The Warfare Continuum

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“It is not to be expected that human nature will change in a day; perhaps it is too much to expect that the age-old institution of war … will be at once abolished…”

Frank B. Kellogg, American Secretary of State

Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

December 10, 1929


“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.”

Barack H. Obama, American President

Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

December 10, 2009


"Only the dead have seen the end of war."

Attributed to Plato


Former Secretary of State Frank Kellogg accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work establishing the Pact of Paris, in which the sixty-four signatories to the treaty renounced war as an instrument of national policy. Kellogg characterized the pact as a “sacred promise between all nations and to all peoples” to forswear war in settling their differences. Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama was premised on what the committee described as his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” with special citation given to his call for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama acknowledged the debates spurred by the Nobel Committee’s decision and devoted considerable time to justifying the awarding of a peace prize to a leader presiding over a nation at war in two countries. Obama answered by reiterating the principle of a just war and identifying the dilemma of all peacemakers – war is always tragic but sometimes necessary. Eighty years separate the sentiment of two American idealists celebrating the pursuit of peace, but the few words attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher more succinctly captured a lasting truth about human nature and the resolution of conflict. The grandeur and prestige of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize lends itself to the sweeping pronouncements of idealism such as those issued by Kellogg and Obama, but the immutable constant of human affairs will remain the occasional recourse to violence and war.


When Kellogg proclaimed his lofty aspirations, the Great War from 1914 to 1918 marked the first major conflict among the period's great powers in over a century. International organizations were newly established and the League of Nations, which Kellogg ardently supported while in the U.S. Senate, marked the first major institutionalized multilateral undertaking to manage international affairs peaceably. If the Pact of Paris held, then the tragedy and folly of the Great War could be confined to history; reconstituting the peace enjoyed between 1815 and 1914 seemed attainable.


Eighty years later, Obama can point to no similar institution or treaty establishing a corresponding consensus to eschew war.


More worrisome, the capacity of the states to foreclose the resort to violence, even if so desired, is rapidly diminishing and the sentiment to forswear war does not even exist. The utility of war, warfare, and violence remains, despite an anticipated “end of history”, and American leaders and policymakers continue grasping for constructs and concepts that will make sense of the future and inform future courses of action.


War: The Immutable Constant


In the present day, the American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has triggered an intense debate over the shift from conventional warfighting to stability operations and counterinsurgency tactics. Proponents of the latter (“reformers”) contend the emphasis on conventional warfighting doctrine to the exclusion of counterinsurgency tactics left American forces unprepared for the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Advocates of the former (“traditionalists”) argue the wholesale embrace of counterinsurgency doctrine will leave the American military unprepared for conventional warfare should the threat of interstate war re-emerge.


As noted previously, the 2006 Lebanon War has emerged as a touchstone for both reformers and traditionalists. Counterinsurgency doctrine proponents have pointed to Hezbollah’s unexpected success against the vaunted Israeli conventional military machine as proof of the need to continuing developing counterinsurgency capabilities. Conversely, conventional warfare advocates claim Hezbollah’s adoption of conventional tactics demonstrates the continued importance of preparing for traditional force-on-force combat operations.


The debate has reached an impasse, stalling with an apparent inability to explore options beyond the false “either/or dichotomy” of counterinsurgency versus conventional warfare. Counterinsurgency proponents want the American military to continue honing its ability to safeguard populations. Conventional advocates want American warfighters to retain the impulse to destroy the enemy.

A potential bridge has been submitted under the “hybrid warfare” thesis, which holds the evolution of warfare will entail the simultaneous implementation of conventional and irregular tactics by ever increasingly sophisticated enemies, whether state or sub-state. The Department of Defense has accepted the premise and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has indicated hybrid warfare will inform the development of the analytical framework supporting the department’s Quadrennial Defense Review – “…this will be the first QDR able to fully incorporate the numerous lessons learned on the battlefield these past few years. … the distinction between high-end and low-end war, between mechanized battles and stability operations, are blurring to the point where the old definitions of conventional and unconventional are no longer useful. War in the future will often be a hybrid blend of tactics.”


While the examination of new concepts and approaches is positive, the current course may lead to a conceptual dead end.


As currently defined, hybrid warfare is a concept whose breadth comes perilously close to undermining its instructive utility. According to a key proponent of the construct, a hybrid threat is “any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism and criminal behavior in the battle space to obtain their political objectives.” The expansive definition appropriately widens the aperture of national security threats beyond the preceding two major regional conflict construct that had previously governed overall defense planning, but simply does not provide the criteria necessary to discriminate and prioritize among the very many potential adversaries out there capable of implementing such combinations.


If war remains war (and warfare remains warfare) as antagonists, belligerents, objectives, and innovations emerge and fade, then what constructs can inform contemporary national security planning?


