Steven Metz, Chairman of the Regional Strategy Department of the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, noted in a tweet a few days ago that “Ten plus years and people are still trying to pound the round peg of terrorism into the square hole of war.”
Which got me thinking, again, and this is a discussion Fabius and I have been having for many years: Are we at war with anybody? Is there any chance we will ever be at war with anybody? And the collateral issue, which makes all this more than just a philosophical discussion on the futility of names: What sort of military forces will be useful for us in the first half of the 21st century?
As way of background, strategists have typically reserved the word “war” for something serious. Here are a couple of the best known examples:
- War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. (Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Griffith trans. 63)
- War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds. (Clausewitz, Penguin edition, 1987, p. 103)
Some have noted that in the era of nuclear weapons, Clausewitz’s conception must be modified:
- Thus the effect of nuclear weapons, unforeseen and perhaps unforeseeable, has been to push conventional war into the nooks and crannies of the international system. (Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War, p. 11)
- State-on-state war has gone the way of the dinosaur thanks to America’s willingness to remind everyone on a regular basis that we are the last superpower standing. (Thomas P. M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map, p. 271)
- War as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs; such war no longer exists. (Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force, p.1)
Note that none of these rule out war, per se, just a replay of WWII or at least one of its major battles. Are they right? Doug Macgregor doesn’t think so, as he wrote in an earlier post:
[US Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray] Odierno’s emphasis on everything but the readiness to fight enemies that can actually fight back with armies, air forces, air defenses and navies may temporarily endear him to the shrinking pool of nation builders on the left, but it’s also a prescription for future disasters on the 1950 Korea model — a disaster created by army four stars, not Congress.
You might argue that we should keep a significant conventional force, including a large army, because the future is uncertain and it’s better to be safe than sorry. The problem with that approach is not only the cost of such forces but that when they are used against entities that cannot “actually fight back with armies, air forces, air defenses and navies,” they not only don’t solve problems but make them worse. Macgregor himself observes:
… self-defeating operations to suppress Muslims resisting occupation in Iraq — operations that put Iran in charge, not the United States. Directing air strikes, raids, check points or patrols against Muslim insurgents from the comfort and security of the Green Zone is not the future. It’s the past and a dead end at that.
This is typical of “wars” against something other than organized military forces. If you regard “war” as a large-scale act of violence to compel other people to do our will (a paraphrase of another Clausewitz quote), and you try to apply it to something else — “terrorism,” for example — you run into another interesting observation by van Creveld on the nature of conflict between states and non-state entities:
Compared with the willingness or lack of it, in men (and women) to die for their cause, virtually all questions of policy, organization, doctrine, training, and equipment pale into insignificance.” (The Changing Face of War, p. 228)
To the extent it is valid, van Creveld’s observation has serious implications because we are putting all of our brainpower and money into questions of “policy, organization, doctrine, training, and equipment.” Consider, as just one example, our tactic du jour, drone warfare, essentially very long range sniper shots, or to use another term, assassinations. Missiles fired from drones kill bad guys without exposing our troops to risk, as Tom Barnett predicted back in 2004:
Within a short time, we will close in on a standard of warfare where an unmanned aerial vehicle operating on the other side of the world can locate, identify, and kill a terrorist within eight or nine minutes—all at the push of a button. (New Map, p. 272)
But as a character in Steel Magnolias once pointed out, just because you can get pregnant doesn’t mean that you should get pregnant. Is drone warfare an effective tool in the war on terrorism, or does it just advertise to the world that we are afraid to risk our lives for our cause? What should we be doing?
Is the war metaphor itself part of the problem?
Over to you. What do you think?
For more information
These issues Chet discusses are central to the concept of Fourth Generation Warfare:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Why We Lose at 4GW – The 2 kinds of insurgencies
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
- Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics
- About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century
- About the 4GW between India and Pakistan, 6 January 2009
- 4GW in India – more people who want to watch the world burn, 19 January 2009
- The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009
- Is 4GW magnifique?, 22 June 2012
“War” sung by Edwin Starr (1970)