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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Michael J. Mazarr

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Michael J. Mazarr

Last Build Date: Mon, 06 Mar 2006 07:50:04 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict

Mon, 06 Mar 2006 07:50:04 -0600

There is a tendency, when considering “theories of war,” to default to tactical distinctions for a definition of the core event — tank war versus insurgency, massed attrition as opposed to agile maneuver. But warfare is a product of international politics, and the form warfare takes is closely related to its causes: In the reasons for war, we will find clues as to the sorts of wars we will fight. My argument builds on two facts: First, the form warfare takes derives from, and cannot be considered without reference to, its causes; and second, the fashionable theories of the future of war are mostly silent on those causes. Today, three concepts vie for the position of leading theory of conflict in the twenty-first century: tried-and-true realpolitik, the reliable province of traditional state-versus-state conflict; “transformation,” “network-centric” and information warfare; and Fourth Generation Warfare. None of them accurately describes the change now underway.1 II The theory of war that undergirds realpolitik is straightforward. For thousands of years, warfare has meant a clash of wills between opposing military forces on the field of battle, from which one side usually (though not always) emerged as a recognizable winner. The causes of such wars were the combination of an anarchic system of self-help that opened the way for aggressive and imperialistic campaigns of conquest, bitter competitions over scarce resources, escalating mutual security fears, and misperception and miscalculation. Conducting war meant the mobilization of resources and military units to defeat enemy forces in the field. It is from this basic concept — states at war employing organized military units — that most of the hallmarks of modern military science flow: the moral and physical clash of wills; the role of the decisive battle in a campaign; and the endless search for the enemy’s “center of gravity” and the “culminating point” of a conflict. But we have been moving away from this paradigm for some time.2 Centuries ago, military forces were very nearly divorced from the societies on behalf of whom they fought: crowds of adventurers out at the frontier and beyond, staging highly ritualized über-duels on grassy plains, while the home society went on farming and hunting and carpentering. To be sure, these armies would affect the surrounding societies in profound ways: They would recruit or dragoon young men who otherwise would be farming or cobbling; they would pillage the surrounding landscape as they passed through it; and they would sometimes draw abundant camp-following crowds. But the basic model was one of a quasi-independent army marching off to find its counterpart and slaughter it. Even by Napoleonic times, armies remained remarkably separable from their peoples, grand militarized playthings moving around the chessboard of strategy. And playthings they were, because armies and navies were the instruments of their leaders — sometimes individual kings or tyrants, sometimes collective groups, but always leaders in search of some self-defined material end, the governing power goal of realpolitik. Philip of Macedon could decide that the time had come to unify the Greek city-states, and off went his army to battle. The Romans could elect to subjugate yet another frontier people, and the legions gathered up their equipment. Kings and princes in early modern Europe, reflecting perhaps the apotheosis of this practice, marshaled bands of expensive knights and attendants in what looks to modern eyes almost like an elaborate game. Even when wars emerged without clear power-seeking intent, issues of security dilemmas and power rivalries always hung about the proceedings. In such a context, the enemy’s forces in the field embodied very nearly the entirety of the conflict. When they were destroyed, the enemy was vanquished. What “the people” thought about it, hacking away at their farms a thousand miles from the battlefield (or even right next door to it), usually had little or no bearing on the outcome — exce[...]