War Is Nothing But A Duel On A Larger Scale


Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s simple but enduring maxim immortally established war as a duel. Accordingly, a continuum of warfare between protagonists and antagonists, from the past to the future, becomes evident when examining two fundamental and closely aligned trends:


1) The decreasing ability of the protagonist to know the identity of its antagonist

2) The decreasing opportunity for the protagonist to retaliate with decisive violent action against an antagonist


Familiarity Breeds Contempt


From man’s first decision to aggress against his neighbor through the centuries, a protagonist always knew the antagonist. From tribes contesting fertile lands to Greek poleis battling for peninsular supremacy to the Roman conquest of the known world to the endless internecine wars in medieval Europe, belligerents knew each other intimately. Regardless of the motivation, belligerents were more than prepared to take up arms against an “other” all too familiar to them. While groups may have evolved into tribes, kingdoms, and empires, and the ambitions of chieftains, manor lords, kings, or emperors may have dictated when the next campaign would occur, the target was always the same – the tribe, fiefdom, kingdom, or empire next door.


With the advent of the Westphalian era, tribes and feudal fiefdoms were supplanted by states as the principal political unit in international affairs. In seventeenth century France, the monarchy had succeeded in establishing itself as the supreme political authority within the country and then sought to make the country dominant over Europe. The success with which the Bourbon monarchy centralized its authority over the country and then developed its economic and military strength vis-à-vis other European states inspired imitation across the continent. Soon all major European states featured absolutist monarchies.


At the end of the eighteenth century, the overthrow of the monarchy during the French Revolution and its incitement of nationalism, among many forces, transformed the state into the nation-state. This entity – a sovereign political unit inhabited predominantly by a relatively homogeneous group of people sharing a common culture, history, and language – has endured to the present day. Moreover, the acquired monopoly over the exercise of violence within defined geographic territories and highly institutionalized capacity to undertake war essentially narrowed the identity of protagonists and antagonists to nation-states and their governed populations for this period. The history of war during this latter portion of the Westphalian period has primarily entailed warfare between neighboring nation-states.


(States did wage war in remote locations, but mostly as colonial expeditions against technologically backward cultures. The use of force usually occurred if the initial encounter met with violent resistance from the indigenous authorities. Thereafter, subsequent wars would then follow the above pattern – the population and territory next door would become the next likeliest object of aggression.)


The future of the Westphalian period has come into doubt because the pre-eminent position the nation-states has held on the international stage has begun to wane as other actors have begun to rapidly accrue the ability to provide services on par with the state – in part because of the success the state has had in serving as a vehicle for collective action.


A key innovation in the evolution of the nation-state was Imperial Germany’s decision to institute social insurance programs in the late nineteenth century, partly to address upheavals induced by the new industrial economy and partly to undermine the growing political strength of socialism. As with the French example, the degree to which such initiatives bolstered the authority, domain, and cohesion of the nation-state inspired similar imitation in all major modern industrial economies.


In the twentieth century, democratic capitalist states had to contend with the alternative presented by totalitarian fascist and authoritarian communist states. Unfortunately, fascist and communist governance unfortunately resulted in horrific tragedies and the experience demonstrated the peril of assigning the state unbounded authority over its citizenry; the challenge ended with the implosion of the USSR in 1992.


Nevertheless, intervention in the economy and social engineering experiments were still considered valid state endeavors in democratic capitalist countries -- despite the tragic record of these alternatives -- and modern government became increasingly cumbersome as it expanded and eventually unable to address the resulting systemic deficits incurred by such intervention and experimentation.


Moreover, by the time the democratic capitalist state model had outlasted these alternatives, technology (in particular, transportation, communication, and information) and globalization had progressed enough to the point where private, transnational, non-national, and sub-state actors could now deliver goods and services once the domain of sovereign states – from education to health care – and more effectively. Because the state structures and regulations of each geographic territory in the international political economy were increasingly homogenized – since the world has become “flat” – many non-state actors (corporation, association, insurgency, an individual) at any scale (global, national, or local) were free to aggregate and mobilize resources parallel to the state and began providing these goods and services just as, if not more, effectively.


More ominously, such actors soon demonstrated the ability to prepare for and wage war as well. The most notorious contemporary examples include Aum Shirinkyo, A.Q. Khan's proliferation network, and Al Qaeda.


In fact, circumstances permit non-state entities to pursue a range of objectives while actively avoiding statehood. Statelessness has become increasingly feasible (and attractive) if a group wants to pursue a broad spectrum of objectives, especially at the expense of a hostile nation-state. Competing against and weakening, disrupting, or de-legitimizing a state is enough, because doing so creates the space for non-state groups to function and gain the modicum of authority and access to the resources necessary to pursue its next objective. More importantly, to be stateless is to decrease one’s own footprint, to decrease one’s chance of being a target of retaliation, and thereby to increase one’s odds of survival. To return to the aforementioned 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah would routinely present Israel with a choice between trying to find its concealed and dispersed fighters or punishing the country of Lebanon and its people.


The close of the Westphalian era means wide-ranging economic and security interests will inevitably place a nation-state at odds with not only the interests and values of other nation-states, but also an ever increasing growing number of groups and individuals around the world. Moreover, future antagonists can and will remain essentially anonymous until the moment to wage war is chosen – most critically, to the general population, who provide the manpower requested by the state to defend it.


In the immediacy of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Americans asked “why do they hate us?” but struggled when specifying who the "they" was. The United States government and informed observers knew of Al Qaeda's 1998 fatwa against the United States, but when calls for a declaration of war were considered, the rebuttal of “against who” was telling. The nation had just lost nearly 3,000 people in the most audacious terrorist strike ever and the nation's representatives, those constitutionally empowered to declare war, did not specify exactly who to go to war against.


In September 2007, the United States Senate passed a non-binding designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the internal organ of a sovereign state, as a terrorist organization; separate Google searches for leadership and capabilities of the IRGC against government and military URLs return sparse results for an organization in the nation's military crosshairs.


On December 25, 2009, a Nigerian attempted to detonate an intercontinental airliner landing in Detroit, Michigan; the individual, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, operated under the auspices of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which had formed only in January 2009, but had been active in the region for some time. When President Obama first discussed the attack on December 28th, he characterized Abdulmutallab as an “isolated extremist”; two weeks passed before the president acknowledged on January 7 that Abdulmutallab was an AQAP operative and the attack constituted an act of war.


The race between a state's military establishment and the enemy unfolds in real time as the Internet has facilitated the phenomenon of “open-source warfare” whereby hostile groups and individuals anywhere can and do publish, share, and download the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures available. In December 2009, Stars and Stripes, the US military's newspaper, published stories online within three days of each other relating how the Army was adapting its main training center to contend with roadside improvised explosive devices while Afghan insurgents were adopting a new tactic – killing soldiers with secondary bombs after they dismount to inspect an IED explosion. (The stories did not includes links to each other.)


In August 2007, Estonia famously became the first nation-state to succumb to a sophisticated cyber-attack; Estonia alleged Russia was behind the attacks but could not substantiate the charge. In July 2009, South Korean government and commercial portals were subjected to a massive cyberattack; officials speculated North Korea had launched the attacks, but as with Estonia, would not officially declare anyone responsible. In both instances, the attackers employed “botnets,” a collection of software robots that operate automatically, autonomously, and most critically, covertly. While acknowledged as serious disruptions, whether such cyberattacks pose military threats remains under debate; nonetheless, observers note the cyber attack that coincided with the 2008 Russia invasion of Georgia was similar in execution to the Estonian one. In each instance, the ability to identify the source of the attack has been extremely difficult to impossible.


On the horizon lies the prospect of darknetted adversaries. A darknet is a system that runs on networks via a software layer and hardware infrastructure and is constructed in a way that makes it opaque to outside observation and impervious to non-members or intrusion. A darknet can be parasitic or additive to the global environment – or more effectively, both. Finally, a darknet competes with other entities that operate within the global environment, from nation-states to corporations to associations to insurgencies to other darknets, and anonymously so. Once the domain of the technically proficient, darknets are now available to anyone.


Ultimately, for any protagonist (i.e. the United States), the new era means an adversary will strike and then “recede” into the background; the antagonist will have gone from obvious to anonymous.


Not Until You See The Whites Of Their Eyes


Returning to the moment when man first decided to appease his greed, fears, or pride over the objection of others, he soon discovered the surest way was to employ violent force.


At first, man had only his bare hands; only with clenched fists and nails drawn could man draw blood and coerce his enemy. In time, and with some thought and improvisation, man realized rocks and sticks could be fashioned into weapons and wielded to great effect in a confrontation. To gain advantage over adversaries wielding rocks and sticks, man soon developed skills crafting iron and bronze into knives and swords. To gain advantage over adversaries wielding swords, man took to wheeled chariots and building city walls and designing battering rams and catapults and mounting horses and elephants -- anything and everything that would give him an edge over his enemy. More importantly, anything that would give him an advantage when the two belligerents would clash on the battlefield; if man wanted to compel his enemy to do his will, then man would have to stand athwart his enemy in order to take his enemy's life.


However, to stand athwart the enemy is to risk one's own survival as well. While each improvement to weaponry enhanced one's own lethality vis-à-vis his enemy, the protagonist was still physically proximate to his antagonist and thus still vulnerable. Accordingly, man sought not only to improve the lethality of his arsenal, but also the degree to which he could minimize the risk to himself, ideally by maximizing the distance between himself and his enemy. Sharpening rocks, sticks, and metals increased a warrior's lethality, but developing slings and bows increased the space between him and his target.


