Header art by Mintaki.
This is part four of a five-part series on Diplomacy in EVE Online. The previous three articles in this series dealt with the scope and shape of the diplomat in New Eden; from what their place is, to the implications of their presence, and how they can act as agents of change.
Part four addresses the diplomacy that happens as an economic effort. This is the diplomacy of power, from rental agreements and non-invasion pacts, to the greater strategy of out-maneuvering and out-spending your enemies and allies.
This release was originally slated to include commentary on the impact of RMT on wars and diplomacy in EVE, but it turned out to be just too big a subject all on its own and I’ve broken it out for a separate, future article.
A Word of Warning
I fully admit I’m diving into very murky waters here, because in the previous articles I’ve spoken about diplomats and the politics of New Eden in very general, very abstract ways. The previous three articles are for establishing context and an awareness of the broad strokes of diplomacy. In this article I have to get into greater detail and examples.
Please note, I am not a diplomat. I’m a teacher, a writer, and a recruiter. The following is the result of a lot of reading, research, interviews, and feedback from diplomats, FCs, economists, and leaders with relevant subject matter experience. That experience is only accurate within its own frame of reference, and the experience changes respective to the alliance and corporation you belong to. The experience of the small corporation with no dedicated diplomat will be vastly different from that of an alliance with a dedicated diplomatic corps, sky team, and spymasters.
This article assumes a degree of organisational complexity – that you do have a dedicated diplomat(s). I also assume that you have some way of intelligently gathering and documenting intelligence, economic efforts, and formal relationships.
At points in the article I will use the figurative ‘you’ for demonstrative or illustrative purposes, but am not speaking to any specific person in particular.
The Three Commodities
ISK, Morale, and Time. These are the three great commodities of New Eden.
I touched on this in a previous article about planetary interactions changes coming with Into the Abyss, but it bears repeating here. Provide anyone with a gain or surplus of any one of ISK, Morale, or Time and you will make a new best friend. Cause anyone to lose any of these and you’ve gained a new enemy.
The objective of the diplomat is to win with words. How well you can achieve these ends is determined by what utility you may serve to your friends, your leadership, and your enemies.
Let’s return to a couple of the categories of diplomatic exertion that we briefly described in the first article in this series.
War in Sov Null is a circular recurrence of the following milestones:
- Coercion – Someone is unhappy, or someone wants something, or both. Pressure is applied, or conflict breaks out. Duration of conflict is decided by the reserves and the economic, logistic, and combat efficiency of both sides.
- Appeasement – (Eventually) Someone decides the fighting is too costly and sues for peace. Compromises develop. Chequebook diplomacy.
- Relocation – Defensive agreements form, or an offer is made to establish safety elsewhere. Someone comes to town, someone leaves town.
- Acculturation – The culture of the newcomer begins to disseminate; the culture of the incumbent establishes boundaries. Negotiation occurs.
- Economics – Economic warfare germinates in the growth of the newcomer and the neglect of the incumbent
Coercion and Appeasement are driven by your ability to cost someone money, time, or morale, and is supported entirely by your excess of the three commodities. If you can’t make and hold onto a lot of bank and morale, you can’t carry your organisation through the economic winter.
Relocation is the inevitable for all organizations in EVE; burnout is real and one of the best strategies to combat burnout is a change of scenery, though diplomacy often seeks to control when it happens, and to whom. Goons have lived in Fountain, now they live in mostly in Delve. For new players it may be difficult to imagine a time when they did not live in Delve. Even the biggest groups move.
Part of moving and establishing new space means also establishing NIPs (Non-Invasion Pacts), defensive agreements, and diplomatic relationships to foster the development of safe space and mutual content creation. After all, no one wants to necessarily jump out of one war of attrition and directly into another.
The shadow wars of acculturation and economic warfare are all about rebuilding that war chest of time, morale, and money. Rebuilding the organisational confidence, enjoyment of the game, and willingness to spend their time and money to get into another war when it will happen – because it will – is a key part of the development of organizations in Sov and NPC Null. You don’t need to do it alone, and you shouldn’t.
By building and demonstrating a unique culture you also plant a flag in the sand for other, like-minded players to join your cause, thereby recovering any losses or departures which inevitably occur when people chafe at duress or stagnation, when you purge spies and casuals, and when you move too far for their comfort. Some people are like tortoises, reliable but slow-moving and locked to certain climates.
If you’re large enough to hold a surplus of sov and defend it against would-be invaders you can use that space however you like. Upkeep of sov space can be expensive though, and a lot of work, and you have one of a few ways to work it so it’s sustainable. One of them is to let someone else work it for you.
