The Future of Warfare

, Scott Thormaehlen, Leave a comment

Policy makers in Washington are ignoring basic human reality in restructuring the military, a veteran defense analyst who teaches at the U. S. Navy’s post-graduate school claims.

“Adversaries will try to trip us up in ways that favor them, baiting us directly when they can, ensnaring us indirectly when they can’t,” Anna Simons of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) claims. “Washington had thus better worry both about non-state actors—the scourge of our times—as well as near-peer competitors who, if they are smart, will seek to do us harm by using non-state proxies (much as Iran has done to Israel via Hezbollah), by taking us on in realms we can’t yet and may never be able to effectively control—like cyberspace—and/or by outflanking us economically, maybe even ideologically, and certainly politically in the court of global public opinion.”

In her article, Soft War = Smart? Think Again, Simmons describes the hopes of intellectuals who seek to redesign warfare for the 21st Century.  Speaking on the basic structure of today’s military, Simmons says “Napoleon could be brought back to life, and while certain weapons platforms might initially stump him, the organizational principles that undergird any of today’s militaries would feel eerily familiar” while “some defense analysts might point to this and say ‘exactly—that is exactly what is wrong with our current force structure and our antiquated military design.’”  Simmons is a professor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

What design would today’s defense analysts and other experts like to see?  Simmons points out that counterinsurgency, to fight with less force, more finesse, leaving the smallest possible footprint, and doing so in a way that is sensitive to the population that is affected is the “vanguard of how soft war proponents want to see us fight.”

Simmons concludes that there are a few human realities that will stand in the way of this “soft war” approach.  Proponents of soft war hope to use manipulation as a tool to convert foreign populations much like missionaries or business marketers.  “Not only are we Westerners no longer likely to fight people who aren’t already aware of what shoes and automatic weapons are—which undermines one asymmetry that almost always did advantage us in the not-so-distant past—but among those running circles around Washington and the West today are not other Westerners,” Simmons avers. “Instead, they are leaders like Kim Jong-un and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Omar al-Bashir and Hamid Karzai. Or, consider who has been said to be one of the greatest maneuver warfare strategists of the 20th century (a century that included Patton and Rommel): Paul Kagame, the current and potentially lifelong President of Rwanda, a likelihood which itself speaks volumes about his political and not just military acumen.”

She goes on to describe a common value that societies have in common, courage.  “Here is a thought question: Is there anything humans express similarly the world over, and recognize and agree is the same, even if they speak mutually unintelligible languages and live totally different kinds of lives?” she asks. “I’ve posed this question for 13 years in classes.”

“Significantly, thus far (still) the only answer that seems to hold across the board is the ability to withstand physical pain. Physical bravery or physical courage seems universally recognizable and universally valued.”

Simmons also offered an interesting insight on the gulf between America’s military and would-be elites: “When I ask my students, who are all mid-career military officers, who they would have more in common with during working hours: a major in China’s People’s Liberation Army or a hippie in Santa Cruz, California, their response is almost always another major in any army.”

Scott Thormaehlen is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

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