In early warfare however, primitive technology constrained how much distance man could generate between himself and his opponent. Space was essentially a function of arm strength and eye-to-hand coordination; if the warrior had neither, or the opponent had effective countermeasures, then close-in physical assault remained necessary. Alternatively, if man could persuade fellow kinsmen to join, then the prospect of victory became greater.


As such, men soon coalesced into groupings which then evolved into the families and clans and tribes that eventually provided the basis for the first political units cited in the preceding discussion. As such groupings grew in size, opposing sides would resolve their conflict with an armed and violent battle on land common to both. (Clashes occurred at sea as well, but naval engagements closely resembled land combat in that ship borne forces would have physically attach and board the enemy ship in order to kill the opposing forces. Rome had no naval capabilities at the outset of the First Punic War but was able to defeat Carthage after successfully applying land infantry tactics to sea.)


While the preceding discussion centered primarily on the singularly distinctive evolution of the state, man's pursuit of enhanced lethality and greater physical separation from his enemy featured multiple landmark innovations.


An early innovation was the pike, an extremely long wooden spear that enabled rigid formations of warriors to smash advancing enemies. Use of the pike diminished for some time after the defeat of Macedonia by Rome, but returned again in the Middle Ages. Pikes were again useful against charging infantry, but resourceful warriors soon recognized the concentration of pike bearers left them vulnerable to another key advance -- the longbow.


Armed with the longbow, protagonist forces could launch arrows at a greater distance and would inflict enough casualties on less mobile and rarely protected antagonist pike forces to degrade their ability to deflect close in attack or disperse them completely.


To guard against the arrows of the longbow, medieval warriors in the 1300s began adding plate armor pieces to their traditional mail armor. For the next three hundred years, extensive plate armor was used in virtually all major European battles, by both some infantrymen and almost all mounted troops, primarily because such armor could deflect edged weapons such as swords, knives, and lances. The armor also protected, for a time, against a new battlefield threat -- projectiles launched from primitive gunpowder-enabled firearms.


Gunpowder marked a major innovation in weaponry. Gunpowder burns rapidly and can serve as a propellant in firearms; more specifically, as an explosive, it will generate enough pressure to propel a bullet, but not enough to destroy the barrel of the pistol, rifle, or cannon. Nonetheless, armor continued to provide an effective countermeasure to early gunpowder-based firearms because the velocity and weight of the projective was low.


Early firearms like the musket were not heavily adopted by medieval armies because, in comparison to the longbow, they were heavy and inaccurate. Given their inaccuracy and long reload time, army tacticians had to deploy musket-bearing men in deep formations, from six to twelve men deep, in order to maximize firepower. After the front rank fired, it would file away to the rear to reload. Firearms only displaced the bow and pike after the introduction of the flintlock firing mechanism, which make loading muskets easier and quicker to load. By 1700, the musket featuring bayonets became standard issue for the infantrymen of the aforementioned European states.


Thereafter, the main tactic for infantry attacks was a slow measured advance, with pauses to fire volleys at enemy infantry. The aim was to break the enemy by firepower and leave the pursuit of them to the cavalry. If the defenders did not break and flee, then a bayonet charge and hand-to-hand combat remained an option. However, muskets were still relatively inaccurate because of the gap between the projectile and the barrel. Rifles offered greater accuracy because the barrel had grooves cut into the interior wall which would cause the bullet to spin as it left the barrel. Nonetheless, muskets still provided the advantage of a faster firing rate because for rifling to be effective, the bullet had to fit snugly into the barrel. Unfortunately, fouling, caused by normal firing of the weapon, would make it more and more difficult to load a bullet into a muzzle-loaded rifle.


The invention of the bullet-shaped Minié ball in the 1840s solved both major problems of muzzle-loading muskets and rifles. Rifled muskets firing the Minié ball were more accurate, had a far longer range, and could be reloaded quickly. Use of rifled muskets led to a slow decline in the use of massed formations, because these formations were too vulnerable to the accurate, long-range fires a rifle could produce. In particular, attacking troops would remain within range of the defenders for a longer period of time, and the defenders could also fire at them more quickly than before.


As a result, while 18th century belligerents would only be within range of their enemies' weapons for the period of time necessary to fire a few shots, late 19th century attackers might suffer dozens of volleys before drawing close to defenders, with correspondingly high casualty rates. Nonetheless, the use of massed attacks on fortified positions endured for some time; consequently, major wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries generally produced very high casualty figures. The enormous amounts of war dead (and massive territorial devastation) resulting from the American Civil War and World War I are tragic testaments to this development, one attributable to man's simultaneous pursuit of greater physical separation from his enemy while maximizing his lethality.