The United States Land Ordinance of 1785 laid the foundations for land policy, public school (via funding from taxes), and the rules of ownership in the US. Before these ordinances, defining the size and division of land, the United States offered legal grant of land to settlers in the form of a headright. Put simply, a settler could own as much land as they had men (labour) to work it. The more labour you had, the more land you could hold.
The headright system laid the grounds for slavery in America because it gave a commodity value to the headright in acres, worth between 1 and 1,000 acres for a labourer, depending on where the land was. You also couldn’t vote if you weren’t a titled, white, landowning male. So, if you wanted more land and a say in local politics—and if you didn’t have enough kin to work the land yourself—you brought in slaves; provided you could afford the transportation costs.
This system exists in New Eden, and it’s not just the Amarr slavers who are taking advantage of it. Capsuleer corporations of every size have renters. Some of the largest renter empires, such as those operated by Brothers of Tangra [BOT] and Shadow of xXDEATHXx [X.W.X], cover entire regions.
What separates the renter alliances (those renting from larger entities) in New Eden from slaves is that renters have rights, and these are codified in the rental agreement.
The rental agreement lays out what space renters have the privilege of using, what resources and support they’ll receive, and how much they have to pay in rent or percentage of profits to keep the arrangement going. In return, the landlord alliance or coalition typically guarantees some degree of safety and protection for the renters.
This arrangement works very well for those industrial corporations which specialize in mining, drug production, or industry. They get a constellation to hyper-krab in peace and quiet, and as long as the rents don’t exceed the cost of owning space themselves, it’s not perceived as a burden. In fact, some alliances would rather pay a premium for protection than have to become competent PVP pilots and defend their own space.
Typically renters pay some combination of one of a sliding monthly fee (in billions of ISK), a percentage of their production, taxes, or all of the above in order to use space held by a larger organization. Typical rates for taxes on use of space are about 5-15%, although some groups purporting to be newbro friendly gouge their members with taxes as high as 55%.
For large alliance and coalitions having renters allows the PVP-focused to keep on doing what they’re doing. Renters increase the number of bodies paying taxes, and that tax income (plus any additional rental fees) can represent trillions of ISK over time. This pays for a lot of ship replacement policy (SRP), sov upgrades, structures, and market capital. Plus, it’s good to have a nice, fat war chest to get you through conflicts.
For many, having renters at all means the difference between being able to afford to engage in war, or not. Having that kind of capital also means that rather than fighting you, you can just pay people to go away and leave your borders alone – unless they have a beef with you that money can’t assuage.
Renters, however, often represent a significant logistical burden. While you might have your renters making ship hulls, fits, ammo, and money for you, they’re typically not the best PVPers, often leaving their defense to their landlords. In fact, renters are on the most part soft in the middle, and unlikely to form with the kind of discipline you’d expect of your members. So, when you get hit by an outside force you may find yourself having to fight spread-out over a larger area than is ideal, with fewer actual bodies than you have on paper.
Some renters are barely better than indentured servants, however, and it may be possible to make diplomatic inroads by offering renters a better, more lucrative arrangement in space you control. Especially if they’ve been choking under the yoke, so to speak. If you’re a diplomat, and you have renters, chances are their access requests and inquiries will represent a significant amount of your daily work.
Non-Invasion Pacts and Other Agreements
The relations of relative states often operate in a de facto state of détente. To maintain an easing of hostility or strained relations, alliances large enough to operate as self-contained states typically form several types of agreements with respect to the drawing of political and strategic borders and the kinds of activities which will be tolerated; or at the very least not considered a provocation of war.
These agreement types often fall into these groups:
- Non-Invasion Pacts
- Mutual-Defense Pacts
- Mutual-Aggression Pacts
Non-Invasion Pacts (NIPs) are “frenemy” agreements. When people talk about the blue doughnut, many often conflate having a NIP as the being the same thing as being blue (friendly or positively-aligned), which is not strictly the case. The rule of thumb for blues is, almost always, “don’t shoot blues.”
With a NIP, you agree to be “friendly enemies”; not allies and certainly not enemies. It’s the classic blue, not blue arrangement where neither of you dislike the other, and you may regularly fight, but there are certain things which are mutually agreed to be off-limits. The boundaries of acceptability should be written into your NIPs in specific detail with actions deemed off-limits clearly defined, with clear escalation, compensation for transgressions, and reasonable response outlined.
NIPs also layout who to speak to if one of the conditions for a NIP is being willfully broken – such as the named diplomats and/or leadership representative on either side, and how they can be reached.
