Fresh thinking for taking on America's newest enemies—those small and deadly forces at large in a splintered world.
War is changing, and not for the better. Like much else in our world, it is essentially deconstructing and re-emerging as a changed enterprise.
Clearly, we will continue to engage in some form of armed conflict in the years and decades ahead.
As war deconstructs, along with much of what we understand about the world itself, new thinking is required. We must begin by understanding the new reality of the world in which we live. We swim in a strange sea, far different from the one that historically spawned the traditional principles of war, and quite different even from that which existed in the 1990s.
The world is simply moving so much faster today than at any point in any of our lifetimes; and it appears a good bet that this sense of speed—indeed, this sense of acceleration—will only continue.
We live in a world of satellite television and satellite radio beaming 24-hours a day on hundreds of specialized channels, weighing and judging everything we do, recording every change and breathlessly reporting it to us.
We live in a world always connected by digital cell phones, e-mail, and satellite networks. A teenager's cell phone has much more computational power than the first word processors graduate students used 20 years ago. The minute anything changes in anyone"s life or city or country, everyone seems to know about it instantly.
We live in a world constantly scrutinized and recorded by both professional journalists and average citizens, armed with digital camcorders, cameras, and high-quality audio recorders. All of this power to record feeds into a tapestry of constant change that sweeps across our view screens.
We live in a world of extraordinary technological and scientific change. Adding up all the major scientific discoveries of the first 5,000 years of recorded history, the sum total of accomplishment likely would amount to much less than what we have produced over the past 50 years. And much more is to come. As we emerge from the currently-hyped Age of Information, we are clearly moving into an Age of Biology that will reshape our expectations in dramatic ways about human life itself.
And finally, we live in a world where events are moving so very rapidly that we scarcely have time to catch our breath from one big story before the next one suddenly bursts on the scene. The Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster of Christmas week 2004—which killed 250,000—is a perfect metaphor for the rapidity of how change washes across our society, filling the screens of the television with shocking images, demanding instant reactions. Yet we know that there are only more waves to come.
In many ways, we may have indeed reached the "end of history" that Francis Fukuyama wrote about so eloquently at the conclusion of the 20th century. The days of massive coalitions of national armies, navies, and air forces contesting each other may be coming to a close.
Could there be a flare up or two, a throw-back to nation-on-nation fighting? Perhaps—it is generally unwise to bet against the tendency of the human race to find ways to create conflagrations, most recently evidenced by the world wars, which killed tens of millions in the 20th century. India and Pakistan constantly circle in a potentially deadly dance, armed with nuclear weapons; a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan's status cannot be ruled out; the Korean peninsula may see massive fighting yet; and other scenarios can be drawn that could ignite some level of nation-on-nation combat.
The Likely Challenge
Yet on balance, it seems we are more likely to face a splintered world in which small and deadly forces will seek asymmetric advantage over large countries and coalitions of countries—similar to the current global war on terrorism, which may be a precursor of worse to come.
Unfortunately, such splintered forces will have at their disposal weapons of extremely lethal character: chemical, biological, psychological, kinetic, and nuclear. The principles of war operate best in nation-on-nation war. That is the conflict for which they were developed.
In the emerging world of the 21st century—in which the smallest cadres can create devastating effects—no simple list of principles will apply. The span of potential warfare events and venues is simply too great—indeed, the very nature of "what is war" has changed irrevocably with the advent and dispersal of weapons of mass destruction.
What we think of as war has been essentially deconstructed into a kaleidoscope of individualized conflicts, which will range from assassinations of single important individuals to the destruction of vast tracts of the earth . . . from drive-by shootings to demolition of satellites in space . . . from battle at the bottom of the ocean to wars conducted in the inner space of computer networks.
War has always been chaotic. Now it is pure chaos. Instead of fashioning a list of principles, we must think universally and holistically about how to control chaos.
As war itself deconstructs, essentially in parallel with much of the modern world, we must develop mechanisms that can morph instantly, getting inside the decision loop of whatever entity we must fight.
The bottom line is: winning war will be about opening our minds and speeding change. We need an utterly open mindset and brilliant tool sets that can change instantly. We also need a variety of mechanisms—what we think of today as command/control systems—that can harness our open mindset and our instantly changeable brilliant tool sets. One traditional element we will continue to need: a national will to organize ourselves to fight and win the wars that really matter. And finally, we will need a clear sense of moral value, of what is evil and what is good. This will generate the national morale and support to prevail in armed conflict.
Brilliant Tool Sets
Assuming we can develop leaders with an open mindset who are unafraid of change—most difficult in military organizations, of course—the next most pressing need is brilliant tool sets. The sets we need are:
- Integrated National Information Systems. Nothing will be more important than our ability to manage information and nothing will be more difficult. We are, of course, awash in a sea of redundant, useless, and easily obtained information; but in that sea sail the golden nuggets that we will need to win our nation's conflicts. We need to focus relentlessly on the ability to obtain, process, analyze, and disseminate those nuggets.
