Defending Korea & Continual Conflict

Korea has been at the forefront of the news over the past couple of weeks as violence has begun to escalate between the North and the South following a North Korean shelling of the South Korean island Yeonpyeong in response to a series of planned military exercises. The escalation of violence seems to have been rising, when an attack on a South Korean warship left almost fifty sailors dead. Indeed, the two countries seem to be a rapidly drying powder keg with a new South Korean leader, and with the expected promotion of Kim-Jong Il's son, Kim Jong-un at some point in the near future. With almost 30,000 American soldiers just to the south of the 38th parallel, an outbreak of war in the country is something that will heavily impact the United States. With two major conflicts on their way out the door, the prospect of another confrontation abroad is a sobering one.

In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower became the 34rd President of the United States, where he had campaigned on countering Communism, Korea and Corruption. Despite leading the Allied military against Adolph Hitler and his allies in Europe, Eisenhower sought to bring down the national budget on a platform of fiscal conservatism, bringing about deep cuts in the military budget and recognizing a new philosophy and approach to the United State's presence in the world.

After visiting Korea, Eisenhower sought to bring the United States and its efforts to an end, and with a cease-fire (although no resolution) to the conflict, was able to fill a major campaign goal that aligned with his beliefs: the United States did not, and could not fight in every battle across the world with a massive standing army, able to engage in more conflicts such as the one just waged in Korea. Under his 'New Look' plan, approved in 1953, which allowed the U.S. to utilize technology and America's atomic stockpile as a means to deter open aggression from the Soviet Union from directly attacking the U.S.. The policy was designed to rein in defense budget spending on a massive conventional force, while spending less on a more technologically oriented one that wasn't necessarily required to do anything but exist.

The recent troubles in Korea bring to mind some of the issues that have been ongoing in the political and military scenes recently. As the country begins to move in the direction of less spending (at least the attitude is there, somewhat), reducing the fiscal situation of the United States will require something along the lines of what Eisenhower had envisioned for the country half a century ago: reductions on all fronts, including military spending. The policies that were put into place were engineered with the fear that the country's financial footing had a corresponding impact on the nation's national security standing in the world. America, with a growing economy, population and budget, could face major problems as it was, and potentially, with the added need of continual fighting abroad in conflicts that were similar to Korea, the country’s stability could be at risk.

In a large way, the series of conflicts that followed September 11th fall right into what Eisenhower feared for the country: exceedingly high defense budgets for an expensive war where the United States has gotten its hands dirty in areas perceived to threaten the country’s security. Eisenhower had pushed against full American engagement in Vietnam, and it wasn’t until after his term in office that the conflict escalated for several Administrations, from which point the U.S. was able to stay out of major engagements until 1991, for Operations Desert Shield and Storm. Here, the theory of technological warfare as a superior form of conventional warfare was validated: for the 372 coalition soldiers killed as a result of the conflict, around 30,000 enemy soldiers were killed.

The fight in Afghanistan and Iraq are different: the U.S. has been slow to adapt to the new environment of warfare, plunging in with certain assumptions and coming out with an entirely different experience than was expected. Continual fighting in small conflicts will cause further problems for the country, especially if such conflicts are not properly understood and the ways in which to fight them are imperfectly realized.

The Eisenhower administration’s plans to deter fighting against the country worked, in part. The threat of massive retaliation faced its biggest test in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and demonstrated that the threat of assured destruction of both countries (not to mention everyone else caught in the crossfire and were downwind) was enough to force both players back down. At the same time, it hasn’t been able to prevent warfare outright: Vietnam was a war in which the nuclear issue was largely side-stepped, and would cause problems years down the road, while American involvement in areas such as Haiti, Panama, Somalia and other smaller countries and conflicts have not been decreased, although their significance doesn’t approach the scale of something like the current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are both abnormal conflicts, and two fights that signal some frightening precedents for the future. Already into its 9th year, the combined conflicts have cost an estimated $1.1 trillion, for a conflict that seems to run counter to the vision that Eisenhower had hoped for and seems to have done precisely what Eisenhower feared such battles would do to the country’s financial status. In the future, what conflicts does the United States have in store, if it can enter into a war-like state whenever it sees reason to do so?