A plain language example of a basic nip is:
“Members are welcome to run escalations in each other’s constellations, and roam through for content, but cloaky camping, structure bashing, and entosis are off limits. Cloaky camping is, for the sake of this agreement, being cloaked in a single system for longer than 15 minutes, or in a constellation for greater than 45 minutes. If you can’t catch one of us with our pants down in that time, you suck, get out.
“In the event of a breach on either side, which goes unaddressed or unresolved to mutual satisfaction, we reserve the right to cancel the NIP with notification and begin annexing your systems in earnest. Contact persons for this NIP are: X and X (Discord IDs).”
The core objective of the NIP is to create an environment where no one is at risk or threat of having to defend their homes constantly, but neither are they starved for content. This allows everyone to have fun, and everyone to save for the rainy (or abysmal) day when war breaks out. This game should be fun for everyone, and a wise alliance doesn’t farm their neighbors – or at least not frequently.
Mutual-Defense Pacts (MDPs) are similar to a NIP and often neighboring alliances will have both in place, particularly if their region is disputed or the forces likely to attempt an annex outnumber the defenders.
MDPs formalize a contingency plan wherein X, Y, or Z alliance or coalition tries to attack either party, one comes to the defense of the other. This is a playground rules anti-bully pact; “If he or she comes to mess with you, I have your back.”
MDPs can put you in an awkward place, though, as is the case for Pandemic Horde, who ended up fighting opposite other members of PanFam during the battle of C-LTXS because they had an MDP with XIX following their move to Geminate.
The assumption with an MDP is that you will commit ships and pilots to the defense of your ally or neighbor, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. You may find yourself the wealthier party, where your neighbor has pilots in plenty and just needs someone to help finance their defense. This can be an extremely beneficial position to find yourself in, because favors are worth as much or more than secrets.
Mutual-Aggression Pacts are almost never captured in writing but are often well-established in the membership of the participating alliances and coalitions. Basically, this can be summed up as “GrrrGoons” or whomever the perceived ‘bad guy’ is of the day.
In short, Mutual-Aggression Pacts come down to, “If you want to punch that guy in his extremely punchable face, save me a spot in the queue, because I want to be there when you do.”
Just be sure that when you get dragged into a war it isn’t over something trivial or stupid, because war in New Eden is more costly than it is fun.
Opening the Door to War
Diplomacy primarily seeks to avoid war. War is the result of the failure of your diplomatic efforts. When you can no longer win with words, the forces at play will resort to arms. Sometimes it’s inevitable, and sometimes finding common ground is merely improbable, or something to be actively resisted.
When it comes to winning the wars you wade into, preparation and culture count for more than raw bank. However, everything has a cost and having a large war chest will help to mitigate the effect of long investment in a theatre of conflict. For this reason, unless war is forced upon you, you should always weigh your proverbial silver before you go looking to deprive someone else of theirs. This is why the truly adept—those leaders who are actually good at this game—do not seek out war but cultivate a dizzying array of agreements and relationships and situations of mutual benefit; not to avoid war, per se, but to make the cost of war so abhorrent, or their own utility so apparent, that the idea is quickly shut away.
War is expensive. In ISK, in Time, in Morale. Players are people and everyone has family, or friends, or significant others, or pets, or careers, or hobbies that they need to spend time with to get enjoyment out of life. EVE Online is a video game and it shouldn’t become an investment so burdensome that it begins to supplant the things which actually matter. People are willing to alarm clock for strategic operations or structure defences at all hours for a time. Sometimes, the content is its own reward, other times the loss of the thing they are defending is worth the trade of some of their downtime or a little irritation from their loved ones.
When war does break out, or the strategies of coercion and conflict do their dire work, and when FCs and members in fleets are exceptionally successful, it is the role of the diplomats on both sides to find the road back to equilibrium. Diplomats mitigate entropy.
Only a foolhardy leader goes headstrong and bullish into war without weighing the human costs of waging all-out war in EVE. People’s time will always be worth more than ISK, and morale suffers wherever you lose a lot of either. Preparation to be made before opening the door to war should be, first and foremost:
- Establish a culture of continuing education and promote risk tolerance—People who view failure as a learning opportunity and a pathway to success, who seek out failure and accept losses as necessary to growth, are infinitely happier and more successful. Seriously. Teach this to your kids, folks.
- Build failure tolerance and redundancy into everything you do—Go into every fight expecting to lose everything. Do it with a smile, you’ll have more fun. As your tolerance to that risk grows and your comfort at losing higher value assets grows with it, make sure you have backups of everything you plan to lose. If the worst happens and you lose all your ships, your space, and your structures, just move somewhere else and drop new ones. Wash, rinse, repeat.
