ZenPundit
Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
GLOBALIZATION AND WAR: AUSTIN BAY

Dr. Austin Bay is an accomplished author, syndicated columnist and consultant to the Department of Defense on wargaming. He is the author of The Wrong Side of Brightness, a novel, and A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition. co-authored with James Dunnigan. Bay also maintains a popular and influential blog and in addition to his literary pursuits, Dr. Bay is Colonel in the Army Reserve (ret.) and served in Iraq in 2004, where he was awarded the Bronze Star.

Globalization and War

by Austin Bay


In early 1993 I made a wisecrack during an Office of Net Assessments-sponsored seminar at Ft. Monroe, Virginia. The subject was “future requirements on the global battlefield.” I said that to dominate the global battlespace (hey, why not use the buzzwords) American soldiers must have full spectrum capabilities. The wisecrack: “Troops need to be good with everything from bayonets to smart bombs.” In retrospect I should have added computers and syringes, but lots of conjunctions spoil a wisecrack. Substituting “beam weapons” for “smart bombs” may have sounded Star-Trekky, but as the decades march forward it may prove to be more apt. If I had really been savvy I would have said from bayonets to…no, I’ll hold off on that. For the moment the bayonet goes back into the scabbard.

The truth is, what constitutes “full spectrum capabilities” is never fully known. Don Rumsfeld ruminated on the “unknown unknowns” as plaguing intelligence analysts, planners, and leaders. When he said this I chuckled but thought “The old boy’s absolutely right.” A global battlefield has many niches, each one capable of springing a surprise for which “a global power” is not quite prepared.

Note I didn’t write “unprepared.” The big shots in military strategy, from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, emphasize the need for anticipation, flexibility and adaptation. Alexander the Great was one great political and military anticipator and adapter. The Macedonian “combined arms system” was, for its era, the pinnacle of tactical adaptability. My point: Flexibility and adaptation are not new requirements for doing anything effectively—be it running a business, teaching a high school class, or waging war. However, when the problem inputs are planet-wide and the media outputs are planet-wired, tactical anticipation, flexibility, and adaptation can have strategic effects. Even tactical (troop level) un-anticipation, in-flexibility, and mal-adaptation can produce profoundly bad strategic effects when the planet-wired media focuses on the foul-ups.

Which brings us back to the “should have been” wisecrack. American troops must be good with everything from bayonets to smart bombs and media bombast. The camera, the microphone, and the computer screen shape the new battlespace –warp it in ways a clever cavalry flanking maneuver or well-screened ambush once surprised the superior force.

Success in the information battlespace doesn’t translate into victory, but it can create a hellacious global challenge. Al Qaeda is an extremely limited organization. It’s military limitations are obvious. As US Central Command’s General John Abizaid recently noted, Al Qaeda has yet to win a military engagement with US forces at or above the platoon level. (A platoon has approximately 30 troops.) This also holds true for Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan and what military analysts call the “former regime elements” (FRE—ie, pro-Saddam forces) in Iraq.

Al Qaeda doesn’t have much in the way of education policies, beyond bankrolling Islamist schools. Al Qaeda says it will re-distribute the wealth of corrupt Middle Eastern petro-sheiks. Though that is an economic promise, it isn’t a long-term economic plan.

Al Qaeda, however, understands the power of perceived grievance and the appeal of Utopia. In the late 1990s Osama Bin Laden said Al Qaeda’s strategic goal was restoring the Islamic caliphate. Bin Laden expressed a special hatred for Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, who ended the caliphate in 1924. History, going wrong for Islamist supremacists at least since the 16th century, really failed when the caliphate dissolved. Though Al Qaeda’s time-line to Utopia remains hazy, once the caliphate returns the decadent modern world will fade as Western power collapses—and presumably Eastern power as well. (Islamists are active in China’s Sinkiang province.) At some point Bin Laden-interpreted Islamic law will bring strict bliss to the entire world. If this sounds vaguely like a Marxist “Workers Paradise” that’s no accident—the Communists also justified the murder of millions pursuing their atheist Utopia.

The appeal to perceived grievance and promise of an Islamist utopia, however, made Al Qaeda a regional information power in a Middle East where political options were denied by tyrants. The 9/11 attacks made Al Qaeda a global information power—they were an international advertising campaign. Four years later Al Qaeda remains a strategic information power, but little else.