The prospect of renewed war in Korea only adds to the fears of a continued lack of restraint when it comes to spending. Political elements in the United States have called for fiscal restraint, but the exception seems to be the money that pours in for the military. While the front-line soldiers need the financial support in order to accomplish the mission in front of them, the country needs to adopt a mindset of reducing the need for the soldiers to be requiring that money in the first place: avoiding costly confrontation across the world by recognizing which conflicts should be fought. The practice of deterrence will likely not work in this new environment of war: multinational political groups are harder to deter. Deterrence in Eisenhower’s day was the best means to contain spending and effectively protect the country from those who wished harm against the country. In the present day, we need to do much the same: figure out the best way to defend the country without oversight and restraint.

Should the tensions between North and South Korea break, the United States will likely have some hand in the issue, and we could find outselves in a third major conflict at a time when we can't afford to become entangled.

Warfare for the Crowdsourcing Age: Adam Robert’s New Model Army

New Model Army, by Adam Roberts, takes an interesting look at the function of warfare and society with the question: What if a hierarchical military, such as ones set up along the lines of the British or U.S. Armies, and pitted it against an army that was fully democratic in its organization?

The concept is an interesting one, and the book as a whole is a perfect example of something that I've wanted to see in the subgenre: a world in which the military itself is examined, not only in the tactical side of things, but also in its ideology. Roberts puts forth an interesting idea that blends together the changing states of technology and warfare: militaries have adopted a new organizational structure: rather than the strict chain of command that defines the military lifestyle, they have brought together a large group of people, connected them through secure wikis and use the power of the crowd to fight. Tactical decisions are voted upon, and each soldier updates the battlefield map with the needed information: where they are, where the enemy is, and so forth.

The concept is one that is already in the earliest stages of implementation in the real-world battlefield, on a couple of levels. With the advances in technology, military leaders have been able to reduce the 'fog of war', the so-called elements of the battlefield, where commanders can't see what's happening, and are forced to rely on planning extensively. As the abilities of the military to watch the battlefield increases, from cameras mounted on soldiers to drones flying overhead, major changes have been seen, both in the leadership and organizational structure of the military, but also in how tactics are put forth.

Indeed, the connection between the ability to wage war and the relative ease to which technology is available has already begun some major changes. In 2008, insurgents entered the city of Mumbai, armed with cell phones and the internet, and were able to coordinate their attacks, using Google Earth to help plan the attack. Other examples of similar uses have been used across the various conflicts around the world. As the world becomes more connected, it's far easier to coordinate attacks with individuals across country borders and continents.

New Model Army, while it puts forward an interesting story on the military, there's a number of things that make the story a bit more implausible, technology advances aside. Currently, the United States and her allies are into their ninth year of waging a counter-insurgency battle in the Middle East, one that will likely leave lasting impressions on the organizations of all involved, and are lessons that would not be easily forgotten. As such, the New Model Armies (NMAs) are essentially a form of insurgency warfare that seem to plague the regular British military wherever they confront them, inflicting heavy losses and forcing surrenders at several battles. For a nation that's largely been involved with counterinsurgency warfare for longer than the US (if one can consider the problems in Ireland), it seems strange that they would be unable to counter said forces, not to mention not adopting some of the methods in and of themselves. The successes of the NMAs seem to come from the ineptitude of the British military. Political motivations or opinions notwithstanding, it are a situation that annoyed me as I read the book.

The British NMA, soldiers were instilled with a sense that a pure form of democracy, and carried such an air of superiority amongst them that I can't help but thing that their role was satirical, at least at points. It's not until into around two thirds of the book that the main character is confronted with any sort of counter-point to his philosophy that democracies are inherently better than any other form of self governance.

When it comes to military powers, democracy is something that really doesn't exist, and for good reason: the style of warfare that has evolved over the course of human history ultimately relies on a large presence of soldiers, acting in concert, to achieve a goal that's determined by someone higher up in the chain of command. The ability to work together as a unit is a key element for the battlefield, and discipline is drilled into soldiers early on. The evolution of uniforms and mass-produced weapons helped to support this. The outsider viewpoint of a the military as a close-knit group of people follow orders, are yelled at and depersonalized (The term G.I. means General Infantry), is somewhat accurate, but the full meaning and reasons behind this type of training needs to be taken into consideration. The role of the soldier is to fulfill national priorities: in this case, by force, and essentially, they are willing tools of what is determined needed to be done.

