• Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are treated as distinct from ‘conventional’ weapons, and their stockpiling and use are particularly controversial.
• WMDs are divided into four general types: radiological, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
• For a well-equipped modern military, the battlefield utility of radiological and current biological weapons (BWs) is modest. Nonetheless, terrorists might find such weapons useful in inciting fear and causing economic and other damage.
• There is an existing norm, accepted by the great majority of states, against the stockpiling and use of chemical and biological weapons (CBWs). However, this norm could break down in the future.
Introduction: defining weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)
While most of the chapters in this book focus chiefly on how warfare is conducted, and only address weapons within that context, any discussion of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs) must have a somewhat different focus. This is because these weapons have been placed in a special category, marking the weapons themselves as being extraordinary and making their use uniquely controversial. Indeed, the term conventional weapons, which generally is applied to virtually all non-weapons of mass destruction, is telling, as it implies that such weapons are ‘normal’ and thus usable, unlike their WMDs counterparts. This focus on the weapon itself is unusual, and is in substantial contrast to the attitude towards most conventional weapons, which generally are treated more like various tools in a tool chest, some of which are appropriate for particular jobs but not for others, but all of which are ethically acceptable in a general sense, even if many of them ethically cannot be used in every situation.
Any reasonable recounting of the overall WMDs ‘story’, therefore, must address why these weapons have not been used in various situations where they would have promised military advantage. This is critical because, in general, one should expect that a weapon which is likely to yield military advantage will be used in warfare, and that its use will not be limited or prohibited by international agreement. Indeed, the very notion of prohibition seems slightly bizarre in regard to most conventional weapons.
What is the future of warfare? The preceding chapters of this book have highlighted the contentious nature of modern warfare: central themes and concepts have often remained open to debate; elements of change in the theory and practice of warfare have been accompanied by countervailing aspects of continuity. Developing these themes, we conclude this book by asking the broad question: ‘in what direction is modern warfare travelling?’ This is a question of fundamental importance. Ideally, we need to prepare now for the sort of warfare that will confront us in future years. But, compounding the contentious nature of the debates discussed in the main body of this volume, one of the recurring leitmotifs in any examination of the future is uncertainty. The strategist Colin S. Gray puts this bluntly: ‘we know nothing, literally zero, for certain about the wars of the future, even in the near-term’. We will structure this discussion of the future by focusing first on the general issue of the future of war and then on the debates surrounding four key areas that might shape the nature of that future: the impact of technology; joint warfare; the operational level of war and operational art; and finally the vexed question ‘what is victory?’
The future of war
We begin with the question ‘what will future war look like?’ It is, of course, the largest of understatements to assert that predicting the future of war is difficult. Indeed, as the chapters of this book have demonstrated, militaries have historically often had to fight wars very different from those they had anticipated. Predicting the future is simply a problematic activity: how far forward must one predict? Who will one be fighting? How will they fight? Will new means and methods be available? What will be government policy? Answering these questions is complicated by the problems of strategic intelligence-gathering, the difficulties in using historical analogies, and the fallibilities associated with human decision-making such as groupthink and organisational culture. But governments and their militaries cannot ruminate indefinitely: eventually they must make decisions about what the future will look like in order to inform defence policy.
• Military force is a flexible instrument of policy.
• The contemporary strategic environment is complex and requires astute strategy.
• Certain trends, such as cyberwar and military ethics, interact in complex and often unpredictable ways.
Strategy may be complex and difficult. And yet, perhaps with the aid of theory, experience and ideally military genius, the strategist can, indeed must, utilise the military instrument in the service of policy. This can be done in a number of ways. Highlighting the fact that military power is a far more flexible instrument than many assume, this chapter explores the various uses of force in the modern world. These will be divided into six categories: defence, deterrence, compellence, posturing, offence and miscellaneous. It should of course be noted that the actual use of force will often simultaneously cover a number of these categories. It is important to remember that the categorisation of anything rarely reflects the complexities of reality in an absolute sense.
