost embarrassingly invincible, that particular flavor of power which causes its enemies to beg for CCP to intervene on their behalf; now that same group heralds the NC's imminent doom. What the hell happened?
From Kalevala to the Gates of Tribute
Peace is death in EVE, even for blocs who proudly self-identify as carebears. Overpopulated and facing no serious external threats, the NC found itself at a crossroads. With the demise of their former ancient foe - Band of Brothers, and later IT Alliance - the borders of the North were more secure than they had ever been. BoB and IT had launched periodic mass invasions of the North, the so-called 'MAX' campaigns, each of which ended in humiliating defeat for the aggressors. Nevertheless, these attacks kept the North in a defensive crouch, huddled together in a purely defensive coalition. The North did not engage in territorial aggression like other blocs; they reacted to threats, and were willing to travel far beyond their borders to do so (such as in the Great Wars), but they did not initiate conquests - until now.
In October 2010, Vuk Lau, the leader of the NC, gave permission to his fleet commanders to begin an incursion into Drone Russian Federation space. This attack was to be a purely destructive attack on Solar Fleet bridges and CSAAs, not an attempt to conquer and hold space in the famously undesirable Drone Regions. Responsibility for the invasion was given to a young fleet commander named Cobra2k, who had never led a strategic campaign before; Vuk Lau, who was occupied with the successful expansion of his real-world business, delegated command and control to Cobra2k and stepped back. Since it was to be a 'fun war' of little consequence, micromanagement wouldn't be necessary. Unfortunately for both Vuk and the NC as a whole, this proved to be a disasterous mistake.
Shortly after gaining control of the NC's military, Cobra2k launched an invasion of Kaavelava Expanse, the nearest DRF territory to the NC - territory controlled not by Solar Fleet, but Legion of Death. In order to accomplish the objectives Vuk had given him against Solar Fleet, Cobra2k explained that it was necessary to take and hold Legion space. Like a man who offers to split a beer and then drinks all of it, claiming that the bottom half was his, the NC found itself owning more than half of Kaalevala under the sovereignty of RAGE, a 'young and hungry' NC alliance which was swiftly outgrowing its territory in Vale of the Silent. The growing RAGE needed space for its members and its guests (each 'full' NC member can grant space and standings to three sponsored client alliances, each of whom hopes to eventually become 'full members' in turn), and new territory in Kaalevala was the answer.
Before the NC invasion, the 'Drone Russian Federation' didn't exist; Solar Fleet, Legion of Death, White Noise and Red Alliance spent much of their time feuding or ignoring each other. As Kaalevala fell, the NC provided an external threat significant enough to unify these disparate groups into one organization, now called the 'Solar Legion of Red Noise', with their leadership in one jabber command channel for the first time since the dark days of the Lotka Volterra vs Red Alliance wars. Angered by the disconnect between the NC's words and deeds, Pandemic Legion found themselves a contract with the DRF to assault the NC in Venal, taking nearly all of the NC's tech moons in that region. Overextended and now facing a united front, the NC's incursion faltered and was eventually pushed back by the DRF - a bloc which now hungered for revenge.
In February 2011, the DRF's campaign for vengeance began. Daroh, leader of Rebellion alliance, an NC member holding territory in Geminate (which borders Kaalevala) allegedly accepted a massive payment in isk from White Noise to disband his alliance at a time which coincided with an attack by the DRF. Rebellion ceased to exist, with the remnants reforming as Gypsy Band, and their stations in Geminate swiftly became a foothold for the DRF in that region.
As Geminate began to falter, the DRF commenced pushing on Vale of the Silent; meanwhile, a number of incredibly costly supercapital battles took place, where 100+ supers on each side clashed with fairly random results, usually due to crippling lag. Both the NC and the DRF began to amass a supercapital death toll which would leave most blocs bankrupt and stunned. Yet one critical difference between these incredibly wealthy powers emerged: where the NC mostly produced its own supercapitals to replace its losses with, the DRF had enough liquid capital to simply replace its losses off the open market. As the war dragged on, this distinction grew to have major strategic importance - the DRF's supercap blob remained roughly the same size, while the NC's began to dwindle.