The First World War is ignominiously remembered for the futility of trench warfare as armies stalemated across hundreds of miles of front. As the principal loser of that war, Germany exhaustively explored alternatives that would restore fluidity to the battlefield. To this end, the German military capitalized on the armored tank, which was introduced only late in the war by the British. The utility of armor as a countermeasure had been diminished by the continuous improvements in infantry firepower over the preceding centuries. By refining tank armor and combining it with the latest in mechanized transportation, the German military reintroduced maneuver to a battlefield that had frozen by massed infantry immobilized in trenches. Moreover, the German military formulated doctrine to emphasize encircling movements, speed, and destruction of the enemy. Finally, the German military exploited new radio technology to establish effective, but flexible, command and control of the newly created tank units.


Intoxicated by the militaristic nationalism and aggressive expansionist agenda of the governing Nazi Party, Germany unleashed "blitzkrieg" against the unreformed and demoralized militaries of Europe to devastating effect. While combat remained a close in affair, the German military's innovations achieved enormous advantages in speed, armor, and lethality which obviated the vulnerability arising from physical proximity to the enemy.


Furthermore, the Germany broadened the battlefield to include a new dimension -- the air. Heavier than air flight was achieved only thirteen years before the start of World War I and neither side effectively employed primitive aircraft in battle. Germany however took advantage of advances in aviation, in particular jet engine technology, to develop aerial combat, strike, and bombing capabilities. In this regard, Germany acquired advantages in both lethality and physical separation from the enemy by expanding the "battlespace" to the air.


However, as noted repeatedly, innovation spurs imitation.


The initially overwhelmed Allied coalition soon adopted German breakthroughs in tank and aerial warfare and soon proved equally capable, if not more adept. The American Army was woefully overmatched at the outset but soon mastered tank warfare, as the brilliant campaigns of General George S. Patton across western Europe demonstrated. The British Royal Air Force possessed the advantage of radar and successfully prevented the German Luftwaffe from attaining air superiority over Britain in preparation for an inevitable invasion. Allied air forces later provided critical support to ground forces and undertook strategic bombing during the liberation of Europe. In the Pacific, the development of carrier-based aviation forces resulted in an unprecedented naval engagement where the entire battle was fought by opposing air forces and the fleets never encountered each other.


Fatefully, the Allies learned Nazi Germany was aggressively researching nuclear weapon technology. The Allies responded by launching an intensive effort, led principally by the United States, to develop nuclear weapons first and succeeded in July 1945. The successful test occurred shortly after Nazi Germany surrendered so America employed the weapon against Japan, which capitulated immediately. For a brief period, the United States considered surrendering its nuclear weapon monopoly and ceding control of the nuclear technologies to an international consortium, but reconsidered as tensions increased with the Soviet Union. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully detonated its own nuclear weapon and the Cold War between the two superpowers soon generated a massive arms race, facilitated in part by another attempted German innovation.


Near the end of World War II, Germany experimented with crude ballistic missile weaponry as terror weapons but their inaccuracy limited their effectiveness. At the war's end, the United States scrambled to assemble Nazi German rocketry expertise before its onetime Soviet ally did.


America did secure several prominent experts and was indeed the more technologically advanced nation after the war, but the Soviet Union surprised the United States (and the world) by launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The prospect of being vulnerable to Soviet nuclear weapons delivered via missiles traversing outer space prompted the Americans to launch another intensive effort to develop a corresponding capability. The United States eventually succeeded and the subsequent arms race would last three decades; eventually the United States and Soviet Union constructed arsenals totaling thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) armed with nuclear warheads, capable of destroying the entire world several times over.


Nuclear weapons were used only once in a war and the Soviet-American arms race concluded peacefully, but the complementary development of nuclear capabilities and ballistic missile systems marked the extreme to which man had pursued greater lethality while maximizing his distance from the enemy. A single nuclear weapons could destroy an entire city and the intercontinental ballistic missile could deliver it thousands of miles. To wage war, the battlespace had become global.


Ironically, the pursuit only ensured mutually assured destruction and the much-feared American-Soviet nuclear war never occurred, partly because of this realization. Accordingly, after the arms race ended, the world's major powers retained their nuclear arsenals, essentially ensuring interstate war between them would become improbable.


Nonetheless, belligerent forces continue to meet on the battlefield and the impulse to achieve victory at a distance remains.


When the United States has applied military force over the past two decades, the nation's military has relied substantially on precision weaponry, air power, and rapidly maneuvering armored forces. In response, America's enemies avoid battlefield confrontations and opt for the few standoff tactics they can execute against deployed US ground forces, such as small-scale ambushes, roadside bombs, and terrorist attacks.