Looking at a group such as a New Model Army, it's hard to imagine that a force composed of individuals, with a bottom-up organizational method would be as successful in the real world: individuals might be disciplined, but military actions require the coordinated efforts of a group to accomplish their goals: hence the depersonalizing training to get people to not run away from being shot at. Similarly, in the NMA, people hold no rank, nor do they carry any sort of specialization, which in and of itself causes issues. Militaries are groups of specialists, whether it be in a certain weapons system, as medics or as leaders, and I don't believe that the simple availability of information through the cloud can replace an individual trained and specializing in something as important as lifesaving. (I know I wouldn't want a surgeon trained from Wikipedia in heart surgery). Militaries are likewise structured (when they work properly) with individuals skilled in leadership and planning are promoted, and are able to recognize, carry out and accomplish their goals.

Furthermore, military actions recruit more than just tactical (on the battlefield) planning to accomplish their goals: there is far more long term planning when it comes to carrying out national goals, which in turn, inform the tactical requirements of a battlefield. Once again, in a crowd sourcing environment, I don't see that this would be an effective style of fighting. People in a large group might have their own goals, methods of fighting that run counter to national goals. In the book, the NMA uses a nuclear 'bullet', a sized down nuclear warhead that surprises everyone. Similar actions exist in real life: groups such as Freedom Watch or the Minuteman Project, which advocates or utilize force outside of national interests and policy. Undoubtedly, said crowd groups would utilize similar behavior in their actions, especially in a war zone. A U.S. Officer who captures the story's main character makes such a point, noting that while his British NMA is a good example of where this sort of thing works, there's other groups that are essentially mobs.

Insurgencies around the world utilize social networking and crowd sourcing elements right now, and in all likelihood, there will be moves towards this future that Roberts has predicted. However, as they do so, their opponents will do what the militaries in this book haven't done: adapt to the new styles of fighting, and find ways to counter them, but also understand how and why such measures are being put into place.

While there are real issues with the style of fighting in the book, Roberts has done what I've really yet to see another Military Science Fiction writer do with the genre: look at how people fight, and how things might work. This is a military science fiction book that goes beyond the action; it goes straight to the heart of how militaries function, speculative in and of itself. I see the fighting that occurs in the book as an afterthought, used to support the real character elements that go into the story, and as such, New Model Army is an interesting, fascinating book that annoyed me thought out, but it frequently made me stop and think about how such a thing might actually work in reality. Because of this, this book stands out from a lot of other miltiary science fiction stories.

One thing is for sure though, if there is a rise in this sort of style of fighting, it will be a very bad thing for all of us.

Awash in Flames

The Dove World Outreach Center in Florida is planning on burning the Islamic Holy text on the anniversary of September 11th, despite statements from the White House, General David Petraeus and even Glenn Beck, of all people. The pastor of the church, Rev. Terry Jones, has claimed that he's taken the concerns into consideration, but all indications are that the church still intends to move along with their plans. I'm stunned (although sadly, not at all surprised) that people continue to spout such hate, regardless of the consequences.

General David Petraeus has since e-mailed a statement to the Associated Press, noting that such acts are already seeing some impact overseas, and has warned that the consequences will be immediately used by extremist factions as propaganda against the U.S. cause overseas. Acts against Muslim icons, such as Mohammad or the Koran have been seen to ignite public opinion against the west, with the Danish cartoon controversy a couple of years ago, as well as the news that a Koran might have been flushed down a toilet during the course of an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay.

While this is an act that is certainly a small one, the consequences of such actions are deliberatively provocative, and miss some of the major, underlying points when it comes to the motivations behind the war. The pastor, Jones, belongs to a group that believes that the return of Christ will happen in the modern day, and that they have a mission to combat evil: something that they see the Koran as falling under. When it comes to current events, it is a short leap to what it seems is a more common belief amongst Americans: the Islamic community of the world is fundamentalist and violent, because of their religion, which is a ridiculous argument.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is not strictly a religious confrontation, but a politically motivated battle that utilizes religion as a tool to organize its followers. Looking at the violence across Palestine, Iraq, Turkey, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it helps to look at the incidents and attacks. Suicide bombers and other fanatics tend to be those who follow their leaders, carrying out orders, not the leaders of such movements themselves. The violence is also not religiously motivated: these are people who are not trying to convert followers by destroying them. Rather, the attacks are against those perceived as aggressors that are encroaching on one’s territory, and in a large way, on an established order that is highly resistant to change.

