War Is Dead; Operations Live On

12.04.07

Categorie: Axe in East Timor, East Timor |

In his recent tome The Utility of Force, British Army general Rupert Smith proposes that traditional notions of war – uniformed armies squaring off in bloody but brief contests over land – are mostly extinct. Centuries of industrialization during which weapons became increasingly lethal, culminating in world-destroying nuclear arsenals, have made old-fashioned warfare effectively suicidal, he claims. War’s zenith occurred in 1945 just before the United States dropped atom bombs on Japan; ever since, conventional wars have gotten smaller and shorter while “operations other than war” – sanctions, interventions, occupations, peacekeeping, etc – have become more common, especially with the growing disparity between the developed world and the developing. Increasingly, conflict is about bridging the gap between the First World and the Last, for the ostensible benefit of both.

Even the Iraq War, which began in such traditional terms, rapidly became the kind of conflict that Smith sees becoming the rule. So what does this mean for First World militaries? It means they must be prepared to manage simultaneous, long-term, low-intensity operations that bring to bear all aspects of state power: armed force, law enforcement, development, humanitarian assistance, education, etc. That means significant reorganization for militaries designed to fight wars. It means fewer submarines, destroyers, tanks, artillery pieces and fighter jets. It means more patrol boats, transport ships, trucks, helicopters and airlifters. It means being more expeditionary and, perhaps as a result, less lethal.

The U.S. military’s transition to such a force has proved slow, expensive and frustrating. But make no mistake: it’s happening, with the slow erosion of conventional air and sea power and the gradual building up of deployable, sustainable land forces. America’s closest allies are undergoing the same difficult transformations. Japan’s army is evolving from a purely defensive force to a deployable one. European militaries are retiring fighter squadrons in favor of more airlifters and amphibious ships. And Australia, one of America’s best friends, has launched a comprehensive program to rebuild its tiny but highly professional armed forces with a view to ever more deployments to ever more developing countries. Current Australian operations in East Timor offer a glimpse into the future for not just the Australian military, but all First World militaries.

So what do 21st-century operations look like? They’re hot, sweaty and dirty. They’re confusing, what with all the ethnic and religious factions, political parties and rebel groups running around at cross-purposes. At times, operations are very very boring. You walk, you drive, you watch, you walk or drive some more then watch some more. Operations in the developing world are all about presence patrols, vehicle checkpoints and the occasional raid on some rebel stronghold, terrorist cell or criminals’ hideout. In terms of equipment, your trucks are your best friends. Helicopters are useful for transport and surveillance. Night-vision devices allow you to patrol around the clock. Your radios must work in the nastiest of conditions; it’s useful to get more radios into the hands of more soldiers so that you can spread them out and cover more ground. Digital cameras are indispensable for all those occasions where you’ve got to record a crime scene for analysis or capture mugshots of potential bad guys.

What’s not useful? This. And this. And especially this.

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9 Responses to “War Is Dead; Operations Live On”

  1. [...] Interesting post over at War is Boring, all about the change of modern First World armies into the small, professional and flexible forces that will be needed to fight modern ‘operations other than war’. Great quote: So what do 21st-century operations look like? They’re hot, sweaty and dirty. They’re confusing, what with all the ethnic and religious factions, political parties and rebel groups running around at cross-purposes. At times, operations are very very boring. You walk, you drive, you watch, you walk or drive some more then watch some more. [...]

  2. Joe Pfeiff says:

    The author’s assessment of the future of conventional warfare, or rather the lack thereof is dead on. The recent Iraq war was a brilliant example of how modern technology has made the actual act of war, in this case the invasion of Iraq from Kuwait, a brief and anticlimactic affair. What rings most true about the future roll of the world’s militaries is that they will increasingly look more like police forces. Similarly, police forces will look more like militaries in the future. While rule of law is one characteristic of free, liberal societies that differentiates the first from the second and third world, the existence of a strong police enforcement is that which gives the rule of law efficacy. So, therefore it is easy to assert from that conclusion that as the third and second worlds strive for first world status, the one thing they need most will be a police force to give rise to the rule of law. Absent the funds and technology to raise their own police force, foreign entities will have to provide a (hopefully) temporary solution. Thus the new purpose for invading and occupying forces becomes policing. Is the world ready for this yet? Maybe not, but like it or not, it is coming.

  3. [...] Si comparamos con la blogosfera en ingls alguien podra echar en falta cosas como la abuela hippy que pas un un ao comiendo sandwiches de mantequilla de cacachuete para ahorrar y plantarse en Iraq y contarlo en un blog. O alguien como David Axe que tras escribir un libro sobre sus viviencias en el programa del Reserve Officers’ Training Corps ha terminado estos das en Timor Oriental descubriendo las guerras posmodernas. Pues resulta que s tenemos a alguien as. Hernn Zin est viajando por medio mundo (Brasil, Sudn, Lbano…) y lo cuenta en su blog de 20 Minutos, Viaje a la Guerra. [...]

  4. Axe – Do you think the decline of traditional operations relative to stability and suport operations (peacekeeping, humanitarian response, etc.) has to do with the dominance of traditional U.S. military power? Can countries like Australia can afford to focus on stability operations precisely because the U.S. can prevail in traditional military operations by itself?

  5. Marshall says:

    I loved Smith’s book. It’s one of the most clearly written, accessible texts on to operational realities of military campaigns in today’s world.

    While the U.S. may be making the transition to a more meaningful military, I don’t see any transition in society or government that would allow that military to fulfill the political goals that would be set for it. So while the guys on the ground may be getting it, The “utility” of any evolving US military will likely continue to be blunted by political failures at home.

  6. David Axe says:

    Good point, Marshall.

  7. fred lapides says:

    Since WWII there has also been an increase in the attcks upon civilians and, in forthcoming battles or conflicts, this is bound to continue, with civilians used botj as shields and as targets.

  8. [...] The British Ministry of Defence has been thinking about the future , and 2037 looks like it’ll be a doozy. Others have been thinking about it too, and they believe they’ll be mainly hot, sweaty, dirty and confusing. [...]

  9. [...] Those Topol nuclear missiles appear to be the real deal, but nukes are only good for deterrence. They’re not particularly useful for fighting the kinds of dirty little wars that are likely to become de rigeur. [...]

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