Often, discussion is limited to the first four categories. The exclusion of the fifth and sixth categories may reflect a philosophical and/or ethical shift away from regarding military force as a useful, flexible or legitimate instrument of policy. However, the conflict-ridden international security environment suggests that this is clearly a naive philosophical approach. Take, for example, the recent history of Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless of the subsequent challenges encountered by the counterinsurgency campaigns in these two wars, it is undeniable that the offensive use of military power removed the Taliban and Ba'athist regimes.
Having discussed the use of force in general conceptual terms, the chapter will conclude by analysing the current and future state of strategy. In particular, the work will explore the interplay amongst various developments in the strategic landscape: military transformation, irregular warfare, nuclear strategy, cyberwar, targeted killing and military ethics.
The use of force
Generally speaking, defending the state/community is the primary function of military force. The defensive use of force has two functions: to repel an attack and to limit the damage caused should an attack occur. What actually constitutes an act of self-defence has become something of a debate since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the Bush administration's response to it.
• Given their resource constraints and the character of irregular warfare, insurgents and terrorists have relatively few choices regarding the organisation or strategies they pursue. There is more continuity in insurgent strategy and organisation than there is change.
• Doctrine for countering insurgency, whether historical or contemporary, agrees in kind but differs only in preferred terminology, degree or specific approach. The principles of countering irregular warfare, therefore, are largely immutable. What matters regarding doctrine, however, is the ability of organisations and their leaders to adapt to the environment, learn faster than their opponent and connect their actions to the overall strategic effort, and not become the strategy itself.
• Irregular warfare is a complex phenomenon that is difficult to understand as different types of violence can be used individually or simultaneously. This can lead to confusing the method or tactics of irregular warfare for its strategy or its purpose. Fixating on the tactics of violence, or improving one's own performance, as opposed to tackling your opponent's organisation and rationale, leads to operational frustration and strategic failure.
• Special operations forces are the preferred instrument of policy-makers now and in the future but they are best suited to tackle immediate irregular threats and only establish the conditions for the future success of others to exploit, but are not a solution to irregular warfare in and of themselves.
The current era of irregular warfare begins with the end of the Second World War and decolonisation or, rather, had its genesis during the Second World War. American President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill could not possibly have known how truly strong and problematic the future whirlwind would be when they issued the Atlantic Charter in August 1940. Although most of its points appeared innocuous, the third point – the right of all peoples to self-determination – would cause the greatest difficulties. In particular, the leaders of socialist or nationalist movements in colonial territories interpreted the Atlantic Charter as the basis for declarations of independence once the war was over. The most famous example occurred in French Indochina in September 1945, where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent using language borrowed from the US Declaration of Independence.
• Navies tend to have distinctive attributes that result from the unique nature of the maritime operating environment.
• The nature of this environment means that many of the concepts and theories pertaining to military operations on land or in the air do not apply at sea. To understand naval warfare, therefore, one must engage with a distinct body of thought known as maritime strategy.
• Many of the key ideas about maritime strategy today have their roots in ideas first articulated in their current form over a century ago.
• Despite the many changes that have occurred over the years, these ideas continue to inform thinking about maritime strategy and thus, by extension, about naval warfare today.
This chapter examines concepts and theories associated with naval warfare. It begins with a discussion of the nature of the maritime operating environment, and the notion that navies have particular attributes that they derive from this. It then introduces traditional theories of maritime strategy, focusing first on the dominant ‘Anglo-American’ tradition before examining some alternative approaches. The discussion here sets the context for the examination of the conduct of naval warfare over the past century, in chapter 8, and the analysis of current practice and future possibilities in chapter 9.
The particular characteristics of the sea and of naval forces, discussed below, have led to the development of a series of concepts and principles peculiar to naval warfare. In order to understand naval warfare and, in particular, to understand the thought processes that lie behind much modern naval activity, it is necessary to be conversant with distinctly naval concepts and principles. This, in turn, requires familiarity with the work of the traditional maritime stra-tegists who first articulated and popularised such concepts. The impact of the most notable of these, Alfred Thayer Mahan, was reflected in the 1940s by the former US secretary of war, Henry Stimson, when he complained that the Navy Department frequently ‘seemed to retire from the realm of logic into a dim religious world in which Neptune was God, Mahan his prophet and the United States Navy the only true Church’. While this may not now be a fair reflection of Mahan's impact on the US Navy it is true to say that the concepts that he and others advanced have continued to influence naval thought and practice through to the present day.
