Feb 5th 2015

The Future of Force

by Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye is aprofessor at Harvard University and the author of the forthcoming book Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era.
MUNICH – At the World Economic Forum’s recent annual meeting in Davos, I participated in a panel of defense leaders to discuss the future of the military. The issue we addressed is a critical one: What kind of war should militaries today be preparing to fight?

Governments have a very poor track record when it comes to answering this question. After the Vietnam War, for example, the United States’ armed forces suppressed what it had learned about counter-insurgency, only to rediscover it the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

America’s military interventions in these countries exemplify another key challenge of modern warfare. As outgoing US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pointed out in a recent interview, in war, “things can get out of control, and drift and wander” in ways that can cause a military to fall into a more “accelerated” use of force than was initially anticipated. Against this background, the notion that force alone can transform conflict-riven societies in the Middle East and elsewhere is a dangerous fallacy.

But, while war and force may be down, they are not out. They are simply evolving according to a new “generation” of rules and tactics.

For Amazon, please see below

The first generation of modern warfare comprised battles fought with massed manpower, using Napoleonic line and column formations. The second, which culminated in World War I, was driven by massed firepower, and is expressed in the saying, reportedly coined at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, “artillery conquers, infantry occupies.” And the third generation – perfected by Germany with the “blitzkrieg” method employed in World War II – emphasized maneuver over force, with militaries using infiltration to bypass the enemy and collapse its force from the rear, rather than attacking frontally.

Fourth-generation warfare takes this decentralized approach one step further, with no definable fronts at all. Instead, it focuses on the enemy’s society, reaching deep into its territory to destroy political will. One might even add a fifth generation, in which technologies like drones and offensive cyber tactics allow soldiers to remain a continent away from their civilian targets.

While particular generational delineations are somewhat arbitrary, they reflect an important trend: the blurring of the military front and the civilian rear. Accelerating this shift is the replacement of interstate war by armed conflict involving non-state actors such as insurgent groups, terrorist networks, militias, and criminal organizations.

Confusing matters further is the overlap among these groups, with some even receiving state support. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Latin America’s oldest guerilla group – formed alliances with narcotics cartels. Some Taliban groups in Afghanistan and elsewhere developed close ties with transnational Al Qaeda terrorists. The insurgents in eastern Ukraine are fighting alongside Russian troops (bearing no insignias).

Such organizations often take advantage of states that lack the legitimacy or capacity to administer their own territory effectively, launching a mix of political and armed operations that, over time, give them coercive control over local populations. The result is what General Sir Rupert Smith, a former British commander in Northern Ireland and the Balkans, called “war among the people” – a kind of struggle that is rarely decided on conventional battlefields by traditional armies.

These hybrid wars are fought using a wide variety of weapons – not all of which have firepower. With cameras in every cell phone and photo-editing software on every computer – not to mention the prevalence of social media – the information contest has become a critical aspect of modern warfare, exemplified in the current wars in Syria and Ukraine.

In hybrid warfare, conventional and unconventional forces, combatants and civilians, physical destruction and information manipulation become thoroughly intertwined. In Lebanon in 2006, Hezbollah fought Israel through well-trained cells that combined propaganda, conventional military tactics, and rockets launched from densely populated civilian areas, achieving what many in the region considered a political victory. More recently, Hamas and Israel have conducted air and land operations in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

This kind of warfare emerged largely in response to America’s overwhelming conventional military advantage after the Soviet Union’s collapse, underscored by its victory in the 1991 Iraq War, with only 148 American casualties, and its intervention in the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, in which no American lives were lost. In the face of this asymmetry, America’s opponents – both state and non-state actors – began to emphasize unconventional tactics.

In China, for example, military planners developed a strategy of “unrestricted warfare” that combines electronic, diplomatic, cyber, terrorist-proxy, economic, and propaganda tools to deceive and exhaust US systems. As one Chinese military official put it, “the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules.”

For their part, terrorist groups, recognizing that they cannot defeat a conventional military in a direct war, attempt to use governments’ own power against them. With violent theatrics, Osama bin Laden outraged and provoked the US, driving it to overreact in ways that destroyed its credibility, weakened its alliances in the Muslim world, and ultimately exhausted its military – and, in a sense, its society.

The Islamic State is now employing a similar strategy, mixing ruthless military operations with an incendiary social-media campaign, punctuated by photos and videos of brutal executions, including the beheading of US and other Western citizens. These efforts have mobilized the Islamic State’s enemies, while inspiring a growing number of discontented individuals and groups to self-recruit to its banner.

The unpredictable evolution of warfare poses a serious challenge for defense planners. For some weak states, internal threats provide clear objectives. The US, for its part, must balance continued support for its conventional military forces, which remain an important deterrent in Asia and Europe, with investment in a broad portfolio of alternative capabilities that conflicts in the Middle East require. At a time of unprecedented change, the US – and other major powers – must be ready for anything.




Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.
www.project-syndicate.org


To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.


 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russification (the policy of enforcing Russian culture on populations) appears to be being reinforced by ethnic cleansing. Last month the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Liudmyla Denisova, informed the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, that 1.3 million Ukrainians, including 223,000 children, had been forcibly deported to Russia."
Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "According to the latest figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population grew from 1.41212 billion to just 1.41260 billion in 2021 – a record low increase of just 480,000, a mere fraction of the annual growth of eight million or so common a decade ago." ----- "China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."
May 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Monetary policymakers are talking tough nowadays about fighting inflation to head off the risk of it spinning out of control. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually wimp out and allow the inflation rate to rise above target. Since hitting the target most likely requires a hard landing, they could end up raising rates and then getting cold feet once that scenario becomes more likely. Moreover, because there is so much private and public debt in the system (348% of GDP globally), interest-rate hikes could trigger a further sharp downturn in bond, stock, and credit markets, giving central banks yet another reason to backpedal." ----- "The historical evidence shows that a soft landing is highly improbable. That leaves either a hard landing and a return to lower inflation, or a stagflationary scenario. Either way, a recession in the next two years is likely."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"