September 7, 2006
Dispatches from the Defense Forum
The Defense Forum of 2006 was an outstanding event and I'd like to thank the US Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association for making it possible for me to attend.
If any Loyal Readers are interested, here are the pieces I wrote from the conference for Pajamas Media:
First Dispatch: about the remarks of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Giambastiani.
Second Dispatch: about a panel on the progress of the Long War.
The Third Dispatch discusses both the remarks of Tom Ricks, and a panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The final dispatch recounts the final panel, about lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's lots of good stuff in there!
February 2, 2005
Unspoken Assumptions at the Pentagon
[This is the first of two posts about the recent work of Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map. The second will be tomorrow night.]
Thomas P.M. Barnett recently authored a post at The Command Post, entitled, "The Pentagon's Debate Over What Iraq Means." His post unwittingly provides a window into several existing assumptions amongst the conventional wisdom at the Pentagon. Barnett claims a debate rages within the Pentagon:
his debate pits two fundamental, dominant visions of future war against one another. I consider this juxtaposition to be a false dichotomy, meaning a choice that does not need to be made and, frankly, should not be made.The other side of the debate is:
The two sides in this debate are functionally derived: the “air community” versus the “ground community.” The air community tends to be known as the Network-Centric Operations (NCO) crowd, whereas the ground-pounders fall under the rubric of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW).
Net-centric operations are a long-term effort by the military to understand how the rise of the information age alters the fundamental nature of war. In the vernacular of NCO advocates, the past force was platform-centric, meaning we organized ourselves around the major "platforms", the machines we created to wage war (aircraft, ships, tanks, etc.). The future, by contrast, is network - centric: platforms are nothing more than nodes in a larger network whose main power isn’t its massed fire, but its ability to wield that force with pinpoint accuracy.
4GW is essentially guerrilla war that seeks to defeat an enemy not militarily, but politically, and not on any one battlefield, but over years and even decades of low-intensity conflict. Mao is considered the father of modern 4GW, though it’s obviously been around as long as weak forces have met far superior forces. In his recent book, The Sling and the Stone, Thomas Hammes runs through the history of this modern variant of guerrilla war, from Mao to the Viet Cong to the Sandinistas of Nicaragua to the Intifadas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Naturally, al Qaeda is considered very 4GW, coming as it did out of the great victory that was the Islamic insurgency's defeat of the superpower Soviet Union in Afghanistan.What is the fundamental difference between these two types of warfare? Barnett claims one is ground-centric, and one is air-centric, but here he misses the mark. For while those descriptors may define the service communities advocating each, they do not accurately reflect the differences between each type of warfare. In essence there are none.
Consider: so-called fourth generation warfare advocates always examine insurgencies and other rebellions. They rightly consider how best to defeat such movements and forces "politically, and not on any one battlefield, but over years and even decades of low-intensity conflict," according to Barnett. This is nothing more than a rehashing of maneuver warfare, which seeks to avoid strength and attack weakness, to win by ruse, stratagem, and subterfuge, rather than by sheer firepower alone. The "boots on the ground" nature of these techniques is the reason behind Barnett's contention that it is a ground-centric style of warfare.
But Barnett notes that what he terms "net-centric operations" really refers to the "ability to wield that force [of firepower] with pinpoint accuracy." This too is an aspect of maneuver warfare, which favors defining the center of gravity of an enemy, then exploiting a critical vulnerability that allows that center to be defeated. Again, rejecting enemy strengths in favor of enemy weaknesses, and then concentrating firepower where appropriate.
Barnett is wrong to characterize the two types of warfare as existing counter to each other. They are in fact one and the same, but with a key difference that goes to the heart of all of the unspoken assumptions of both Barnett and his Pentagon: "Fourth-generation warfare" in this scenario does not necessarily consider states as adversaries, while "network-centric operations" does. The "differences" in these two types of warfare lie unchallenged within the minds of their adherents: there is a difference in the presumptive target. The very technologies that seek to unite a diverse battlefield in "network-centric operations" are equally as valuable to a grunt who must work with members of other services to share intelligence or targeting information. The technology that enables the so-called "network-centric operation" is one and the same as that enabling the ground-pounders to achieve victory in battles such as Fallujah.
The US military is moving to a point where it can analyze all adversaries as networks, pinpoint the important nodes and the weaknesses, then shape an attack on one part of the network such that the whole ceases to function. But this mentality is the same whether one is a Green Beret or an F-16 pilot.
The unspoken assumptions are thus:
1. The US must choose whether to plan to fight states or non-states.
2. The types of warfare waged by state actors will be fundamentally different than those waged by non-state actors.
These are both dangerous assumptions, and difficult to correct down the road.
Who's to say that a state won't employ guerrilla movements, worldwide to further its aims? Who's to say that a non-state group won't use more "conventional" means to further its own aims? Most importantly, if our adversaries learn from us, they will integrate state and non-state forms of opposition, and "conventional" and "unconventional" forms of warfare in a "comined arms" or even "joint" fasion.
Barnett calls the debate between the two types of warfare -- network-centric, and fourth generation -- a "false dichotomy" because it is "a choice that does not need to be made and, frankly, should not be made."
But there is no difference between the philosophies of war underlying each of these "types." The only difference is in the weapons systems and what Congress will pay for.
Instead, the difference is in the conception of who future enemies might be, and how they might fight. And there is where the blind spot exists.