• The period from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, the ‘First Nuclear Age’, was defined by the relations between the two superpowers. The world now is in a ‘Second Nuclear Age’ in which an increasing nucleus of actors possess nuclear weapons.
• Capability, credibility, severity and surety are vital factors in determining the success or failure of a deterrence threat.
• Given the increasing number of states possessing nuclear weapons and the diversity of their strategic cultures, the ‘deterrence lessons’ of the First Nuclear Age may be of limited applicability in the current era.
• There are two distinct types of nuclear proliferation. When the number of states possessing nuclear weapons increases, this constitutes horizontal weapons proliferation. An increase in the number of nuclear weapons is vertical proliferation.
• It is not probable that terrorists will obtain one or more nuclear weapon in the medium-term future, but the likelihood of such an outcome is not negligible. The questionable security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is a matter of particular concern.
Introduction: the ‘nuclear club’
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) restricts legal possession of nuclear weapons to just five states – China, Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States. All other signatories to the NPT legally renounce the right to build or possess nuclear weapons. However, some of these signatories, such as Iran, may be attempting to break the Treaty's restrictions. Moreover, three countries that never signed the NPT are known to possess nuclear weapons (India, Pakistan and Israel), while North Korea – which apparently has conducted four nuclear tests and can be presumed to have a nuclear arsenal – is a former party to the Treaty but withdrew from it in 2003. Indeed, even though the number of states that actually possess these weapons is small, the three most populous states in the world all have them; altogether the nuclear powers are home to roughly half of humanity – so, at least in one respect, nuclear possession is not really unusual.
Chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons all are viewed negatively, but perceptions of the last of these, as the previous chapter noted, are decidedly mixed.
• The techniques of naval warfare have been subject to many changes over the past two centuries.
• Technology has also changed and this has had an impact on all forms of naval activity. However, to understand technology one must place it within an appropriate context. It is not an independent variable.
• Despite such changes there have also been some notable continuities and these suggest that the concepts articulated in the previous chapter retain some relevance.
The previous chapter suggested that there has been a considerable degree of continuity in thinking about naval warfare; concepts and principles articulated in the nineteenth century continue to be employed in the twenty-first. Over the same period there have been many obvious changes in the conduct of naval warfare, particularly in the tactics adopted and in the technology used. No navy today maintains a fleet of wooden sailing ships similar to those employed by Admiral Nelson in 1805 nor do any possess pre-dreadnought battleships akin to those used to good effect by Admiral Togo a century later. No modern commander would deploy their fleet in battle in the same way as did either Nelson or Togo and to do so would be to invite disaster. It is legitimate therefore to question whether principles articulated in Togo's era, which were often derived from an examination of Nelson's, are still useful today when platforms, weapons and sensors have changed so much and where the general strategic context has been transformed. This chapter will address that question.
Unfortunately there is not the space here to provide a detailed history of the evolution of naval warfare over the past century, still less can we examine the very rich history before this period. The reader is fortunate that there are numerous good books that already do precisely this and some of these are introduced in the ‘Further reading’ guide at the end of this chapter. The aim here is not to present a comprehensive history but rather to illustrate some of the ways in which naval warfare has changed over time, and also some of the continuities. There will be a particular focus on the past 150 years, roughly the time at which steam, steel and shellfire replaced the ‘wooden ships and iron men’ of Nelson's era.
• Strategy is neither war nor politics, and thus requires its own intellectual tradition.
• Strategy requires serious study removed from moral, political, operational and intellectual fashions.
• Strategic theory can help the practitioner cope with complexity, but offers no guarantees.
