Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"Changing military doctrine: a review of Neither Shall The Sword: Conflict in the years to come by Chet Richards," March 27, 2006.

Canadians keen to participate in the gathering debate about the Afghanistan War on a more immediate and possibly more meaningful level than simply casting their vote in the next election will find the growing discourse about military reform a subject of interest to them. I call it a discourse because it is more than a debate or a controversy--although it includes many debates and more than one controversy.

Criticism of the government's current war by the military has honorable antecedents, especially in the United States. General Omar Bradley, for example, famously criticized the Korean War, as "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler may be best known today for his slim volume War Is A Racket published in 1935, but he was also the most decorated Marine at the time having won two Congressional Medals of Honor. War Is A Racket is credited as one of the first works to describe the military-industrial complex, later identified--and criticized--by General Dwight Eisenhower.

The discourse about military reform has a history, a cast of characters and organizations, along with a substantial and growing list of texts and issues. It is both academic and down to earth, strategic and tactical, theoretical and practical.

It has a vocabulary of its own and examples in the real world some of which are almost traditional; others must be understood as experiments. As I think you will see as this broadcast unfolds, the War in Afghanistan and Canada's role in it are clearly experimental.

"Neither Shall The Sword: Conflict in the years ahead" by Chet Richards published earlier this year by the Center for Defense Information, the Straus Military Reform Project and the World Security Institute is one of the most recent additions to the literature. At 116 pages it provides an excellent introduction to current thinking about military reform.

Chet Richards is a retired Colonel in the US Air Force reserve and "Neither Shall The Sword" is an honest, well-documented, easy to understand, carefully reasoned, thought-provoking, and well-written exposition of Fourth Generation Warfare.

"Sub-national groups attempting to take control of a state are 'conventional' insurgents" using guerilla warfare (Richards NSTS n41)

But terrorism Richards defines simply as "killing civilians in order to influence their governments or their militaries" (NSTS 50). Its purpose he says is

to turn the victim society inward on itself. By this, I mean such things as launching witch hunts, stifling the free flow of information, fostering dissention among the various elements of society, and instituting costly and disruptive but ultimately ineffective security measures. These measures may also begin to isolate the state from its allies, if, for example, it puts in place onerous visa procedures for entry.

4GW makes use of both insurgency and terrorism, so it must be something else. It is what we see failing in Iraq and possibly in Afghanistan.

"What is 4GW?" Richards asks. "The correct answer," he says, "is that we don't know for sure because it is still being worked out..." (NSTS 39).

It is war outside the state model. In the West, since the peace of Westphalia in 1648, wars have been understood to occur between armies that serve nation-states. In among the state-versus-state conflicts between uniformed armed forces, there were always other groups carrying out armed conflict: criminal gangs, tribes in areas where the state was not strong, and insurgents. "It was from these groups, rats" as Richards puts it, "among the thundering claws of the dinosaurs, that the next, fourth generation of war evolved" (NSTS). endquote They may use guerilla warfare or terrorism as tactics. The emergence of non-state military, political, economic, and social networks by which 4GW forces attempt to persuade the state is new.

After the disintegration of the Soviet empire, some US and Soviet client states became breeding grounds for a new type of organization which uses "modern technologies such as the Internet and cell phones to recruit and train members, and to plan operations..."

This new type of conflict is known by several names--assymmetrical warfare, nontrinitarian conflict. Richards uses the term "fourth generation war" or 4GW.

Although ideas for prosecuting 4GW run the gamut from isolationism to an active program of military intervention and regime change, Richards boils the choices down to "containment" and "rollback."

The idea of containment is that given time and the right kind of encouragement, people living in areas that host 4GW will get their acts together, change governments themselves, and "join the developed world."

Containment might entail either retaliation to "punish and eliminate" the regime that has played host to a 4GW organization or intervention with intelligence and international police operations. Although he doesn't mention it specifically, "containment" has been used to denote the 12-year period of sanctions, inspections, no-fly zones and air attacks between the First Gulf War and the Second.

The idea of rollback is to intervene and then to rebuild the failed state so that it can no longer play host to a 4GW enemy. In Richards's words,

Proponents of rollback generally see the military as an ordinary tool of policy and would use it to break open countries that harbor 4GW groups or that we, for any other reason, feel potentially threaten the security of the developed world.

The promise of rollback is great. It would eliminate 'terrorist' groups, world poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease. The problem with rollback [according to Richards] is equally great: nobody knows how to do it. Our Iraqi adventure [he says] has discredited the idea of military intervention as the primary mechanism, and other tools of regime change such as political pressure or economic sanctions can take decades to work, when they work at all, and they always bring great hardship to ordinary people living in the affected countries. (NSTS 12)

If we see "shock and awe" as the intervention phase of a rollback operation, the period after Bush's "mission accomplished" declaration is the rebuilding and integration.

Richards noted elsewhere just after the London bombings, that
Neoconservative commentators are crowing that Iraq's economy has now returned to prewar levels. In other words, after two years of reconstruction, Iraq as a whole has reached the level of an economy decimated by 12 years of UN sanctions and Ba'athist corruption. And even much of this progress is artificial since it reflects an enormous temporary infusion of American dollars" (Richards Defense News Jul 25 06).
We have to be wary of similar rhetoric about Afghanistan.

It would be a mistake to see Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of the theory Richards is writing about in any sense. The writers here, not only Richards, but the ones he draws on -- Barnett, Hammes, Lind, Scheuer, van Creveld -- are critical of the way these conflicts have been handled.

Richards obviously prefers rollback. End "terrorism." Wipe out poverty. Eradicate disease. It sounds almost like the Millennium Development Goals. "Few would argue that such a world, if it could be built, would be a worthy goal," Richards concludes. But what if some if not most of our efforts to achieve it only turn out like Iraq?

At the end he remembers
an important principle known to all but often disregarded in daily practice: ends, no matter how alluring, do not justify means. In fact, the more attractive the goals for which we are striving, the more we are tempted to compromise the moral codes that we profess and that others expect us to live by. Noble aspirations do not justify evil; rather, they are so often a pathway to it.
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