Recently, China destroyed a weather satellite with a ground-launched anti-satellite missile. While Chinese leadership asserted the action was taken to prevent the obsolete satellite from falling to earth, the act demonstrated the country's growing military capabilities and, more importantly, signaled a significant expansion of the battlespace. While aforementioned ICBMs would have traveled through space to their targets, the Chinese ground-based anti-satellite missile marks what may be the initial use of space to develop corresponding combat, strike, and bombing capabilities, just as Germany accomplished in the 1930s.


Also, as noted in the preceding discussion, Estonia became the first country to suffer a comprehensive cyber-attack, in another significant expansion of the battlespace -- the effort to maximize the distance between one's self and his target (as well as anonymity) has led belligerents to experiment with computer networks and cyberspace as suitable medium for launching attacks. Whether the virtual environment of cyberspace will enable belligerents to develop lethal strike capabilities is unknown, but as noted previously, the cyber attack that coincided with -- and facilitated -- the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia was similar in execution to the Estonian one.


Finally, advances in remote piloting technology and robotics technology has introduced unmanned and autonomous ground, sea, and air vehicles to nations' arsenals. Remotely piloted vehicles and autonomous robots dramatically underscore the extent to which man pursues lethality while maximizing his distance from the enemy; with this capability, modern warriors can remotely maneuver vehicles, primarily aerial, to conduct strike operations against enemy forces thousands of miles away, and then immediately return to the safety of their base (or even their residential home) by exiting the operating platform.


Ultimately, for any belligerent (i.e. the United States), future warfare will follow the continuing drive to utilize standoff capabilities. Man will have migrated from the confines of a geographically contiguous battlefield to a multi-dimensional battlespace where belligerents will have gone from physically proximate to virtually remote.


Whither The Duel?


If the Prussian theorist were alive today, he might amend his famous maxim. War will always remain a duel, but perhaps Clausewitz would acknowledge a modern day protagonist has little to no knowledge of where or who his antagonist is or how the antagonist might strike him.


The latest manifestation of man in this duel - the state - is no longer the sole (or preferred) vehicle for doing so. In the present day, alternative entities have capitalized on the state's shortcomings by demonstrating their efficacy in performing many of the functions once assumed to be the sole domain of the state -- including the safeguarding of security and the waging of war. The structural realities of the global political economy and advances in technology permit these entities to be of any scale and remain unknown. Furthermore, the duel no longer occurs on a distinct geographic battlefield, but a multi-dimensional battlespace that minimizes opportunities for retribution because the attacker can utilize tactics and/or weapons which preclude an immediate exercise of violent force in response.


America will be unprepared for this next duel if the debate is between emphasizing conventional or counterinsurgency approaches or concludes that hybrid warfare is the wave of the future. Conventional approaches designed for warfare against states will have limited success against post-Westphalian opponents. Counterinsurgency stresses securing the population at the expense of destroying the enemy, akin to ignoring the duelist while focusing on the portion of the crowd cheering him on. (Moreover, counterinsurgency proponents presume an interest and readiness on the part of the protagonist to stabilize the territory after the initial defeat of the enemy).


Hybrid warfare attempts to simplify the debate by asserting future wars will feature a "blend of tactics", which can be addressed with a "balanced" strategy, all the while ignoring the imperative of reordering Westphalian structures to battle a post-Westphalian enemy.


In the end, a modern day protagonist like the United States can only know one thing -- he is in a duel and comes bound by choices made before this duel started and new capabilities and attributes will be necessary to defeat his enemy.


Regarding capabilities, America must do the following.


First, in terms of manpower, the expansion of the armed forces must continue and, in terms of the arsenal, must commence. A larger military will mitigate the inevitable demand the new post-Westphalian security environment will generate. If the post-Cold War world defied expectations for a "peace dividend," then the post-Westphalian world will necessitate an even steeper commitment. Additional manpower will increase costs, but given the efficacy of American service members in comparison to the non-performance of gold-plated weapons systems, the decision to shift resources should be straightforward.


Current major weapons platform procurement promises only numerically smaller fleets of incredibly expensive ground vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels. Instead of purportedly state of the art weapons systems, the American military should pursue state of the market platforms, a step that would begin refurbishing and replenishing the existing inventory. Since promises of next generation quality that would compensate for quantity have proven delusional, pursuing quantity and current generation quality should be more than adequate.


Accordingly, a second priority is to re-focus military doctrine on the destruction of the enemy, whether it is state-based or non-state. Opposing sides in the conventional / counterinsurgency debate would vehemently respond the destruction of the enemy is a primary objective for them too, and justifiably so. However, traditionalists contend the attention on insurgencies is counter-productive, while reformers dismiss the probability of future conventional wars; the perspectives have merit but downplay the risk inherent with each approach.


