Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Wars of Future

From the strategic use of deceleration against a military apparatus, which relies on stepping up hostilities to the rediscovery of suicide as a threat to inter-change-based societies, the latest changes in the conduct of war are nearly always characterized by asymmetric strategies. It is therefore predictable that future wars will be predominantly asymmetric.

Asymmetrical warfare, the salient feature of the new wars, is based to a large extent on the different velocities at which the parties wage war on each other. Asymmetries of strength are based on a capacity for acceleration, which outstrips that of the enemy, whereas asymmetries of weakness are based on a readiness and ability to slow down the pace of the war. This strategy generally involves a considerable increase in the casualties suffered by one’s own side.

The dramatic superiority the US military apparatus has achieved over all potential enemies in the last two decades is largely due to its capacity to exploit the various opportunities for accelerating the pace at the different combat levels.

The future wars will hardly be a linear extension of the trends of the twentieth century. Greater material resources and a more advanced technological development alone will not automatically tip the scales between victory and defeat. The enormous superiority of the United States in military technology is no guarantee that the USA will emerge victorious from all the wars it seems ever more ready to wage.

It will be an asymmetrical competition between high-tech and low-tech weapons. Since 9/11 we are aware that mere box cutter’s knives, if used to hijack airliners so as to crash them into buildings and cities, can serve to shake a superpower to its foundations. In that case, however, it was not deceleration alone, which enabled the terrorist operatives to attack the USA but a combination of speed and slowness. The infrastructures of the side attacked were exploited by a clandestine group, which was able to go about preparing the attacks quietly and calmly, and then turned aircraft into rockets and jet fuel into explosive.

Current trends suggest that in future large sections of the population may well see their sole chance in waging wars and emerging successful. Growing environmental risks, such as water shortages, increasing desertification and rising sea levels; a greater global inequality in the distribution of consumer goods, in educational opportunities and in living conditions; the imbalance in demographic rates and the related waves of migration; the instability of the international financial markets and the dwindling ability of States to control their own currency and economy; and, finally, in some parts of the world, the rapid disintegration of States — all these are sufficient grounds for assuming that many people will see violent change rather than peaceful development as a better chance to assure their future. Thus the use of force for a better future will become the key element of their political reasoning and they will be ready not only to fight for vital resources but also to begin asymmetrical wars with superior adversaries.

Precisely because of their advanced socio-economic development, these superior adversaries are themselves highly vulnerable and, however great their military superiority, they cannot eliminate this vulnerability. The aim of the US in its various projects to establish a missile defense system is to make itself invulnerable. Such missile defense systems are of course no longer directed against the Soviet Union but against enemies who, though small and relatively weak, pose a serious threat through their possession of nuclear warheads and a few delivery systems. In principle, war has become not only politically but also economically unattractive for the developed countries. The costs outweigh the returns.

Most of the wars with warlords are not fought by well-equipped armies but by the hastily recruited militias of tribal chiefs or heads of clans, plus the armed followers of warlords and the like. Above all, the weapons used in the new wars are cheap — small arms, automatic rifles, anti-personnel mines and machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks.

Two factors play a crucial part in the emergence of the new wars: the ability to finance them from the flows of goods and capital generated by globalization and, more important still, the fact that they have become cheap to wage.

The future wars will be fought only partly by soldiers and, for the most part, will no longer be directed against military objectives. Civilian targets are now taking the place of military objectives in many areas, starting with towns and villages overrun and despoiled by militia leaders and warlords and extending to the symbols of political and economic might that were targeted by terrorist commandos on 9/11. Even the means used to carry out these attacks are less and less of a genuinely military nature.

The term civil war is the symmetrical opposite of the term international war; the asymmetrical antonym is transnational war, i.e. one in which the boundaries drawn by the States no longer play a role. This type of war crosses national borders without being waged as a war between States. It is characterized by a constant switching of friends and foes and by a breakdown of the institutional authorities (such as the military and the police) responsible for ordering and having recourse to the use of force. In this context, acts of war and criminality become indistinguishable and the war drags on with no prospect of a peace accord to end it.

The future wars to a large extent will not be waged with massive firepower and tremendous military capabilities. They will tend to go on smoldering with no clear beginning or end, while the dividing line between the warring parties on the one hand and international organized crime on the other will become more and more blurred. For this reason, some people are already disputing the fact that such situations do indeed constitute war. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation