The CSS Blog Network

Warfare in the 21st Century – The Advent of (Semi)-Perpetual Peace? (Part 8/8)

Photo: Mikel Daniel/flickr

I closed yesterday’s blog by asking: “So, am I right to assume that Hybrid Warfare is (and will be) the new norm in our back-to-the-future world, or are we slowly but surely vanquishing violence?” The very idea that organized violence and its effects are in irreversible decline is absurd to many a self-proclaimed realist, and for at least three reasons. First, there exists and will always remain the pesky problem of human nature. In other words, Immanuel Kant was right; human beings are indeed “crooked timber.” When you kludge other factors to eternally perverse human nature, to include competition for resources, a structurally defective international system, and inevitable political frictions, the idea that war and its noxious effects are on the wane is seemingly absurd. Indeed, as of the autumn of 2011 weren’t there 18 wars of varying intensity occurring around the globe?

Second, realists tend to dismiss or at least underestimate the evolving power of norms (to include the concept of political legitimacy) and human rights. In their minds, these wispy intangibles are largely fair weather phenomenon. They have not, nor will they ever gain decisive power or influence over time. They represent, in short, superstructural fluff, as Karl Marx might have put it. People honor and practice agreed upon norms and rights when they can, but they invariably jettison them when they must. As a result, norms and rights cannot stand up to the biting winds of war, let alone exercise due influence during periods of genuine crisis. » More

The Great Paradigm Shift: Denial and then Acceptance II (Part 7/8)

Photo: Sari Dennise/flickr

9-11 introduced a moratorium if not outright end to the intramural squabbling then occurring over the nature and direction of Military Transformation, both in the case of the U.S. Army and Air Force (see yesterday’s blog) and to a lesser degree among NATO allies.  The soon-to-follow second Iraq War, however, showed yet again that old paradigms die hard.  What came to be known as Phase 1 of this war would not have confused Jomini or Clausewitz.  Nor would they have been disoriented by the rationalist (i.e., Jominian) principles behind it either.  It was Phase 2 of the war, of course, that became the problem.  Because the U.S. and its allies remained fixated on long-familiar conventional operations, they were slow to see that three of the supposedly unrepresentative forms of war previously discussed in this series had now actually come to define organized violence.  They were no longer “peripheral”, they were central.  War, that’s capital W war, was different now.  The not-so-stealthy changes that had been knocking on the door for 50 years were now in the house; in fact, they owned the house.  We were now, to use Rupert Smith’s term (see his The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World), flailing about in “wars amongst the people.”

But what, in practical terms, does this mean?  Well, it means the blurring of what had once been a clear foreign-domestic divide.  It means the blurring of what had been a relatively clear combatant-non-combatant divide.  It means the blurring of what had been war and what had been peace.  (Peace, after all, isn’t necessarily the violated starting point of a conflict.)  It means that organized violence has become privatized and that unregulated “shadow warriors” are now capable of mass effects violence, as only states were once able to do.  And perhaps most importantly, war amongst the people means that J.F.C. Fuller was right.  Total Napoleonic-Industrial Warfare, regardless of all the “bells and whistles” Military Transformation has tried to add on over the last 20-30 years, no longer exists.  There will no longer be “big fights” between multiple nations and their armies à la World War II, or so Smith and his supporters claim.  There will no longer be “massive deciding events” used to resolve international disputes.  Warfare is now “360 degrees”, irregular, asymmetrical, post-heroic, “liquid”, etc.  It focuses on intangibles and not necessarily territory.  It is designed to promote the perceived legitimacy of one collective narrative or storyline at the expense of another.   It stages salutary spectacles to impact the psychology of whole populations.  (The word “stages” is appropriate here since today’s warfare is decidedly theatrical.  It is an updated and more complex version of Prince Kropotkin’s “propaganda by deed.”) » More

The Great Paradigm Shift: Denial and then Acceptance I (Part 6/8)

Photo: UK Ministry of Defence/flickr

When confronted with the post-1945 diversification of hard power described in Friday’s blog, how did the national security establishments of the Euro-Atlantic zone react?  Well, you could say the response was problematic.  There is a reason that mischievous wags claim military intelligence is an oxymoron or that armies are synonymous with “tradition unhampered by progress.”  Change in security establishments can indeed be slow because experimenting with human lives is never an attractive idea, particularly if an official letter to about-to-be devastated loved ones is the end result.  For this reason and grubbier, less salutary ones, as the 20th century progressed and the fissures described Friday only grew, the most basic reaction of the greatest military power in the world and that of its most trusted allies was denial.  Yes, denial.  The United States refused to accept that limited wars by limited means for limited ends, nuclear warfare, insurgency-prone irregular warfare, and transnational terrorism represented “real” war.  They were dismissed as anomalies.  They were dismissed as abnormal.  They did not reflect what security elites had come to define as “genuine” state-directed violence.  These departures, taken as a whole, were given only limited conceptual space in a mental world still dominated by Jominian Napoleonic-Industrial Warfare. » More

Editorial Plan Week 2: Future Forecasting

The future is this way. Photo: Michelle Bartholomew/flickr

Dear Colleagues:

Last week we embarked upon the three-part Editorial Plan we would like to explore on the ISN website in the weeks and months ahead. Our first broad area of inquiry will be on the macroscopic structural changes we are experiencing in the international system. To analyze this large-scale topic properly, over the next 14 weeks we plan on exploring the 8 supporting sub-topics we identified in Part 1 of the General Introduction, including what many have come to call “futurology”. » More

The Not-So-Obvious Breakdown of the Dominant Rationalist View of Hard Power (Part 5/8)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As we discussed yesterday, the rationalists’ way of characterizing war, when subsequently mixed with Napoleonic-Industrial Warfare, became synonymous in the minds of many observers with organized violence itself.  The mass bloodletting and sheer entropy experienced by millions in World Wars I & II only reinforced the seeming “rightness” of seeing hard power in this way.  One reason for this was that the Allies won – victory, after all, is seldom a spur for soul-searching innovation or doctrinal doubt.  Second, the rationalists’ way of “packaging” war had enjoyed a long 130-year run.  Given its long tenure, it was possible to forget that the Western Way of War had perhaps undergone nine major transformations (often referred to as “paradigm shifts”) since the 15th century, as the following figure shows.  (Of the nine possible shifts, a strong argument can be made that the last four were mutually complementary and reinforced, rather than questioned, the rationalist critique of war popularized by Jomini and his Enlightenment Era predecessors.) » More

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