American is also information power but it is not a focused information power. Hence Al Qaeda’s success in this one area gives it a degree of global leverage. Focused information –a media campaign-- has characteristics we associate with “special weapons.” A weapon of mass destruction, be it chemical, nuclear, or biological, gives even its “smallest owner” big bang capacity. So does a globalized media event.

One final thought: American bayonets, smart bombs, and media bombast are formidable, but I suspect the growing awareness of an Iraqi democratic victory in Iraq will prove to be the “strategic information campaign” that trumps Al Qaeda.

copyright Austin Bay November 4, 2005

All Rights Reserved
 
Comments:
Lack of an apparent hierachical structure has weaknesses as well as strengths. Zarqawi is the current Al-Qaeda standard bearer because his work is the most visible and because he (or people speaking for him) says he is. Fortunately, he seems to have a political tin ear and this may be effective in helping us as well as the burgeoning democracy in Iraq.
 
Dr. Bay,

Thank you for the very informative article. If I could, might I get your opinions on some of my reflections on your piece?

I said that to dominate the global battlespace (hey, why not use the buzzwords) American soldiers must have full spectrum capabilities. The wisecrack: “Troops need to be good with everything from bayonets to smart bombs.”

In my opinion, this is the central distinction between warfare and business. Business focuses on core competencies, and attempts to tune an organization for what it does best. In a full-spectrum battlespace, though, what you do best matters much less than what you do worst. This is because the enemy will avoid your strong points and go for your weak ponts. In other words, full-spectrum warfare is not MBA warfare.

Even tactical (troop level) un-anticipation, in-flexibility, and mal-adaptation can produce profoundly bad strategic effects when the planet-wired media focuses on the foul-ups.

While one should improve what one does poorly, one should also avoid reinforcing failure. This can involve "embracing defeat," recognizing that some things are to hard to change and instead reorienting in a way that negates or co-opts that weakness. In a grand strategic sense, Japan "embraced defeat" at the end of the Second World War by turning its greatest liability (a gigantic Pacific power to its east) into a strength (a gigantic Cold-War ally to its east).

Similarly, if the Leviathan or SysAdmin portions of the military are unable to co-opt the media, how might they "embrace defeat" to turn it into an asset?

Four years later Al Qaeda remains a strategic information power, but little else.

In other words, they are operating within the Orientation realm.

One final thought: American bayonets, smart bombs, and media bombast are formidable, but I suspect the growing awareness of an Iraqi democratic victory in Iraq will prove to be the “strategic information campaign” that trumps Al Qaeda.

What about a Shia-Kurdish victory that leaves the Sunnis marginalized, but establishes a democratic federation or two democratic, if somewhat internally violent, states?
 
"As US Central Command’s General John Abizaid recently noted, Al Qaeda has yet to win a military engagement with US forces at or above the platoon level."

Actually, I believe he was talking about the Iraqi insurgency and not al-Qaeda per se. A rather important distinction, actually. But yes, AQ has one no military engagements at or above the platoon level. They know this and that's why they, er, choose the methods they do.
 
We are to an extent, the victims of our own success.

al Qaida formations in Afghanistan that openly fought against the Northern Alliance only looked slipshod next to the soldiers of a first-rank military like the United States. They were in some instances, comparable to elite soldiers in the armies of second or third rank powers. They fought mostly to the death and retreated in extremis mostly for tactical reasons. That is a level of morale/ motivation you seldom see in military history. Let's not underestimate these guys, they're evil but they're also competent.

( I'm talking here about the inner Arab-Pakistani core of al Qaida, not peripheral wannabes like Richard Reid)

But the gap between these al Qaida terror fighters and regular American units, never mind our SOCOM, is too wide to be surmounted. It is too wide a Gap for even other first rank states to currently surmount given similar odds.

Hence the global interest in fighting asymmetric warfare, " unrestricted warfare", systems disruption warfare, LIC, psychological warfare - anything but a direct head-on collision with the U.S. military
 
Looking at the last century,
the United States has brought peace with victory. The strange thing is that Europe (read the French et al) has brought global war and had to be saved from itself (3 times or more). Why would anyone want to look to them as a model or leader?
 
Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
ARCHIVES
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /



follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!