Major interstate warfare may have become improbable in the nuclear age, but latter-day Alsace-Lorraines (e.g. Taiwan) and Sudetenlands (e.g. former Soviet republics in the Caucasus) will again present temptations for those powers inclined to tip the balance of power. Moreover, nuclear powers like Russia and China are modernizing their nuclear arsenals for operational and tactical deployment, while the U.S. remains myopically concerned with strategic applications.


Reformers are right in that counterinsurgency should be a priority, but the recourse to an either/or stances ignores the adaptability demonstrated by the US military.


As the latter half of the war in Iraq demonstrated, the American military is quite capable of self-criticism and pivoting doctrinally. Whether the American military "forgot" the lessons of the Vietnam War or purposely ignored them is irrelevant. After 2006, key leaders recognized the inadequacy of prevailing approaches, developed alternatives, and executed them -- within a short period of time and with the limited manpower available to them. Indeed, the prevailing concern at the time the surge was approved was stress on the force arising from extended and multiple deployments. If the larger military proposed above is established, sufficient forces will be available in the future, especially if exercise of force is restricted to destroying the enemy and not preparing the ground for "changing societies".


In this vein, if the 2006 Lebanon War is touchstone for hybrid warfare, then Israel's 2008 Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza should be a starting point for defining post-Westphalian doctrine.


Israel is unique in the world in that the nation is fully aware the interludes of peace it intermittently enjoys will be short-lived and can always be prospectively viewed as future interwar periods. In the case of the loss to Hezbollah in 2006, Israel readily knew its military reputation had suffered greatly and its situation would be dire if the performance was repeated in the next (inevitable) conflict.


To this end, Israeli military leadership used the intervening 2006 to 2008 period to aggressively shift doctrine and training back to maneuver tactics and destruction of the enemy, away from patrolling and policing the population. Moreover, the Israeli military undertook rigorous planning and intelligence gathering against the enemy. When Hamas began launching rockets after the end of the six month ceasefire in December 2008, Israel was ready and retaliated immediately -- according to preset plans. (Hamas was not of the same caliber as Hezbollah, but the Israeli military’s performance was markedly improved.)


In retrospect, the goals identified during Operation Cast Lead are telling – “to strike a direct and hard blow against the Hamas while increasing the deterrent strength of the IDF”. As much as Israel did strike a blow against Hamas, the more critical achievement was the Israeli military restoring its reputation as a formidable foe by, one, returning to the fundamentals of war, and two, abstaining from grandiose aims. While the brief campaign met with near universal international condemnation, Operation Cast Lead illustrated the utility of purposefully and targeting the enemy for destruction and no more.


Post-Westphalian threats are indeed far more probable, but the US military should concentrate on their destruction, not the consequences of their destruction and ensuring subsequent stability.


Third, Israel’s success in Operation Cast Lead was dependent on aggressive intelligence gathering. Israel mounted an aggressive collection effort – both technical and human – to identify targets. By the time Operation Cast Lead was launched, Israeli intelligence had completely penetrated Hamas’s networks at all levels. American successes against enemy networks and individuals have been touted in the media but the nation has yet to establish the doctrine, leadership, materiel, or training to harness this capability in service of national security objectives. Historically ad-hoc affairs, the deliberate doctrinal and operational establishment of a man-hunting capability, in either the intelligence community or military, could become an important tool for future national security policy.


If such a capability had existed before the attempted bombing on December 25th, then a dedicated man-hunting force could have been utilized against Abdulmutallab, especially in light of the considerable intelligence collected prior to his boarding of Northwest Airlines Flight 253.


The 12/25 lapse and other recent breaches have demonstrated the inefficacy of multiple intelligence agencies, proliferating watch lists, and national directorates. If a newly established layer of bureaucratic management cannot effectively corral all sixteen agencies, then perhaps a thorough rationalization of the overall structure is in order. One recent proposal would consolidate existing agencies into four primary agencies: a foreign intelligence agency, a military intelligence agency, a domestic intelligence agency, and a technical data collection agency.


Rationalization should additionally entail elimination of unnecessary bureaucratic layers and legal liability protections to eradicate the risk aversion plaguing current practitioners. In 1995, the heroes behind the capture of Ramzi Yousef had to act unilaterally in order to ensure the mission’s success, but were then investigated for not following procedure. Fourteen years later, a US Army officer publicly aired how he spent hours on the phone trying to convince eleven separate Afghan, American and international forces authorities to sign off on a plan to capture a Taliban commander. Moreover, post-Westphalian enemies have already demonstrated their agility on the intelligence front. In Afghanistan, Al Qaeda successfully infiltrated a double agent in Afghanistan and seven American operatives lost their lives. The next time the damage promises to be greater.