- Networked Communication and Networked Intelligence. Closely related to information systems will be networked communication and intelligence systems. If information systems constitute the broad and overarching tool set, networked communication and intelligence are the precise tools that allow use of all the information.
- Coalition Management Systems. It is hard to imagine scenarios in which the United States will act completely alone. In the majority of future conflicts, we will be operating at least at some level with coalition partners on the international scene. The range of tool sets we need to manage our coalitions are quite significant, ranging from far better linguistic programs, to preparing our warriors and strategists, to implanted advance teams in host nations to linkages between our diplomats and warriors. This is a vast and important set of tools that needs considerable attention, and it is the area in which we are most deficient.
- Media Management (not Manipulation). In this deconstructed and utterly transparent world, the ability to manage the global media will be critical. We need warfighters who understand how to present our positions in such a way as to help maintain the viability of U.S. positions. We must not lie or seek to deliberately manipulate the news—despite the fact that others will. Instead, we must seek to ensure we get our story out clearly and well. Multiple channels are available to get our correct and true version of events to the public: we must develop the ability to do so.
- Precision Destruction. Clearly, as we fight against networks and splintered organizations, we will need to increase our already formidable capability to undertake precise levels of destruction. While we will never completely eliminate collateral damage, we must continue our efforts to minimize it. In addition, we need the ability to find and destroy discrete weapon systems, from "loose nukes" to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, from satellites to safe-houses. Closely coupled with precision destruction, of course, is precision location; essentially advanced man-hunting. Taken together, the ability to precisely locate, and then selectively destroy, will be among our most critical brilliant tool sets. Fortunately, this is the area in which we have gained the most ground thus far.
- Preemption Discovery. In a world in which the enemy can inflict massive levels of damage from a very small organization without tactical or strategic warning, the ability to strike preemptively will be at a premium. Our sensors—mechanical and human—must be able to create opportunities for preemption. This will be extremely controversial and often difficult to justify in the eyes of many; yet the consequences of failure here are massive. This is largely a political calculus, of course, but it has distinct military aspects that must be considered.
- Scientific Preeminence. Huge levels of research and development funding will be necessary to maintain a significant technological and scientific lead over potential adversaries. We will win—or lose—the next series of wars in our nation's laboratories. While often not the most glamorous use of funding, basic research frequently leads to the most valuable discoveries. We need a national database that can find and develop the most promising combat technologies.
- Biological Manipulation. The Age of Information is passing and will be superseded by the Age of Biology. In it, many of the most vexing combat challenges will be solved by application of new biological solutions. Unfortunately, new biological challenges—notably in the application of manipulated biological agents—will drain an increasing level of resources. This is the frontier of warfare and will engender change in everything we do, from allowing our personnel to perform at extraordinary physical and mental levels to providing organic swarming sensors on the battlefield. In this tool set, we will only be limited by our ability to first imagine and then create.
The Leadership Challenge
In addition to brilliant tool sets, we need leaders with open minds. This may be the greatest challenge of all. One of the worst aspects of the military mind is its tendency to operate like a light switch—either fully on or fully off. The ability to operate like a rheostat, to see the world in shades of gray, is so often a stretch for the military mind.
For some number of our best young officers, a different approach may be warranted. We should consider starting with a cadre of our finest youngest officers, just as they are completing their apprenticeship years, around the five-year point of their service. They should at this time be sent outside the military for a year, to work in industry that is enmeshed in change. Which one does not matter terribly, but medicine and biological research, international finance and business, or information systems all would seem apt. During this "year out," they should be encouraged to focus on embracing change, seeing solution sets in entirely different ways, and overcoming the tightening of the mind that so often accompanies development of a junior officer.
These young officers would then serve a tour in a different service from their own—a more truly joint experience than is currently undertaken. Finally, they would complete a year at a Joint Command and Staff College that would focus on interagency, international, joint, and combined warfare—sharpening the tool sets needed for war in the 21st century. Each would also be required to learn at least one foreign language, preferably a large percentage of them taking challenging non-traditional languages of real import—Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, and Hindi come to mind.
Between a focus on getting the right officers trained and ready and building strength in the right tool sets, we will have best positioned our nation for combat operations in this chaotic century.
Are the principles of war still useful? Somewhat. They remain helpful benchmarks to be used in the analysis of nation-on-nation combat, perhaps in the preparation of contingency plans for such activities. They should be updated to include some thinking on the speed and acceleration of operations in this century, with additional focus on precision, media management, and synchronicity.
What we truly require, however, for this emerging deconstructed version of warfare goes beyond a staid set of principles. One size does not in any sense fit all. Instead, we need leaders with utterly open minds, capable of violent change; we need brilliant tool sets that can morph and change as circumstances will; and we need the enduring values for which our nation will continue to stand—liberty, justice, and truth.