The strict, fundamentalist views of Islam are not things to be defended: they represent amongst some of the more horrifying elements of any organized religion, and like any larger religion, it is not a view that is shared by all. Fanning the flames (quite literally, in this instance) will do little but turn more people against the interests of peace in the world. In this instance, burning these books will undoubtedly turn people against U.S. interests in the Middle East, and will lead to soldier’s deaths that need not happen.

On the military side of the house, counter insurgency forces are seeking to remove insurgents from the general population by using the best means possible – in some cases through combat, in other cases, through patrols and creating an otherwise inhospitable environment for them, cutting off support or removing key people from influence. This job will ultimately be harder when more of the general population (who is already at or beyond the tipping point) has another reason to distrust U.S. troops. The interests of the United States overseas are not to push any sort of religious agenda: it is to secure U.S. interest overseas by eliminating the possibility of insurgent terrorism from happening again.

On the public relations side, this paints the country in an exceedingly poor light, because insurgency forces can point to instances such as this and use it as a sort of proof that the U.S. is intolerant and seeks to rid the world of people. That’s not the case, but hard facts don’t matter in these instances: the thought and idea does, just as any conspiracy theorist believes wholeheartedly in whatever they believe in, no matter what proof is presented. The country has its share of issues, but comparatively, the country hasn’t resorted to bombings or widespread attacks on its citizens at the bequest of the government that rules it.

In any case, what this church is doing is downright sad, and goes against everything that I know the bible to teach (granted, that is a bit limited) , and it is those lessons that look far more to peace and order that I would rather teach and leave an impression with.

Conventional Counterinsurgency

It is interesting at how much an education can change your viewpoints on something. When I was in late high school, I picked up a book called Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden, which recounted the Battle of Mogadishu, waged by U.S. Special Forces and local militia forces as the U.S. military attempted to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. In the seventeen years since that initial battle, the firefight that occurred during that day which essentially provides a preview of what is to come.

Interestingly, the film adaptation of the book (and real life events) was released in December of 2001, just a couple of months after the attacks on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Shortly after said attacks, U.S. Special Forces entered Afghanistan, and began was has been known as the Global War on Terror. Hindsight is a dangerous thing to use, especially when connecting major events, but looking back to the 1993 firefight in Somalia, it's clear that the U.S. simply wasn't geared towards fighting the type of warfare that presented itself in the Middle East and nearby hotspots. Throughout much of the recent history, the military had been positioned towards combating a major enemy, the Soviet Union, and subsequent international actions, such as the Gulf War of 1991, just a couple of years prior to the Somalia fight, seemed to affirm that warfare would remain as a style of centralized, organized warfare, against a static enemy who followed all of the rules. Somalia, a small action, seemed to be an abnormality, something that would be unlikely to happen again.

In his book, The Sling and the Stone, retired Colonel Thomas Hammes, of the United States Marine Corps, notes that this change in warfare was nothing new. The conventional nature of what is generally termed 3rd Generation Warfare, is a style of fighting that the United States had worked and became very good at, but historical evidence points to the emergence of a 4th Generation of warfare, which Hammes describes as a style of warfare that "uses all available networks - political, economic, social, and military- to convince the enemy's political decision makers that their that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit." (Hammes, The Sling and the Stone. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2006, 2). While he goes on to note that this style of warfare is an evolved method of insurgency, I believe that it is in fact the other way around - insurgency is a natural progression of warfare in this instance, and in a large way, 4th Generation warfare falls well within the general constraints of warfare as described by Carl Von Clausewitz in his book, On War:  "War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale....War is therefore an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." (Clausewitz, On War, New York: Penguin Putnam, 1968, 101). Insurgencies, in this instance, seem to be made up of a new understanding of networks, combined with technology in unexpected methods to achieve a formidable resistance to an organized force.

The events that occurred in Black Hawk Down prove to be a good example of this style of warfare in action, but also the root causes that provide a valuable context for the conflicts that are ongoing. In the film adaptation of the book, a boy is seen to have alerted militia forces by holding up a cellular telephone to the sky as the Task Force Ranger helicopters flew overhead. Whether this happened or not, I'm not sure (paging through the book, I wasn't able to find mention of it), but the scene made me recall the November 2008 coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India, when several teams of insurgents, armed with guns and explosives, used mobile phones to help kill 173 and wound 308. The use of technology has become integrated with insurgency warfare, allowing for a low-key method for coordinating attacks and personnel without having the benefit of a major organized military. The fighting against Islamic fundamentalist forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan are generally not at the hands of an organized military force acting on the behalf of a recognized government, but are representative of smaller political factions and warlords within established boundaries.