Regarding attributes, America must consider the following.


Skeptics of the state in decline premise will contend the non-state actor, while capable of catastrophic attacks, could never topple a state, especially one of America's heft. While Al Qaeda's attack on September 11 resulted in 3,000 American dead, America did eject the terrorist network from its sanctuary in Afghanistan and has kept the group on the run ever since. The state will indeed persevere, but unreformed, it will be overwhelmed and inevitably weakened by successive waves of non-state actors. Overthrowing a state may be beyond the capacity of non-state actor, but “systems disruption” is not.


The American preoccupation with “finding the target” is practically a template to the nation’s vulnerabilities. Just as the American military seeks to disrupt an enemy’s command and control, so too could an enemy severely weaken the country by disrupting a sufficient number of nodes in its network-driven economy.


Since perfect security is unattainable, America (and nation-states in general) must embrace resiliency. If the enemy (or any other natural phenomenon) disrupts global supply chains, then a community must be prepared with locally developed alternatives to minimize the impact. American resilience has already been demonstrated in the ad hoc standup of substitute energy and food supply systems during emergencies, such as natural disasters and inducing their continued operation as a supplementary reserve should be a priority going forward.


Achieving resiliency however will require the American national government relinquish a large number of the non-security responsibilities and authorities assumed since the nation graduated to superpowerdom, primarily because the American national government has assumed roles requiring the extraction and expenditure of resources far in excess of what is available.


The thesis of imperial overstretch holds that great powers inevitably decline from their perch by pursuing military objectives beyond the capacity of their economic resources. Such overexertion was true in the case of the Soviet Union, which devoted up to 40% of its meager resources to military spending. While the United States avoided the fate of its former Cold War foe, the peril of undertaking ambitions beyond available resources remains. America may not succumb to imperial overstretch, but the decline by way of altruistic overstretch is possible. In the FY2010 budget, American spending on entitlements amounts will amount to 39% versus the 23% devoted to national security and fully one-third of the budget will be resourced by borrowed dollars.


Advocating devolution is not a call for a national security state -- devolution simply ratifies a division of labor future warfare will require.


To flourish in the post-Westphalian era, roles and responsibilities held by the American national government must devolve power to state and local governments, private enterprises, and communities. By devolving power downward, the American state will be empowering entities that can and will be more responsive to the needs and priorities of the citizenry. By rightsizing, the American national government can return attention to macro-level security issues, such as fostering greater international economic integration and deterring and defeating potentially hostile states.


The short history of post-Westphalian warfare underscores how the American state (and states in general) lag behind citizens in terms of responsiveness and resourcefulness. During the September 11th attacks, American citizens effectively used simply cellular communications to obtain situational awareness and execute the only successful counter-attack, while American military aircraft were miles away, heading in the wrong direction. The attempted bombing on December 25, 2009, was thwarted by a Dutch civilian, succeeding where federally mandated security procedures and American intelligence organizations had failed.


Finally, reordering American security (and corresponding resources) is imperative, as the continuing incompetence of the American government in the face of post-Westphalian threats may undermine its legitimacy.


In 2005, American college students explored hiring private military assets to prevent further atrocities in Darfur, Sudan. In 2007, American private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe Services) offered to deploy to Sudan. The question of how can a government spending hundreds of billions on national defense and intelligence be incapable of defeating ragtag insurgents, protecting the air transportation system, or securing the borders is being asked with increasing frequency – and frustration. Non-state American actors are already beginning to act in the face of inaction. Along the southern border, the Minutemen organization conducts non-violent surveillance against illegal immigration.


How long before American citizens conclude the federal government’s monopoly over defense is no longer effective and some form of independent unilateral action is necessary? Better the American national government harness and direct would-be Minutemen rather than futilely attempting to restrain them and exacerbating the citizenry’s growing frustration.


Kennan's Lament


Historians regularly note George Kennan, the father of containment, never meant his thesis to provide the justification for the extensive militarization America undertook in the Cold War. However, George Kennan did understand the threat posed by international communism and encouraged the diligent application of American power worldwide and the initial reluctance to commit accordingly distressed him. In one policy paper, Kennan pointedly concluded, "[America has] been handicapped by a popular attachment to the concept of a basic difference between peace and war."


The attachment endures…


The post-Westphalia era means America can no longer afford the over-intellectualization of war or the pretensions of would be peacemakers.


Author’s Notes:


Initiated: December 20, 2009

Concluded: February 6, 2010


Prompted by the dissatisfaction with the hybrid warfare thesis and based on the scholarship of John Boyd, Colin Gray, Martin van Crevald, Frederick Kagan, John Robb, Thomas Barnett, Peter W. Singer, and the fiction of Daniel Suarez.



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