“We are living in a world rapidly evolving away from the mental constructs and language of the last 375 years.” Newt Gingrich
We are living in a world rapidly evolving away from the mental constructs and language of the last 375 years. These ideas can be traced to the Treaty of Westphalia ending the 30 Years War in 1648 and Grotius proposal of a system of International Law in the same era. The ideas were then extended through the development of state warfare culminating in the Napoleonic Wars.
This intellectual framework was applied and reapplied through two World Wars and the Cold War. It is the framework within which academic and bureaucratic careers were made and are still being made.
It is now a framework which distorts reality, hides from uncomfortable facts, and cripples our ability to develop an effective national security and foreign policy.
The gap between the old world in our heads and the new world we now find ourselves in is so large that the very language of the past blocks us from coming to grips with an emerging future that will be radically different.
Consider these challenges to the old intellectual order:
1. We are in a Long War which could easily last 100 years or more, which will transcend all national boundaries and which ignores or rejects a century of work trying to routinize and tame warfare.
2. There are technological and doctrinal breakouts on the horizon which will challenge our very survival. ElectroMagnetic Pulse, cyber war, loyalties to religiously inspired movements transcending traditional concepts of patriotism, militarization of space, are examples of breakouts which will reach require new thinking and new organizations and doctrines.
3. The Chinese system of strategic competition in a world of “no war, no peace” ( see Sun Tzu’s the Art of War with its injunction that the greatest of all generals win bloodless victories as an initial starting point for Chinese strategies of blending war and peace into one continuum) as illustrated by the nine dash line and the long project to assume sovereignty over the entire South China Sea is an example of how different that competition will be. The ongoing cyber competition is a good example of the blurring of war and non war boundaries. This pattern is actually historically more normal than the American effort to draw a sharp line between war and peace.
4. Russia is re-emerging as an opportunistic, predatory state with loyalty to its self defined national interests rather than to any theory of international legality. The Russian nuclear arsenal requires us to think much more deeply about how we communicate with and seek to negotiate with Russia. Managing the evolving Russian challenge may require more 19th century Real politick in the Bismarck-Disraeli tradition and less reliance on legalisms.
5. The sobering reality is that we are at the end of the 70 year strategy of attempting to contain the spread of nuclear weapons and at the beginning of a dangerous new era of coping with the threat of nuclear weapons. The gap between the new dangers and the old thinking can be seen in the totally inadequate design of the Department of Homeland Security. As originally proposed in the Hart-Rudman Commission’s work in 2000 this department should be sized to handle simultaneous nuclear events in three different cities. Today, 15 years later, it could not adequately handle one nuclear event. Yet the spread of nuclear capability to North Korea, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere virtually guarantees weapons could be used in the near future. We now have to develop a two prong strategy which both focuses diplomatically on minimizing their spread and the danger of their use and focuses national security and homeland security assets on surviving nuclear events if diplomacy fails.
6. Lawfare combined with ubiquitous regular media and social media coverage is creating new ground rules for the effective use of force in defense of American safety. For two generations we have allowed lawyers, media members, and non governmental organizations to define an ever more complex and more unwieldy set of ground rules. The efforts to turn war into criminal justice and to find “humane” methods of waging war have largely come at the expense of American national security. Confronted by enemies like Islamic Supremacists who don’t care about either the rule or law or the public opinion pressures created by visible violence, the United States will find itself at increasingly one sided disadvantages. The notion of “bringing to justice” those who attacked us on 9/11 or Paris this November is absurd. Not only do we need to move the lawyers, NGOs and media to the side, but our new leaders must communicate directly and bluntly the nature of the threats we face, and make it plain that we all must sacrifice something if we want this nation to endure. We have to cease treating our enemies with the kind of disdain (the “J.V. team” comment, for example) that allows our leaders to demand little of themselves and nothing of us.
