November 05, 2003

A Transformative Poison Pill

Hat tip to Real Clear Politics for a pointer to The Art of War over at The New Criterion. Go read the article first.

It's an interesting and useful critique of US current military posture but does suffer one weakness that this civilian could spot. It doesn't really account for how much military culture would have to adjust for our true enemies to adopt our military innovations, especially net centric warfare.

France, no matter how much she may annoy the United States, will not turn into the same sort of threat as a Pakistan could even though, in objective terms, she is, and likely will remain, the stronger military power (yes, yes, this does assume here that demographic trends don't functionally turn France into Pakistan). The reason for this is that France and the US share some baseline culture that both makes them a greater military threat while at the same time undermines the arguments for full, all out conflict.

In general, the kind of countries the US is truly worried about are the kind of countries that have governments that need to worry about coups. Net centric warfare is high communication warfare. To adopt it when you have any doubts whatsoever about your own military's loyalty is tantamount to slitting your own throat. Steganography and all sorts of other hidden cipher methods would be easy to piggy back onto military traffic once the high amounts of computing power necessary for net centric warfare are distributed throughout the national force structure. Coup plotting along with regular military planning would be made much, much easier. The measures necessary to guard against one, cripple the utility of the systems for their stated purpose. The end result is a persistent US advantage against the states we truly care about militarily countering.

Net centric warfare not only increases your vulnerability to military coup but also your vulnerability to psychological operations by opposing forces. Again, it is an unexamined assumption that you have a military that is profoundly loyal to the current government. This is something that is bedrock in the US and in most of the free world but again, not in the non-integrating gap nations that are our major national security threats.

Yes, the military tactics and strategy race has often had competitors adopt innovations as soon as they could but not always. And adopting innovations from your opponents is not always successful as the Ottoman Empire could tell Mr. Kagan if it were still around. Ultimately, inter-civilizational conflicts bear an extra risk for military mimics in that the weapons built inside a particular culture may need certain cultural assumptions to function effectively. Those culture transfers that come along with the communications gear, the weapons, and the tactics can be an internal assault on the military mimic culture. This is the case with net centric warfare. It would be no defeat for the US if, by adopting its innovations, the cultures of its opponents shifted enough that conflict moved from the battlefield to the negotiating table.

Update: The tendency for the Ottoman Empire to imitate western military innovation is ably described in Bernard Lewis' excellent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East

Posted by TMLutas at November 5, 2003 11:03 AM