John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, offers a thought-provoking article in Foreign Policy (March/April 2010) on the tools, tactics, and strategies needed for fighting modern wars.
Arquilla, perhaps best known for his earlier work at the RAND Corporation on fighting “netwars” and combating “networks“, suggests large, bulky mechanized militaries are ill-equipped for fighting – let alone winning – modern conflicts with more nimble, creatively connected, and flexible adversaries. “The greatest problem traditional militaries face today,” he explains, “is that they are organized to wage big wars and have difficulty orienting themselves to fight small ones.”
Arquilla discusses the American military but his insights are of value to the Canadian Forces, too. Our focus today remains on preparing for large-scale conflicts against equally powerful adversaries. In preparation, we spend our resources on developing, acquiring, and refining large weapons systems. The paradox, Arquilla suggests, is that our vast and complex militaries are proving themselves ineffective for winnings today’s conflicts against diffuse, “disorganized”, and traditionally powerless adversaries (insurgents, terrorists, pirates) and are sure to be the wrong tools for fighting tomorrow’s wars.
The point isn’t that traditional state-on-state conflicts are no longer relevant, but rather that technological developments in weaponry and communication favour different forms of military organization (networks rather than hierarchies) and different coercive tactics (small-unit, multidirectional “swarming” over mass-unit, unidirectional confrontations). In tomorrow’s conflict environment, a column of tanks will retain some coercive value, but it will prove less than useful in combating a handful of unidentifiable insurgents using light weaponry in hit-and-run operations and in preventing suicide bombers from killing commuters with improvised explosives hidden in knapsacks.