Academic journal article Parameters

Victory in Today's Wars: New Insights on the Role of Communications

Academic journal article Parameters

Victory in Today's Wars: New Insights on the Role of Communications

Article excerpt

Books Reviewed:

Carnage & Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power

By David Betz


Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion, and War: Winning Domestic Support for the Afghan War Edited by Beatrice De Graaf, George Dimitriu, and Jens Ringsmose


Over 100 years ago, the philosopher-strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that a trinity of passion, chance, and political purpose drives the vicissitudes of war. In Carnage & Connectivity, David Betz supports this view. He offers a concise, witty, insightful argument for the proposition "war itself has not changed," though changes in technology have complicated its dynamics. He states his case up front and through his review of literature and evolving military doctrines marshals compelling evidence to support his proposition.

As Betz sees it, "quixotically, the major military powers in the West have serially tried and failed to use technology to disconnect from war's enduring nature." They chase solutions using high-tech weaponry that increase the speed at which combat is conducted, but do not affect the forces in Clausewitz's trinity that continue to govern warfare. The consequences can prove costly. They espouse a form of war that largely replaces forces on the ground with force delivered by long-range weapons. "Each time," he observes, "all they have managed to grasp is a slow, bitter, indecisive war."

One cannot achieve victory, Betz argues, by replacing chance in war with information systems, including weaponized malware (cyber weapons), and passion with long-range weapons and spin and compensating for failures of policy and strategic vision with tactics that avoid contact with the enemy--and, one might add, casualties. Indeed a criticism skeptics level against current US policy is it too often seeks to wage a "bloodless" war through the use of drone and air strikes, rather than with boots on the ground. How bloodless such a war may be depends greatly on whether you sit on the sending or receiving end.

Betz skillfully examines how emerging new technologies and a globally connected world have altered warfare. He recognizes the benefits of empowering individuals, but cautions about the darker side. Connectivity provides revolutionary new tools for persuasion. These tools can help articulate a strategic narrative that shapes perceptions, beliefs, and ideals of target audiences, changes behavior, and effects a desired end-state. New technology has altered the capacity of parties to forge and execute strategies, operations, and tactics. What it does not do is change the core truths Clausewitz's trinity embodies. The West may have bigger, more high-tech weapons, but as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, Betz says, these cannot compensate for the "deficit of passion" that motivates enemies comprised of moderately organized and loosely affiliated non-state groups. For them, while chance may always play a role, intensely motivated, purposeful enemies using low-tech methods can still defeat high-tech opponents.

Betz cites several examples to show how new technology in prior eras misled commanders into believing the nature of war had changed. Cyber tactics can employ social engineering or "phishing" to mislead enemies. The technology is new; the concept is old. During the American Civil War, Confederate cavalry seized Union telegraph communications--then new technology--to send false orders and reshape the information environment. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, clever Germans trained falcons, turning them into weaponized predators to intercept French carrier pigeons delivering messages. In World War II, radar helped destroy German U-boats. None of these examples altered the importance of passion, chance, and purpose in war, although new technology broadened the capacity

and ability of actors to wage war. …

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