WHY we haven't achieved world peace.
HOW we achieve it.
WHAT we should expect once we get there.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Utility of War: the Art of War in the Modern World

In The Utility of War: the Art of War in the Modern World, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007, General Rupert Smith compares wars of the past, which he calls Industrial War, with those in the present, which he calls war amongst the people.

During Industrial War, well-defined nation-states used to game each other like high-stakes poker players, anteing up all their manpower and industrial resources for a climax confrontation that ended (quite conveniently) in total defeat for one side and total victory for the other. He says this type of historical war has ended with the advent of weapons of mass destruction, even though the developed nations (actually, all the nation-states of WeaponWorld) are still trained, organized and equipped to understand and fight it and it alone.

He affirms that modern nations must learn to fight a new kind of war, one in which minorities with specific means and ends that differ from those of the developed nations, live among the people, and in which both sides fight “to capture the will of the people.” The currency of this new kind of war is the aimed bullet as long as order under law must be re-established, then evidential information leading to prosecution and sentence, to re-establish justice once and for all.

Unlike in industrial war, the people are not the enemy, even though the enemy live among the people; the presumed goal is the re-establishment of justice instead of the defeat of an entire people and its army; and the common currency is information instead of firepower. The outcomes that war amongst the people may achieve are amelioration, containment, deterrence-or-coercion, and destruction, in ascending levels of applied force and descending ones of likelihood of success; and the time frame is indefinite and perhaps endless instead of ASAP. Finally, the military are but one of many means to achieve the desired strategic end, and not the primary one, compared to political, diplomatic, legal and economic actors (one’s own, one’s allies’ and the people’s). There are too many other good ideas in this book to go into them here; a recommended reading.

In 1984, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger outlined six conditions (the Weinberger Doctrine) which the U.S. had to fulfill to avoid another Vietnam-like quagmire:

1. It should be of vital national interest to the United States and its allies.

2. Intervention must occur wholeheartedly with a clear intention of winning.

3. There must be clearly defined political and military objectives.

4. The relationship between the objectives and the forces must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.

5. There must be a reasonable assurance that the American people and Congress will support the intervention.

6. Commitment of U.S. forces should be the last resort.

General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War (1991), added condition(s) number seven.

7. Should the U.S. intervene, the operation should be short, occasion few casualties to U.S. forces, and the force used must be decisive and overwhelming.

General Smith shows how these conditions cannot cope with War of the People instead of Industrial War, the major reason being that most of them cannot be answered reliably before a new operation is undertaken. Later on in his book (page 392), he lists a number of questions that rational leaders of developed nations should answer before they engage in any new military adventure.

“Whom are we opposed to? What is the outcome they desire? What future do they threaten? How is this different from our desired outcome?

“Are we seeking order or justice? On a scale between them, where is our outcome? If we are seeking justice, whom is it for?

“Who are we going to deal with, their present leaders or do we want others in power? If so, who are they? Are we changing the present leadership entirely? If not, who stays?

“Whose law are we using; their or ours? If ours; do we want their law to change?

“Who is administering the state; them or us?

“Do we know the outcome we want in sufficient detail that we can set objectives to be achieved? If not, the most we can achieve is a situation likely to be conductive to an outcome we will approve of. Can we define this “condition” so that we can set objectives to be achieved? If not; the most we can do is to ameliorate and contain, whilst we find the information to answer the foregoing questions.

“At what level (Strategic, Theater or Tactical) can we in theory achieve objectives directly by force of arms? Should we do this? Can we do this? Will we do this? When do we do this?

“If not, what are we prepared to threaten and promise in order to achieve the objectives we have defined? What does the opponent most value that we can threaten? What does he want most? (Remembering always that threats are expensive when they fail and bribes are expensive when they succeed.) When do we do this?

“How do we show the threat is credible; that we will carry it out, that we will succeed even if we have to escalate to do so? Are all other courses of action open to use perceived as being less attractive to us than carrying out our threat?

“How do we show the opponent’s threats are insufficient and that we will reject their alternative outcome?

“How do we ensure our promises are credible in the eyes of the opponent and the people?

“How do we ensure the opponent and the people can be trusted?”

Above and beyond the questions that General Smith poses, the most honest ones that a nation-state must ask itself are:

Is the military anarchy of WeaponWorld, currently upheld by military nation-states as well as terrorist organizations, in the developed or undeveloped worlds alike, justifiable on moral, tactical or strategic grounds? Wouldn’t PeaceWorld offer a less paradoxical setting to defend the most valid ideals implied in the questions listed above? In the meantime, aren’t we morally equivalent to those terrorists, merely better financed and organized hoodlums? Thus incapable of defeating them in the long run, since unwilling to adopt the moral, propaganda and organizational prerequisites (PeaceWorld) to do so for keeps?

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