Friday, December 4, 2015

The Utility of Force

Carl von Clausewitz, the greatest of all military theorists, learned the art of war the hard way. As a senior Prussian officer, he was on the receiving end of the Napoleonic revolution in warfare at the Battle of Jena in 1806, ending up a prisoner. Watching how Bonaparte used the French army to redraw the map of Europe convinced Clausewitz that war was “not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means”

Clausewitz had witnessed a revolution not of technology but of mobilization and motivation. Under Bonaparte, war had become “the business of the people.” Raising larger armies than ever before, inspiring them with nationalist fervor, concentrating their attack on the enemy’s weakest spot and then annihilating the enemy’s forces: these were the essential traits of what Clausewitz called “absolute war.” In his view, its advent made political control of the military more important than ever before.

Now in the New Millennium, British General Rupert Smith gives us "The Utility of Force."

GEN Smith is a Clausewitzian in a world changed in at least two fundamental ways since the days of Napoleonic warfare. In the century after Waterloo, war became industrialized as mass armies were equipped with ever more lethal killing machines. More recently, a new paradigm has emerged: war amongst people rather than war between peoples.

This is a big deal. “War no longer exists,” he boldly declares, “as battle in a field between men and machinery” or “as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs.”

Utility of Force goes beyond the now commonplace observations that wars are increasingly waged by “nonstate actors” and with unprecedented media coverage. His point is that the aim of war has changed. Thus, in the current sitch, the “underlying purpose” of the insurgents is really “to provoke a violent reaction, or preferably an escalation of violence, which could be used to show the people of Iraq what a ruthless lot the U.S.-led invaders are. ... The strategic aim of the coalition forces is to show the same people how bad the insurgents are and how good they themselves are. Both are fighting each other amongst the people, over the will of the people ... to influence the intentions of the people.”

n the final third of the book, the General uses six themes to describe the new paradigm of war:

  • The ends for which we fight are changing from the hard objectives that decide a political outcome to those of establishing conditions in which the outcome may be decided
  • We fight amongst the people, not on the battlefield
  • Our conflicts tend to be timeless, even unending
  • We fight so as to preserve the force rather than risking all to gain the objective
  • On each occasion new uses are found for old weapons and organizations which are the products of industrial war
  • The sides are mostly non-state, comprising some form of multinational grouping against some non-state party or parties.

It discusses modern guerrilla and insurgency campaigns, including various civil wars and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. The conflicts he discusses in the second half are almost all "wars amongst the people" and appear intractable to conventional forces. Smith analyses situations in which countries have adapted their tactics in order to respond to "war amongst the people", such as those used by Israeli forces in response to Palestine's Intifada, in which the Israelis resorted to targeted searches when superior firepower proved ineffective.

 He points out that modern wars are rarely fought between individual nations, but the parties often consist of supranational coalitions or sub-state entities, and that Western governments in particular fight in such a way as to keep casualties and material losses to a minimum.

Somewhat critical of the conduct of the American-led coalition in Iraq during the insurgency which followed the initial invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003;  He believes that the commanders were working at a tactical rather than a strategic level, and that operations were not sufficiently guided by intelligence—relying too heavily on battlefield strength and assessments of the insurgents' technical capabilities, rather than their political objectives.

In his conclusion, Smith states his belief that modern politicians and military leaders use force where it has no utility and commit military forces without fully defined political and strategic objectives. He believes that politicians and generals remain in the mindset of industrial war, which leads them to prepare for a decisive confrontation that never happens, and he condemns them for failing to recognise the shift in the way wars are fought