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    22 September 2006

    Future War

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    Future Wars


    "To understand the future, study the past." - Martin van Creveld


    In virtually every discipline you learn from history before you attempt to make it. Humanities greatest discoveries generally didn't come out of thin air, especially in recent or modern history. For example, Einstein's theories of relativity or his mass-energy relation were derived with the aid of empirical insight that took place years, decades, and centuries prior. He was a brilliant mind, but he was not the sole contributor to his work; he'd be the first to admit that. The benefits of his achievements presently, and indeed still to come, were unknown to him or anyone in the early twentieth century, as many others were as well. At the time he didn't foresee that a combination of the special theory of relativity and previous works on the nature of light waves would become the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) we rely on today; that's but one example. Similarly with warfare, we cannot pretend to see the future without assessing the past. Martin van Creveld wrote in the early 1990s that "[t]o understand the future," you must "...study the past" (p. 193). This case study will briefly discuss past warfare in an attempt to understand what is ahead for humanity and our unending obsession with and reliance on war.

    The progression of warfare, modern warfare meaning since the treaty of Westphalia and the rise of the state (van Creveld, p. 36), can be categorized into phases or generations. By many accounts, we have witnessed the emergence and growing popularity of a fourth phase, one which uses asymmetrical tactics that are incomparable to the third generation approach currently used by the US and Western forces. The third generation was perfected for/during World War II and is still the prominent method of war making in most industrialized countries (Robb). The fourth generation warrior seeks to attack weaknesses and undermine strength; tactics not necessarily new but becoming more popular and successful as technology and globalization spread advantages once held exclusively by the US (Schwartau). For an example of fourth generation warfare we look towards Iraq. Iraqi insurgents often target soft spots such as infrastructure (oil pipeline, electrical grids) and supply lines rather than armored fortifications, thus undermining the strength of coalition and Iraqi forces. The war in Iraq is an excellent example of a cross-generational - in terms of warfare - conflict; the third generation coalition against a fourth generation insurgency. This is not a new phenomena, it was present in Vietnam and even earlier in the Philippines (Snow, p. 174). Earlier generations of warfare are exemplified by Napoleon representing the first generation of warfare and the US Civil War and WWI making up the second generation (Robb).

    Briefly, the Past
    In Donald Snow's relevant chapter on the future of war (p. 163-183), he divides a portion of this study into a look at how nations planned for war historically and applied the same methodology towards the future. His analysis was broken into three sections, the environment of the conflict, the structure of the conflict, and the players (Snow, p. 165-166). The first section deals with why and how you are fighting a given enemy. In the wake of WWI, military planners had a good case to study when preparing for a new war that would likely take place in Europe. Unfortunately, planning for the future is an inexact science and - at the time - few were able to anticipate the conflict in the Pacific theater (Snow, p. 168). The next section, the structure of the war, deals with the means available to those engaged and how well they use these resources. Again, WWI provided a plethora of new technology that army's employed with lethal results (Snow, p.168-170). By WWII, planners had to acknowledge these advancements and rethink their strategies. More effective weaponry (machine guns, heavy artillery, armor) made trench warfare nearly futile. Improved logistical devices (the internal combustion engine, storage battery) made the pace of war faster and maneuvering and deadly tactic; on land, in the air, and at sea. The final section addresses the issue of whom you are in conflict with. WWII planners for Hitler and Imperial Japan both failed at this task. Hitler didn't recognize the task ahead in controlling the Soviet Union just as Napoleon failed at controlling Russia (Snow, p. 172). Japan realized that their endeavors would ultimately bring them to war with America, but they underestimated the power possessed by American forces. As you can see, planning for the future is a game of luck as much as it is a game of skill, the future is important but it will not always be the key to predicting the future. The world is too random for that to be the case.

    The Future
    Determining why you are fighting and how it will take place was the easiest to acknowledge in traditional warfare, although you typically could not determine these facts in sufficient time to gain an advantage unless unprovoked, sneak-attacks are the plan; these are becoming impossible with large militaries operating within the bounds of the international system (Cheeseman, p. 79-81; Schwartau). This gives advantages to the asymmetrical fighter who doesn't officially represent a state in most current cases and does not operate large forces that can be effectively monitored through covert or space based surveillance. This represents a key characteristic of the new war and a drastic difference from the conventional interpretation of war ingrained in our consciousness from the twentieth century and the total wars witnessed by our parent and grandparents generations.
    Comparably, knowing your enemies and their capabilities nets little advantage in these days of global surveillance when looking at the traditional approach to warfare, state versus state playing on an equal plane. It is, however, fundamental that you take the time to understand your adversary if you seek to defeat him (van Creveld, p. 195). The total wars of the first half of the twentieth century were formal battles in most respects and between states that knew a lot about each other. As time goes by, it is becoming clear that threats from state militaries are becoming a thing of the past and the future of war will be waged by "...groups whom we today call terrorists, guerrillas, bandits, and robbers..." (van Creveld, p. 197). Asymmetrical forces are more likely to be ideologically driven than professional and popular rather than institutional. Not being bound by global rules and regulations provides a great advantage for the asymmetrical, stateless force. Now more than ever with the domination the US, NATO, and similarly equipped states and organizations, the weaker states and non-state military actors come to this logical conclusion from a Colonel in the Chinese Air Force:
    War has rules, but those rules are set by the West ... If you use those rules, then weak countries have no chance ... We are a weak country, so do we need to fight according to your rules? No. (Schwartau)

    The proliferation of asymmetrical forces has occurred due to the huge imbalance between the US and Western forces and these groups. This imbalance takes to form of resource dissimilarities; the West and especially the US have more money, more resources, better technology, and better alliances than the asymmetrical warrior (Snow p. 173-174). New means to attack these larger and more capable powers are sought by these forces and are commonly "militarily" and "intellectually unconventional" and often use tactics including "...harassment, ambush, and attrition..." (Snow p. 173-174). Unfortunately, but somewhat expectedly and logically, warfare has changed from traditional, standing armies engaged on fronts to shadowy, disparate, guerilla warfare that focuses attack on soft and/or symbolic targets (Jones and Kennedy-Pipe, p. 17-18).

    Moving Forward
    In order to address these dilemma, we need to acknowledge that, as van Creveld is summarized by Graeme Cheeseman, traditional "...strategies and structures may be of little use for either understanding or responding to many of the governments and their leaders will face in the future" (Cheeseman, p. 75). This is hauntingly apparent in the current conflicts between asymmetrical forces such as Iraqi insurgents, al Qaeda terrorists, and the Taliban-like rogue governments in Iraq and Afghanistan and old-fashioned traditional forces of the US, the coalition, and NATO; or the recent war between Hezbollah and Israel where for the for the first time a NGO - an army not affiliated with a state - was able to stand up to the preeminent power in the region. Van Creveld concludes that two conflicting requirements must be met in order to achieve success against an enemy, and thus the two must be balanced. The first is to concentrate the greatest force possible with the ability to deliver a decisive blow to the enemy. This clashes with the second requirement that is the need to understand and outsmart the enemy (van Creveld, p.226). Usama bin Laden was able to find the balance between these two requirements multiple times. Despite our grandiose monopoly on the tools of war, we have so far been unable to meet that goal.

    Posted by Geoff; submitted 19 September 2006

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