7. As I noted at the beginning, we are engaged in a Long War. Hollywood began recognizing that war with movies like Black Sunday 38 years ago (1977) in which a Palestinian group sought to kill thousands at a Super Bowl. Today, 36 years after the Iranian illegal seizure of the American Embassy and year long hostage crisis, 22 years after the first bombing of the World Trade Center, 17 years after the bombing of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, 15 years after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, 14 years after the attack of 9/11killed 2,996 people, we need to have the courage to face the facts. We are losing the Long War. Our elites in America and Europe have an enormous resistance to dealing honestly and effectively with the Islamic Supremacists who seek to kill us and destroy our civilization. Until we can find accurate words to describe the realities of the Long War we have no hope of even beginning to win it. We have to recognize that this Long War may require totally new approaches completely outside the American historic experience. Furthermore the enemy’s ability to adapt may force us to dramatically shift away from the traditional “American Way of War”.
8. The Long War will last at least 50 to 100 years unless there is a disaster so large the West is compelled to mobilize with ruthless efficiency and destroy the capacity for Islamic Supremacists to function. We have no language or doctrine for sustaining a century long struggle in a free society. We have no serious efforts underway in our national security community to even begin thinking about such a long war. We certainly have no plans or systems which enable America to cope with technological breakouts, Chinese scale and complexity, Russian opportunism and a Long War simultaneously. We also have no plans to communicate with the American people and organize understanding among Americans to sustain a century long effort which will inherently be both foreign and domestic. Since we can’t talk with ourselves it is no wonder we can’t build support among our allies.
9. As I outline in my new novel, Duplicity, Islamic Supremacism is a virus and has to be seen as an epidemiological phenomenon. Seen in this context the internet and social media are the centers of gravity for the Long War. Any effort which focuses on geographic campaigns, such as defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq, is by definition a misunderstanding of the Long War. Our efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for the last 14 years have failed in large part because we have no larger strategic context of defeating Islamic Supremacists within which to orient them. Imagine we had confused Guadalcanal for World War Two and you can see how far we have to go to rethink our current activities. It will be extraordinarily hard to get our national security bureaucracies and professionals to admit how big the failures are and how deep the change has to be. It will be even harder to get our political elites to understand how badly we are losing and how much we must rethink our current analyses, strategies, and activities.
10. The biggest zone of controversy will be the inherently transnational nature of the Long War. Because Islamic Supremacism is a virus and because it spreads through the internet and social media it will require strategies and institutional relationships which have both domestic and foreign operating capabilities. We have to study the American struggle against Nazis in the 1930s (the House Un-American Activities Committee was established in 1938 to go after Nazi penetration of the United States). We have to study the frighteningly effective Soviet penetration of the American government in the 1930s and 1940s and the systematic government response to eliminate Soviet spies, agents and sympathizers. The history of other countries and their campaigns to eliminate penetrations by foreign enemies also should become part of such a study.
11. Unavoidability is the first key to understanding the scale of the national security challenge we face. Whether we want to fight Islamic Supremacists or not is irrelevant. They intend to fight us. Whether we would like to live in a world of extreme nuclear danger or not is irrelevant. Every year countries like North Korea, Pakistan and Iran get more nuclear capability. Whether we want to deal with domestic subversion and domestic enemies or not is irrelevant. As Paris just proved once again, ignoring your enemies doesn’t mean they will ignore you. In fact it may create space for them to become more dangerous and more lethal.
12. The sheer range and complexity of challenges and the speed with which any one problem can erupt requires a new approach to monitoring threats and managing responses. Just as we had to develop fleet and theater information integration systems to cope with speed and complexity we will have to build national command systems that integrate all departments and all sources of information.the Army Training and Doctrine Commands new emphasis on complexity is a welcome step in this direction. Their new doctrine manual “Win in a Complex World” is an important step in the right direction,a
13. Rethinking national strategy on this scale takes time and inevitably involves very intense arguments. The emergence of the American response to the Soviet challenge after World War Two is a good example. George Kennan wrote his 8,000 word “long telegram” analyzing the Soviet’s as a global threat in February, 1946. It set the stage for a four year process of policy development culminating in the April, 1950 adoption of NSC 68 outlining the containment strategy for the Cold War. If it took the generation who fought in World War One and led the country in World War Two four years of thinking we shouldn’t be surprised if it takes us a lot of argument, thinking and innovation to develop a grand strategy for the 21st century. It has to be done but it wont be done easily.
14. Our first assignment is to look at facts and develop new words and new constructs to accurately describe what we are facing. Until we have done that we will be crippled by the very words we use and the obsolete ideas we are trapped in.