The Risk of Optimism in the Conduct of War

Article excerpt

"Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the Art of War."

--Carl von Clausewitz, On War (1)

"They will all be finished because there is no choice, there is just death."

--General Mustafa Said Qadir, March 2003. (2)

War is about power. Power is about getting another actor either to engage behavior he would not otherwise have undertaken, to cease or modify behavior in which he is presently engaged, or to refrain from behavior in which he is intending to engage. In the words of Clausewitz, war is an "act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." (3)

In the several millennia of organized armed conflict, the surest way to affect the behavior of one's opponents has been to kill enough of them or so degrade their armaments that as a collectivity they are no longer able to resist. Now we are told that an ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is bidding fair to render that approach to the conduct of war obsolete. A loosely related family of visions of the future conduct of war has developed under the general rubric of the RMA. Although pitched as innovative, all of these visions owe their fundamental tenets to various strains of thought with long histories. Some of these visions have been given official sanction and have been exercised in various ways by joint commands and by the individual services. (4) This article addresses one theory as emblematic of the larger universe of "new" ideas. Published in late 1996, the book Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance elaborates and proposes a comprehensive vision of America's conduct of war in the future--Rapid Dominance. (5) It evidently has found a receptive audience among current senior US civilian and military leaders. Consistent with theories of air power dating to Hugh Trenchard, Giulio Douhet, and William Mitchell, the self-described goal of Rapid Dominance is to "destroy or so confound the will to resist that an adversary will have no alternative except to accept our strategic aims and military objectives." (6) Relying on deception, misinformation, and disinformation, Rapid Dominance requires the ability to: anticipate and counter all opposing moves; deny an opponent objectives of critical value; convey the unmistakable message that unconditional compliance is the only available recourse; and control the environment and master all levels of an opponent's activities to affect his will, perception, and understanding, including communications, transportation, food production, water supply, and other aspects of infrastructure, as well as the denial of military responses.

Rapid Dominance assumes that for the present and foreseeable future, with the Cold War over: US military forces are the most capable in the world; given domestic political dynamics, US military capability will shrink; the US commercial-industrial base provides a technological advantage the military can and must exploit; and US forces are and will continue to be deployed and engaged worldwide, with a relatively high operating tempo.

These factors are not surprising and fairly reflect the present operating environment for US forces. The advocates of Rapid Dominance believe that these factors, taken together, mean that "overwhelming or decisive force," as advocated by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Colin Powell, is going to be neither possible nor desirable, and a different approach is therefore required. (7) The advocates therefore argue that the United States must develop a military force characterized by "near total or absolute knowledge and understanding of self, adversary, and environment"; "rapidity and timeliness in application"; "operational brilliance in execution"; and "(near) total control and signature management of the entire operational environment. …