The Travails of the Northern Coalition
And so Tribute is at risk, with the NC trying to hold the line to buy time for the southeastern bloc (Awagon, comprising Against All Authorities, Stain Empire and their allies) to try to draw off the DRF. It is a desperate fight, despite having the largest single force of supercapitals and members in EVE. The NC is in a period of desperate reform, trying to fix the structural issues which led them to this point. How did this come to pass?
*Murky Leadership Structure: A council of councils offers no counsel at all. Made up of primarily industrial alliances in a defensive coalition, the NC leadership is rife with the heresies of parliamentarianism; high councils and notions of democracy are endemic. While Vuk Lau is often considered the leader of the NC, this is not an explicit position, and there appears to be no mechanism to propagate changes in policy across the myriad alliances in the bloc. This makes the kind of rapid reaction necessary to respond to hostilities nearly impossible; seemingly simple changes founder on the rocks of no one knowing who is in charge.
*Doctrinal Chaos: A reflection of divided and argumentative leadership, the NC has no unified fleet doctrine. Individual alliances in the bloc reimburse a dizzying array of ships. A line member in the NC will see broadcasts calling for six different types of fleet over the course of any given day, meaning that to participate that member is responsible for sourcing six different hull types depending upon the whim of whichever FC is leading. Similarly, there appears to be no vetting structure as to who is allowed to lead and call for a fleet. By contrast, most other blocs have one or two common doctrines, and only those are reimbursed; this ensures tight fleet composition and eases the difficulties of choice paralysis for the line members.
*Selling to the Enemy: One of the primary money-making activities for industrialists in the NC has been the production and sale of supercapitals on the open market; it is estimated that Tribute alone has more than 90 CSAAs in constant production. More than half of the supercaps used by Pandemic Legion were bought from NC sources, according to some. By not regulating or restricting the sale of these laughably unbalanced strategic tools, the NC finds itself losing regions to a fleet literally of its own creation.
*Diluted Identity: Who or what is the NC? As part of its policies, a full member of the NC is allowed to invite and grant standings to three guests; this has resulted in a very rapid expansion of population, yet there is little cultural bonding between the guests themselves. As the size of the bloc has rocketed past 40k accounts, these emotional ties of identity and common culture have weakened significantly.
*Brain Drain: Until the attack on the DRF, the NC was explicitly a defensive coalition. Most FCs are bred for war - ideally the offensive sort - and seek it out; this has resulted in a very small pool of bloc level FCs remaining with the NC. The aggressive and bloody-minded leave the bloc to seek out organizations that cater more to their interests, and it is primarily the mediocre who remain behind. The exception to this rule is Imperian of Morsus Mihi, one of the best FCs in the game, but one man cannot lead more than 250 pilots at a time.
*Best Frenemies Forever: The tagline of the NC has been Best Friends Forever, but in practice the only way to rise in the political hierarchy of the organization is over the bodies of your fellow alliances. The resources of the North are bountiful yet hotly contested; the only way for a member alliance to acquire a new tech moon, for example, is to engineer it such that one of their allies loses it. When facing an external threat the NC does band together and unite, but the legacy of Byzantine politics leaves an undercurrent of distrust and backbiting not present in other blocs.
*Supercap Attrition: An industrialist and his supercap - like a fool and his money - are swiftly parted. The North is so rich that there are an absurd number of idiots who have no business owning a supercapital ship; this draws hostile entities like flies to rotting meat. Almost every day during the war against the DRF, the NC has lost one or more supercapitals to ganks which would have been avoided using a basic level of competence - not jumping to an unscouted cyno beacon, not ratting in a belt with a supercarrier, etc. This has taught the enemies of the NC that if they log on and endure the fleet lag while fighting the NC, odds are good that they will be rewarded with a spectacular killmail. Meanwhile, these expensive acts of folly demoralize the remaining competent and dedicated NC pilots; the number of hostiles forming up increases, while those defending their home lose the will to continue.
Speaking at a personal level, in years past the NC was invaluable in aiding Goonswarm in our war against Band of Brothers, and we owe them a great debt; because of this, we have been committing many fleets to keep Tribute secure. Yet our efforts will be for naught if these issues are not addressed; already there are indications that the NC bloc is entering the early stages of a failure cascade. Stern, engaged autocratic leadership is needed to save the day.