LTC. John Nagl had an article, not yet available online, in the prestigious RUSI journal where he used his review of The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War by Brian McAllister Linn to drive home a geopolitical and grand strategic reality that I offer here with my subsequent comments( major hat tip to Lexington Green for the PDF):
In the twenty-first century, wars are not won when the enemy army is defeated on the battlefield; in fact, there may not be a uniformed enemy to fight at all. Instead, a war is only won when the conditions that spawned armed conflict have been changed.
Fielding first rate conventional militaries of local or regional “reach” are inordinately expensive propositions and only the United States maintains one with global power projection capabilities and a logistical tail that can fight wars that are both far away and of long duration. Economics, nuclear weapons, asymmetrical disparities in conventional firepower, globalization and the revolution in information technology that permits open-source warfare have incentivized warfare on the cheap and stealthy at the expense of classic state on state warfare. The predictions of Martin van Creveld in The Transformation of War are coming to pass – war has ratcheted downward from armies to networks and blurs into crime and tribalism. In this scenario, kinetics can no longer be neatly divorced from politics – or economics, sociology, history and culture. “Legitimacy”, stemming from getting actions on the mental and moral levels of war right, matter tremendously.
‘Decisive results’ in the twenty-first century will come not when we wipe a piece of land clean of enemy forces, but when we protect its people and allow them to control their territory in a manner consistent with the norms of the civilised world.
This is “Shrinking the Gap” to use Thomas P.M. Barnett’s phrase. The remediation of failing and failed states not to “utopia” but basic functionality that permits a responsible exercise of sovereignty and positive connectivity with the rest of the world.
Thus victory in Iraq and Afghanistan will come when those nations enjoy governments that meet the basic needs and garner the support of all of their peoples.
Taken literally, Nagl errs here with two polyglot regions, especially Afghanistan where the popular expectation of a “good” central government is one that eschews excessive meddling while providing – or rather presiding over – social stability and peace. Taken more broadly to mean a gruff acceptance by the people of the legitimacy of their state so they do not take up arms ( or put them down), then nagl is on target. Realism about our own interests vs. global needs and our own finite resources requires a ” good enough” standard be in place.
Winning the Global War on Terror is an even more challenging task; victory in the Long War requires the strengthening of literally dozens of governments afflicted by insurgents who are radicalised by hatred and inspired by fear.
We might want to consider prophylactic efforts to strengthen weak states prior to a major crisis arising – more bang for our buck – and this should be a major task of AFRICOM. Strengthen the Botswanas, Malis and Zambias before wading hip-deep into the Congo.
The soldiers who will win these wars require an ability not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies – and not all of those soldiers will wear uniforms, or work for the Department of Army. The most important warriors of the current century may fight for the US Information Agency rather than the Department of Defense
Nagl has internalized an important point. The “jointness” forced upon the U.S. military by the Goldwater-Nichols Act in the late 1980’s and 1990’s needs to be broadened, first into true “interagency operational jointness” of American assets then into a full-fledged “System Administration” umbrella that can integrate IGO’s, NGO’s, and the private sector along with military-governmental entities to maximize impact.
Like SecDef Robert Gates, LTC. Nagl “gets it” and we can hope now that he has joined the ranks of policy wonks that an administration job is in his future.