- Foster a strong sense of purpose in your team— I can’t stress this one enough. Spies are less effective in organizations where everyone’s drinking the Kool-Aid. Your Skyteam and leadership are less likely to flip on you if you treat them well, and they share your values. Build consensus and don’t sell out your integrity.
Once you commit to a war the first thing you’re going to want is information. Information warfare is about knowing more than your enemy, and being able to apply it shrewdly. Diplomats professionally make friends. Friends tend to tell each other things, if even to gauge a reaction or to use each other as sounding boards. As such – and The Mittani has pointed this out several times – diplomats often are able to glean information that even spies wouldn’t hear.
Being able to get that information into the hands of the right parties, or even knowing who to give it to, is bread and butter for diplomatic exchange.
Sometimes, the information you receive is already known and the correct course of action is to act surprised and thank your ally or diplomatic contact, even reward them for the information they’ve offered, in the hopes they will provide something of value later. Sometimes, offering up a little intel of your own in free exchange – something which won’t harm your party, or which can act as a boon or a fulcrum for moving another diplomat to a favorable aggreement – can be the difference between being in the know, or not.
Information which a diplomat receives can be independently verified by spies, FCs, and leadership, but that’s not the diplomat’s job. The diplomat’s job is just to keep the conversation open, ongoing, and as friendly as possible, even under bad circumstances.
Being able to use your knowledge of a situation, who is involved, and where their relationships stand can be critical to bringing conflict to an early close. More important than just having access to that information is being able to filter it.
Like project or product managers, a diplomat needs to be able to take what someone is saying and identify the real pain point. People will complain about the damndest things, and if you take it at face value you run the risk of not being able to serve them well. Diplomats need to be able to read between the lines and put the pieces together from multiple conversations.
However, as covered at the end of the last piece, a diplomat’s job is to understand and to advise, it is not a diplomat’s job to create situations by trying to manipulate (or create) those conversations to drive a personal agenda. That’s not serving the community, that’s serving yourself.
Diplomats should be prepared to vet what they hear, however, as shrewd leaders know when to seed misinformation.
I feel like I have to start this section with two equally meaningful quotes:
“Victory is the beautiful, bright colored flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.”
— Sir Winston S. Churchill, The River War, vii (1899)
“International logistic coordination must always involve some invasion of the economic rights, independence, and sovereignty of each nation of the alliance.”
— Rear Admiral Henry E. Eccles: Logistics in the National Defense (1959)
Knowing when something will happen, or how, is key to breaking an enemy’s ability to fight. This is not simply a matter of being able to make tactical decisions about how to meet that offensive, but also in forming strategies about how to reduce their ability and desire to fight. Cutting off supply lines or destroying valuable assets before they get where they’re supposed to go is a powerful blow to your enemies.
Logistics forms the lifeblood of all military forces, and those who join standing armies, navies, or air forces learn very quickly that there are three people you do not fuck with: the people who pay you, the people who feed you, and the people who move you. Otherwise you run the risk of finding yourself penniless, starving, and stranded someplace inhospitable.
It is estimated that for every infantryman holding a rifle there are no fewer than seven supply clerks making sure they have the proverbial “bombs, beans, and bullets.”
Among New Eden’s capsuleer alliances it is no different, and it is the logistical corps who make sure that ships, fittings, ammunition, and fuel get where they need to be in order for a fight happen. Sure, it’s a shared effort to move dread caches to other regions of space, but I’ll bet dollars to cents it’s always the same people who step up to move things, and that within your alliance there are key people who move stuff. In a monolithic organization like the Imperium it’s hundreds or thousands of people.
In smaller alliances there are often only a small handful of people responsible for the heavy lifting of moving things from point A to point B. These are the jump freighter pilots, the industrialists building things, and the explorers constantly scanning down cosmic signatures to find advantageous routes to market. These content enablers make it so that a fight can happen.
Moving materiel through a controlled region, or through neighboring regions, often requires the participation of diplomats. If there aren’t standing agreements allowing the transportation of goods to a conflict theater, they have to be negotiated.
Even if agreements do precede the conflict, it’s important to make sure the residents are doing their part to protect the supply lines travelling through their space. If they cannot be depended upon to defend critical midpoints and gates when things are moving, then the diplomats need to let the FCs know and arrangements need to be made with the residents so they are made aware that a sizable force will be staging out of their space, and that this is not an invasion.
Depending on how friendly you are with the locals, this can be a mutually beneficial “sleepover”, it can be a temporary inconvenience, or it can be an occupation by force. Assuaging the fears and de-escalating the response from the sovereign nations you trespass against in the process of going where you need to is part of the role of the diplomat.