War is practised in many different environments and contexts. While this has always been the case, the modern period has witnessed a growing complexity to warfare. In the twentieth century the air, space and cyberspace environments took their place as theatres of war alongside the traditional environments of land and sea. With each new environment of warfare come distinct features, challenges and opportunities for the commander to deal with. In addition to these new arenas, the invention of nuclear weapons presented a severe challenge for those involved in using military force in the service of policy objectives. However, the twentieth century was not just about the ‘new’. Older forms of warfare also underwent substantial developments. Irregular warfare witnessed a degree of theoretical and practical maturation through the works and careers of men such as Mao and Robert Thompson. At the same time, regular forms of warfare have had to adapt to new technology and an increasingly joint approach. Finally, political and social developments have added to the challenges faced by commanders. In an age of ubiquitous social media, legal and moral restrictions on the use of force are more readily applied and upheld.
This book will explore the significance of the above changes to the character of war. Yet, despite the seeming novelty of warfare in the modern period, the very essence of war has remained the same. Across time and place, although the character of war has altered, its nature has remained constant. At the heart of that nature is politics. War is a violent political activity. Regardless of the specific context, each war has a guiding policy rationale. Ensuring that military means serve policy ends effectively is the realm of strategy. Each particular form of warfare, whether acting in isolation or operating in concert with others, must be guided by strategy: the process that ensures war has dynamic purpose.
• Understanding the continuity and differences between historical rationale and practice, and not just the most recent era of lessons learned, is the key to success in current and future irregular wars.
• Striking a balance between gaining the willing and demonstrated support of the population, versus simply controlling and coercing it, is a consistent theme historically. Brute force has been effective in the short term, but its use creates more problems than it solves.
• Traumatic events for those conducting or countering it, particularly failure, are often the catalyst for reflection and an upsurge in interest in and writing on irregular warfare.
• The most effective practitioners of irregular warfare historically accurately assess the subjective and objective conditions for success within its specific context, or provide a comprehensive roadmap that links tactical action to strategic purpose.
Understanding modern irregular warfare through the lens of the past
The study of irregular warfare historically presents a number of unique challenges. Although the history of irregular warfare, in the form of bandit raids or other unconventional tactics, arguably existed long before more organised, conventional warfare by fielded armies, there are relatively few memoirs, much less theories of violence, by those conducting irregular warfare against militarily superior opponents prior to the nineteenth century. Classic texts on ancient warfare from across the globe, including Maurice's Strategikon (Byzantium), Sun Tzu's The Art of War (China) and Kautilya's Arthasastra (India), addressed unconventional methods of fighting such as raids, ambushes, stratagems and ruses as a method of gaining an advantage over an opponent prior to or during battle. Other ancient texts, including epic poems, theological texts and historical narratives, suggest that irregular tactics were used to overcome formidable defences. The most famous example remains the Trojan Horse in Homer's Iliad, but far more accounts describe a common subterfuge: taking walled cities by using traitors inside to open gates for armies waiting outside. In addition, some texts discuss the specific fighting qualities, or what scholars now call ‘stra-tegic culture’ or ‘way of war’, of irregular or barbarian opponents. Indeed, some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that civilisations have distinct styles of fighting, either as a result of geography or as an explanation for their political and economic success.
• The future form of land warfare is far from certain.
• For some, the future is a technologically focused Revolution in Military Affairs; for others it is a future of new wars, brutal, local and low-tech; still others see a future marked by hybrid warfare threats that mix conventional and unconventional techniques.
• History suggests that, in the future, many different forms of land warfare are likely to co-exist because land warfare is shaped by different political, economic, social and cultural contexts.
In this final chapter on land warfare, we turn our attention to the future. The two preceding chapters have highlighted the evolutionary underpinnings of the ‘modern system’ approach to land warfare. Can we assume similarly that future land warfare will look much like that of the past? This is clearly a crucial question for land forces around the world. Governments do not have the luxury of perpetual analysis: given the time taken to generate effective military power, choices have to be made now about the sorts of land forces that will be required for the future – their size, structure, equipment, training and doctrine. But these choices carry risks: while we need to know that we are preparing for the right future, history suggests, as the previous chapter has illustrated, that we often do not get the sorts of wars that we expect.
