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  1. #1
    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
    "Turn left at Greenland." - Ringo Starr

    Default Meta-Warfare

    Hello all,

    I'd like to start a discussion on the sophistication of warfare; I don't mean the development of new technologies (essentially the spear and the rifle are the same weapon insofar they occupy the same space and serve the same purpose), but instead the expanding comprehensiveness of what's considered "warfare" - and, as a subset of that, the emergence of legal norms of what defines acceptable and unacceptable forms of warfare. If war is essentially a political act, then the sophistication of warfare follows the sophistication of political systems. War, in essence, reflects the political system from which it emerges.

    If that is the case, I think it's important then that theorists also understand the political superstructure underlying the system of warfare in which they're engaged. The levee en masse is perhaps the most defining example of political revolution leading to military revolution. The destruction of the ancien regime and its replacement by a (nominal) people's government resulted in the mass mobilization of the French population. On the battlefield, this resulted in larger armies and decisive victories for France. It was only sustainable by a burgeoning bureaucracy reinforced by a revolutionary zeal. That nation-state system is still largely in place today, although the changing nature of interstate relations, global urbanization, and the growing international bourgeois lends towards smaller, professional, highly technical armies.

    So, even as the political nature of warfare remains constant within this context, the actual political objects and variables that drive warfare change fairly often as a historical process. Clausewitz called war a "wrestling match". Wrestling is defined first by its type, separating it in kind from, say, hockey or baseball, but there are also different ways of wrestling.

    People who argue that the nature of war doesn't change must then also accept that the political does not change. But the political does change, and so war must change with it. A pro-active military approach should therefore consider (1) how war changes based on the political but also (2) how the military act can also usher in desired or targeted political change.

    In this case, instead of only reactively targeting armies, militias, or terrorists, which are essentially temporary and subjective variables controlled by the political object (that is the totality of political conditions that give to their rise), the military should aim to target the permanent, objective, material political relations that bind the enemy structure together. This is less 'nation-building' than it is 'political-destroying', that is destroying the enemy's political strength. This occurred in the aftermath of World War II when the Allies imposed upon a Japan commitment to peace and deprived it of any offensive military capabilities; the security apparatus was reduced in form to less than what exists in other states. Other political objects could be elites, landowners, technical experts, etc. Targeting them does not necessarily have to be lethal (though it could be) nor collective (though it could be that also). They could be targeted by changing the norms around landownership or legal rights, for example, which may deprive one class of strength and empower another. Warfare therefore is not just the engagement of armies, but the totality of compelling actions that can be undertaken against another. The difficult the U.S. faces in places like Afghanistan, in my view, is not because some elusive nature of terrorism or insurgency, but because it is not just an engagement of arms, but also a clash of political systems that the U.S. military finds difficult to navigate. We do it accidentally and haphazardly instead of deliberately. This is in part because our war studies focuses almost exclusively on the tactical and operational, and very rarely on how those things engage with the political. In state warfare, the political decision precedes the military act but in counter-insurgency, every military decision is a political act. But it's also in part because the political system underlying insurgency often is fluid and in disarray, making it difficult for a conventional military apparatus to identify and target an enemy and its political strength to compel it to cease fighting since the conventional military is looking for a target that looks like its own political master (i.e. another state).

    This necessarily aims to create an insidious advantage since the adversary tailors their armed forces to defeat the standing forces of another state. We build aircraft carriers, so the Chinese build ship-killer missiles. Asymmetric warfare is akin to one wrestler knowing the weakness of the other wrestler but still aiming to 'wrestle', and therefore adopting a strategy or technique to target that weakness. Meta warfare would be one opponent, recognizing the adversary as a wrestler, deciding to not wrestle at all, and instead disarms their opponent before the match ever starts. This is possible only because of the sophistication of warfare as a means of political engagement where all of society's means - economic, political, cultural, military, technical, etc - can be leveraged as a compelling force by a complex and fairly centralized political system. This simultaneously pushes warfare to the lowest levels (i.e. social media campaigns) and to its most far-reaching. This has consequences for the most junior soldiers and officers, the actions of whom will continue to be more substantial than their predecessors. Accompanying this capability must be an ethic and philosophy that places them within the proper (read: effective) context of their actions.

    The military would therefore do well step outside of its own uniform and assess the conditions in which it exists, and ask itself if it is prepared to meet emerging challenges to security. A small, professional, highly technical army works in today's political context (for the most part). But will it work in the next? And what is that next context? And when will it arrive?
    Last edited by AmericanPride; 03-29-2017 at 05:22 AM.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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