Despite this early evidence that there were changes in the ways that wars had been fought (Hammes cites Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia as examples of where this style of warfare had been seen), this ran counter to the then-nature of how the military conducted itself. "The essence of the American army, in the eyes of its career officers, is ground combat by organized, regular divisional nuts. Although the American army tolerates the existence of subcultures that do not directly contribute to the essence of the organization, these peripheral organizations do not receive the support accorder to the army core constituencies of armor, infantry, and artillery." (Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, 6) The current War on Terror and ongoing conflicts is a demonstration of this, as the U.S. entered into major hostilities with Iraq and Afghanistan with one style and mindset of conducting the war, and discovering that entirely new methods were necessary when it came to countering insurgency forces.

Looking over the events of Black Hawk Down, there are elements of current counter-insurgency doctrine, or at least several best practices that highlight the differences between counterinsurgency warfare and organized maneuver warfare. Hammes notes that prior to the United Nations taking over the peacekeeping operations, U.S. Marines aggressively patrolled the streets of Mogadishu, talking with the local inhabitants, and recognizing when someone from outside that neighborhood entered. As the war in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed, this has become a focus of the new Counterinsurgency doctrine, with soldiers encouraged to work closely with local inhabitants of neighborhoods and streets in an effort to remove insurgency forces from the local population, depriving them of population support. While watching and reading Black Hawk Down, I see a battle that was the result of a failure in vision and peacekeeping leadership. As Hammes notes, the decision to draw back into major bases, while leaving the population in the hands of militia forces was a drastic one that spelled out dire consequences for U.S. forces. At the same time, the leaders tasked with peacekeeping were unable to prevent insurgent and militia forces from operating and controlling the areas that they needed to protect. Similar actions would later occur in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the United States pulled out of the cities of Iraq in favor of major bases, only to find that violence levels dropped with the implementation of smaller bases amongst the populations. The so-called surge in Iraq was not simply more soldiers deployed to the country, but it was the change in tactics, with the manpower to carry out these changes.

In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, "The New Rules of War" March/April 2010), John Arquilla notes that the differences between conventional and unconventional warfare require entirely new methods of approaching warfare. Insurgency warfare (commonly referred to as 4G), allows for a far more decentralized style of fighting: Where prior approaches to countering insurgent forces had been to apply more force, "Nothing could be further from the truth, as the results in Iraq and Afghanistan so painfully demonstrate...the evidence of the last 10 years shows clearly that massive application of force have done little more than kill the innocent and enrage their survivors. Networked organizations like al Qaeda have proven how easy it is to dodge such heavy punches and persist to land sharp counterblows." (Arquilla, "The New Rules of War", Foreign Policy Magazine, March/April 2010)

The end result is that fighting a war the wrong way causes more problems, and ultimately fulfills the mantra of decentralized, networked insurgency groups: cause an invading power more problems than is worth it in order to convince their parent governments, and by extension, the population that supports it, that the efforts overseas are simply not worth it. The U.S. experience in Vietnam demonstrated that a massive conventional force had a lot of trouble fighting in ways that it was not prepared for. As a result, the U.S. military eliminated counterinsurgency planning and training in the aftermath, vowing to never again fight in a style of war that it was not prepared to fight. While a noble goal, it seems to have been a short sighted decision, even in light of continued successes of conventional military victories since then, such as with the British military against the Argentineans in the 1980s, and with United States forces against Iraqi forces in 1991's Gulf War. However, militaries do not get to pick how their opponents fight, and must be aware to all types of influences on warfare in areas that they are fighting: the methods of terrorist and militia style forces had existed for years, and examples such as Somalia demonstrated that these styles of fighting existed, and that adequate planning for such fighting had not been implemented. The result in Somalia was the death of 18 soldiers.

The results coming from Iraq and Afghanistan are much more dire, and I can't help but wonder what changes might have been made had the full context and lessons from Somalia had truly been learned by policy-makers and military thinkers at the time. As hindsight is much cleared now, it's easy to make such declarations, and even at this point, the future of warfare is still something that is very unclear. As such, the real lesson that the United States should learn is from the aftermath of Vietnam with the destruction of the planning and training for counterinsurgency fighting: planning and realization of conflicts is a key element in the military, as well as the ability to adapt far more quickly to actions and differences in fighting styles based on the long history that the United States has had with combat.