Sadly, for those tasked with generating future land power there is no consensus on what the future of land warfare holds. This chapter looks at the issue of future land warfare through the lens of three of the key contending schools of thought on the issue: the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA); new wars; and hybrid warfare. Each takes the view that the character of warfare is changing; each has implications for the kind of land forces required to fight it; but each is also the subject of important critiques.
The Revolution in Military Affairs
The Gulf War of 1991 cast a long shadow over subsequent debates on the character and future of land warfare. The then US secretary of defense, Richard (‘Dick’) Cheney, argued that the Gulf War ‘demonstrated dramatically the new possibilities of what has been called the “military–technical revolution in warfare”’.
• Land, in the form of the ground that warfare is fought on, gives land warfare certain unique characteristics.
• These characteristics in turn shape the nature of the forces that fight upon land.
• Land warfare is complex: its prosecution requires navigating a wide array of competing trade-offs.
Warfare on land has been pivotal to military outcomes throughout history. This is because human beings live on land; therefore, the capacity to seize and control territory often carries with it decisive political consequences. As the strategist Colin Gray has noted, ‘the inherent strength of land warfare is that it carries the promise of achieving decision’.
The next three chapters explore the key ideas, concepts, principles and debates associated with conventional, high-intensity land warfare in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At the heart of these chapters lies the idea of the so-called ‘modern system’ of land warfare. During the twentieth century, armies faced a range of problems resulting from the interaction between various forces for change, including the effects of increasing firepower and the problem of moving, feeding and supplying larger armies. Incrementally, armies found potential solutions for these problems by manipulating some of the core areas of continuity in land warfare, not least the nature of the land environment itself and the basic characteristics of armies. These solutions created a dominant set of themes in the conduct of land warfare: dispersal, combined arms, fire-and-manoeuvre, depth and close co-operation with air and maritime forces (joint operations). Collectively, these themes constitute modern-system land warfare.
As with the later parts of this book on maritime and air warfare, our discussion of land warfare begins with an exploration of some of the key concepts that lie at the heart of the subject. This provides an essential background to the development of the modern system of land warfare both in terms of explaining the problems facing armies at the beginning of the twentieth century but also how important continuities, such as the effect of terrain and the flexibility of armies, have shaped potential solutions. Building on the concepts explored in this chapter, chapter 5 then explores how and why the modern system evolved during the twentieth century. Whereas the modern system is essentially an evolutionary and adaptive development, more recent debates have often focused on the potential for revolutionary changes in the conduct of land warfare.
• The contested concept of air power as a revolution in military affairs.
• Technology as a key enabler for air power to achieve effect.
• Air power's role in the post-Cold War world.
• The importance of maintaining access to space and the growing threat to space platforms.
As the preceding chapters have shown, the development of air and space power has been swift. In little more than a century of heavier-than-air flight, aircraft have moved from being capable of spending little more than five minutes in the air to possessing the ability to spend more than a day aloft; the speeds which military aircraft can attain have gone from under 100 miles per hour (160 kilometres per hour) to over 2,000 mph (3,218 kph) and the loads they are capable of carrying have increased dramatically. By the end of the Vietnam War, it was possible for fighter aircraft to routinely engage enemy aircraft with missiles (although the success rate of such weapons in Vietnam was low), while attack aircraft with precision-guided munitions (PGMs) could use one weapon to destroy a target when it might have previously taken several aircraft using over a dozen bombs to achieve the same result. Between the early 1900s and 1989, air and space power had a clear role, directed against potentially hostile nation states or alliances, with regular diversions into ‘small wars’. It became something of a mantra, particularly after Vietnam, to note that high-speed fighter-bombers and attack aircraft, designed to fight a possible Third World War, were not best-suited for this sort of ‘brushfire’ war, not least since their speed and relative lack endurance over a target area meant that it was difficult for aircrew to locate targets. Although a prominent and repeated charge – and not without reason, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, prior to the development of targeting pods and PGMs, as well as technology which allowed ground troops to accurately direct aircrews’ attention to the target which needed to be struck – the fact that air transport and reconnaissance were critical contributions to such campaigns often went unremarked. The constant fear of a major state-on-state war, notably between NATO and the USSR, meant that the development of high-technology fighter aircraft largely went unquestioned.
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