WAR STRATEGIES WHICH LEAD TO VICTORY
by Paul E. Vallely
(Mar. 16, 2011) — In the late fifth century BC, Athenian negotiators, speaking to their Spartan competitors, with whom they were soon at war, staked out their rationale for their refusal to abandon their position as Greece’s other great power: “We have done nothing extraordinary, nothing contrary to human nature in accepting an empire when it was offered to us and then in refusing to give it up. Three very powerful motives prevent us from doing so – security, honor, and self-interest. And we were not the first to act in this way. Far from it.4 -Thucydides
War, more than any other human activity, engages our senses: at times providing a rush of fear, anxiety, horror, confusion, rage, pain, helplessness, nauseous anticipation, and hyper-awareness. It is in these vagaries that imponderables and miscalculations accumulate to paralyze the minds of military and political leaders. In the cauldron of war, “It is the exceptional Warrior who keeps his powers of quick decision intact.” There are other aspects of conflict that will not change no matter what advances in technology: fog, ideology and friction will distort, cloak, and twist the course of events. Fog will result from information overload, our own misperceptions and faulty assumptions, and the fact that enemies will act in unexpected ways. Combined with the fog of war there will be infinite a number of seemingly insignificant incidents and actions that can go wrong. It will arise from fundamental aspects of the condition and unavoidable unpredictability that lies at the very core of combat.”
The constant fog and friction of war turns the simple into the complex. In combat, people make good decisions and mistakes. They forget or know the basics. They become disoriented or oriented. Occasionally, incompetence prevails. Mistaken assumptions distort situational awareness. Chance disrupts, distorts, and confuses the most careful of plans. Uncertainty and unpredictability dominate.
Where friction prevails, tight tolerances, whether applied to plans, actions, or materiel are an invitation to failure – the more devastating for being unexpected. Operational or logistical concepts or plans that make no allowance for the inescapable uncertainties of war are suspect on their face – an open invitation to failure and at times defeat. Still another enduring feature of conflict lies in the recurring fact that military leaders often fail to recognize and understand their enemy. War is not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass… but always the collision of two living forces. Those living forces possess all the cunning and intractable characteristics human beings have enjoyed since the dawn of history. Even where adversaries share a similar historical and cultural background, the mere fact of belligerence guarantees profound differences in attitudes, expectations, and behavioral norms. Where different cultures come into conflict, the likelihood that adversaries will act in mutually incomprehensible ways is even more likely. Thus, Sun Tzu’s maxim that, “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles” is easier said than done. The conduct of war demands a deep understanding of the enemy – his culture, history, geography, religious and ideological motivations, and particularly the manifest differences in his perceptions of the external world.
The Nature of change – War will remain a human endeavor, a conflict between two forces, yet changes in the political landscape, adaptations by the enemy, and advances in technology and techniques will change the character of the battle. Leaders are often late to recognize such changes, and even when they do, inertia tends to limit their ability to adapt quickly. Driven by an inherent desire to bring order to a disorderly, chaotic universe, human beings tend to frame their thoughts about the future in terms of continuities and extrapolations from the present and occasionally the past. But a brief look at the past quarter century, to say nothing of the past four thousand years, suggests the extent of changes that coming decades will bring.
Twenty-five years ago the Cold War encompassed every aspect of the American military’s thinking and preparation for conflict – from the strategic level to the tactical. Today, that all-consuming preoccupation is a historical relic. A quarter century ago, the United States confronted the Soviet Union, a truculent, intractable opponent with leaders firmly committed to the spread of Marxist-Leninist ideology and expansion of their influence. At that time, few in the intelligence communities or even among Sovietologists recognized the deepening internal crisis of confidence that would lead to the implosion of the Soviet Empire. The opposing sides had each deployed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, as well as vast armies, air forces, and navies across the globe. Soviet forces were occupying Afghanistan and appeared on the brink of crushing an uprising of ill-equipped, ill-trained guerrillas. In El Salvador, a Soviet-backed insurgency was on the brink of victory.
Beyond the confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union lay a world that differed enormously from today. China was only emerging from the dark years of Mao’s rule. To China’s south, India remained mired in an almost medieval level of poverty, from which it appeared unlikely to escape. To the sub-continent’s west, the Middle East was as plagued by political and religious troubles as today. But no one could have predicted then that within 25 years the United States would wage two major wars against Saddam Hussein’s regime and commit much of its ground power to suppressing simultaneous insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The differences between the culture and organization of the American military then and now further underline the extent of the disruptions with the past. The lack of coordination among the forces involved in overthrowing the “New Jewel” movement in Grenada in October 1983 reminds us that at the time joint operations was a concept honored more in the breach than observance. That situation led to the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. In terms of capabilities, stealth did not yet exist outside of the research and development communities. The M-1 Tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle were only starting to reach the army’s forward deployed units. The Global Positioning System (GPS) did not exist. The training ranges of the National Training Center, Twenty-Nine Palms, Fallon, and Nellis were just beginning to change U.S. preparations for war. Precision attack was a problem to be solved with tactical nuclear weapons. One might also note how much the economic and technological landscapes outside of the military had changed. Economically, in 1983 globalization was in its first stages and largely involved trade among the United States, Europe, and Japan. The tigers of Southeast Asia were emerging, but the rest of the world seemed caught in inescapable poverty. Just to give one example: in 1983 the daily transfer of capital among international markets was approximately $20 billion. Today, it is $1.6 trillion.
On the technological side, the Internet existed only in the Department of Defense, and its economic and communications possibilities and implications for the civilian world were not yet apparent. Cellular phones came equipped with briefcases and shoulder straps and only worked in select urban areas. Personal computers were beginning to come into widespread use, but their reliability was terrible. Microsoft was just emerging from Bill Gates’ garage, while Google existed only in the wilder writings of science fiction writers. In other words, the revolution in information and communications technologies, taken for granted today, was largely unimaginable in 1983. A revolution had begun, but its implications remained uncertain and unclear. Other advances in science since 1983, such as the completion of the human genome project, nano technologies, and robotics, also seemed the provenance of writers of science fiction.
In thinking about the world’s trajectory, we have reason to believe that the next twenty-five years will bring changes just as dramatic, drastic, and disruptive as those that have occurred in the past quarter century. Indeed, the pace of technological and scientific change is increasing. Changes will occur throughout the energy, financial, political, strategic, operational, and technological domains. How drastic, how disruptive and how surprising these changes might be is at present not discernible and in some cases their full impact will not be understood until they are upon us. The interplay between continuities and disruptions will demand a Joint Force that can see both what has changed and what endures. The force must then have the ability to adapt to those changes while recognizing the value of fundamental principles. That can only result from a historically-minded mentality that can raise the right questions, develop and execute the right strategies that lead to Victory.
Paul E. Vallely is Chairman of Stand Up America
This is one of a series of articles on new strategies for America and its leaders.
Paul E. Vallely MG, US Army (Ret)
Chairman – Stand Up America
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.