Archive for the ‘The changing nature of conflict’ Category

Paraphrasing Tolstoy: all happy empires are alike; every unhappy empire is unhappy in its own way.  Without entering the rhetorical jungle of whether the United States has been exhibiting imperial tendencies in the early 21st century, it does share some unhappy symptoms with previous empires.

It is always a cause for wonderment that those most eager to go to war spend so little time thinking about its long term consequences, especially in human lives.  This commentator has carried on a running word-fight with the media over the definition of “casualty”, usually used to indicate those killed in combat but intended to be used to include those wounded in combat as well.  Total U.S. casualties in Iraq, for example, are approaching 40,000.

But now the long term payback for that war, and Afghanistan, is coming due.  In recent days Defense Department studies reveal the number of suicides, drug abuse cases, and psychological disorders among the troops.  Much of this is the result of extended deployments and repeated re-deployments, as well as the destructive mental impact of close-order counterinsurgency warfare.  Dead bodies and wounded everywhere, everyday.  This human toll is exacerbated by the lowering of recruitment standards to include those previously categorized as “morally unqualified”, people whose backgrounds would not otherwise permit them to serve.  A separate consideration is the impact on career military personnel of being required to serve with those with criminal records.

Why cannot political leaders level with the American people on the costs of warfare?  It is obvious if they did so, the appetite for voluntary invasions especially would be greatly diminished.  Unfortunately our society’s collective memory will have erased the human costs of Iraq and Afghanistan by the time some future president starts beating the drums and unleashing the dogs of war.  Reawakening memory requires statesmanship and a knowledge of history.  And we have very few leaders who qualify.

Perhaps we should create a public office and call it the Prophet Jeremiah.  Everytime the war drums were heard, the Prophet Jeremiah would remind us of the human costs we were assuming and the unhappiness of empires throughout history.

Security Through Anticipation

Author: Gary Hart

As the world changes dramatically, so does the nature of conflict and methods for achieving security.  Even as nations increasingly find the costs of war unacceptable, stateless nations, such as al Qaeda, have found unconventional conflict attractive and insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the limitations of our Cold War large-scale force structures and weapons systems.

Chechyan separatists, Somali pirates, Mexican drug cartels, Pakistani Taliban, Turkish Kurds, Tibetan nationalists, and many others join al Qaeda (though not always as viciously) in representing the conflict of the new 21st century.

But they all have one thing in common: they are not afraid of nuclear aircraft carrier task groups, B-2 bomber wings, or big infantry divisions.  Despite our massive military superiority (at least in traditional terms), this fact–plus the rejection of stupendous reward offers–illustrates why Osama bin Laden is still alive almost a full decade after 9.11.

From these circumstances, certain conclusions may be drawn: the prospects of major nation-state wars is sharply declining; the prospects for unconventional conflicts are increasing; we are much better prepared for the former than we are the latter; invasion of other countries almost inevitably guarantees commitment to costly, long-term counterinsurgency warfare; and long-term reconfiguration of our force structures (and their strategies, tactics, and doctrines) is imperative.

And a lot more thought must be given to our real mission in countries such as Afghanistan and countries such as Iraq before unleashing the dogs of war.  That kind of great power intelligence, as well as a dramatic increase in our ability to anticipate threats and reduce them through a better understanding of history, culture, and local politics, will do more to make us secure than a new generation of massive Cold War weapons.

Welcome to the bright new century.

Conflict in the 21st Century

Author: Gary Hart

Urban warriorFor about 300 or 350 years most conflicts in the world, or at least the major ones, were between and among nation-states, that is one country fighting another or several fighting each other.  More often than not these conflicts were about boundaries, territory, aggrieved minorities, religious or ethnic friction, or simply raw power.

Conventional nation-state wars evolved into large armies wearing national uniforms, employing ever more sophisticated large weapons, often meeting in decisive battles in more or less open fields.  These conflicts created their own rules embodied in international law and Geneva conventions.

Beginning sometime in the post-World War II time of colonial disintegration, so-called wars of national liberation sprang up, one country trying to rid itself of an occupying power.  This produced guerilla tactics—non-uniformed, indigenous forces using light weapons, hit-and-run methods, and often hitting civilian targets.  These kinds of conflicts proliferated when the bi-polar lid of the Cold War was lifted.  We experienced this unconventional warfare in Vietnam as the Soviets did (and now the U.S. does) in Afghanistan.

Largely under the threat of weapons of mass destruction, nation-state wars are declining.  But irregular, unconventional conflicts are expanding.  History may record its inaugural date as September 11, 2001, but its roots are at least a half-century older.

Welcome Post

Author: Gary Hart

Welcome to Matters of Principle, Senator Gary Hart’s personal blog.  More content is coming soon, so please visit the blog section of the site to see the most recent posts.  Thanks for dropping by.