Diplomats may also come to know, by virtue of access to individuals in-the-know or by long association, who the logisticians in the enemy camp are. Who the industrialists and jump freighter pilots and explorers are. When people complain about their problems resupplying, or getting enough fuel, or filling gaps in their production, the attentive diplomat takes notes. Sometimes this information comes as hearsay from third parties, but with enough detail it becomes possible to corroborate hearsay.
Knowing where and when someone is moving valuable goods, or fleets, is also key to crushing morale. Nothing hurts more than losing something really expensive, really publicly, before you’re ready to commit it. This has been demonstrated recently by Darkness. [DARK.] and by Legion of xXDEATHXx [X.I.X], who’ve both been caught with their pants down during move ops.
Wallet warriors is a catch-all term for people in the alliance who have money, and who use it to the alliance’s benefit. An archetypical example of a wallet warrior in New Eden is Aryth, who is very likely the richest person in EVE. Aryth also happens to be the veritable economic Grand Poobah of the Imperium.
While it may sound like I’ve recently committed to wearing a fine fedora of Reynolds Wrap, I suspect very little goes on in New Eden’s markets without Aryth knowing about it, or having caused it. Suffice it to say it’s alleged that they’re responsible for buying out the entire supply of Mercoxit on the market on a weekly basis.
When you have buying power, when you can be a wallet warrior, you operate in a position of utility within your alliance. Whether that position is incidental or intentional, wallet warriors make it possible for the logisticians to do what they need to do, and for the alliance to fund their capital projects.
Wallet warriors procure goods at market which aren’t available in your region, build stockpiles of required resources, get deals on sov upgrades and Upwell structure components (if you’re not building them), or just make it profitable to operate. They are often the ones operating corporation and alliance buyback programs for salvage, minerals, moon goo, and research materials (decryptors, etc).
Economic warfare is very risky and very expensive, and it is often a bigger gamble than trying to catch someone with their pants down. As I’m not an expert on the matter—far from it, actually—I’ll just say that it’s entirely possible to buy out the entire supply of a thing to deny it to your enemies, or to accept a loss by undercutting your enemy and making it harder for them to make a profit.
Knowing what pressure points to push can come from knowledge gleaned via diplomats and spies, and diplomats can find themselves in the position of knowing who has stockpiles of what. This can open the door for negotiations for purchase, or other adventures.
PsyOps are a tricky thing, and again this is one of those areas where I lack any practical experience, but there are those who I’m sure would be happy to comment. If you want a fine example of historical examples of propaganda, I’d strongly recommend reading Empires of EVE, and supporting Andrew Groen’s upcoming second installment when it comes out.
Suffice it to say, propaganda works against the hearts and minds of an enemy’s membership; seeking to instill or exploit doubt, frustration, or feelings of dispossession, dismay, or pathos.
It’s often possible to tell from the outcomes of battles and the diminished effort of enemy pilots if propaganda is working. Diplomats, however, often have their fingers closer to the pulse of the enemy pilots and may come to know when a schism or failure cascade is about to occur. This can advantage your alliance or coalition with the opportunity to poach defectors and/or direct them where they stand to do you less harm.
Propaganda is more than an opportunity to dishearten the enemy though; it’s a change to plant your flag in the sand and tell the world about who you are. To show pilots and prospective members, “Hey, look at us! We’re so elite/cool/diverse/powerful/fun!” It’s your opportunity to show off your culture, your sense of humor, your character, and your play style.
In essence, propaganda is sometimes the best sales pitch. Other times it’s only political mud slinging. Both can be fun.
Regardless of whether or not you find yourself going to war, in a war, or supporting someone else’s wars, diplomats are often the unspoken men and women of the hour. Often, how a war comes to a close and things “go back to normal” depends on how the leadership and diplomats go about suing for peace. Even during war, some things may or may not happen depending on what conversations the diplomatic corps has.
It is mercifully infrequent that we see a total war in New Eden; a war whose objective is the complete elimination of an enemy. These wars are not to be taken lightly, and the last great attempt at one was during B-R5RB and the later Casino Wars. These wars are costly in every measure of the three commodities—time, money, and morale.
Diplomats who too heavily share what is told to them in confidence can see their reputations precede them, and those who play the cards too close to their chest rarely have the support or trust of their leadership. A diplomat can afford neither in a time of war, as trust is the prerequisite for diplomatic parlay. This trust is built upon reliability; on the ability of others to depend that a diplomat will act in accordance with their interests and in a way consistent with their reputation.
“When words fail, wars begin. When wars finally end, we settle our disputes with words.” – Wilfred Funk