…Because the Barbarians arrive today…
What laws now should the Senators be making?
When the Barbarians come they’ll make the laws.
The barbarians have come and the rules of war and peace stand transformed. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Ralph Peters once stated a historical fact rather tersely: “Technologies come and go, but the primitive endures.” Well, the primitive has endured and reared its head again. The rise and rise of intrastate, irregular, and asymmetric warfare has primitivized the war and this is, to use Thomas Kuhn’s term, no “anomaly.” It is instead a paradigm shift that has the potential to have seminal, largely unintended, and hugely positive consequences for world peace. Wise people like General Rupert Smith have actually called it exactly that: a paradigm shift in conduct of war. Unless stymied by the powerful military industrial complexes and parasitic security establishments, the simplification of war has the potential to change into a sprouting of peace.
It may be worthwhile to sit up and take note of the causes of this potentially watershed moment in the history of war and peace before highlighting just some of its consequences.
Globalized economy, a seemingly irreversible march of democracy, and the shadowy nature of our shared enemy have together brought about a seminal change in warfare. While states have increasingly shied away from marching on other states, technology has taken the back seat as the footsloggers duel with the insurgents and the terrorists for not just chunks of real estate but also the hearts and minds of the populace in objective zones. Unless the mighty hands of gods roll back the chessboard of global economy, impose a global tyranny, and make all bad people plotting to kill innocent men and women suddenly disappear, this change is here to stay. From Turkey to Afghanistan and from Pakistan’s northwest to Thailand’s southeast, nation states have their multi-million dollar bombers and hi-tech tanks parked idle as their foot soldiers battle the enemy that resides within the borders and fights both the state as well as the society.
The debate between those who believe in a “bright” future for state-on-state warfare (for example, Colin Gray) and those (for examples, Martin Creveld, Robert Kaplan,) who argue that factors like nuclear weapons and economic interdependence on global scale have all but ended possibilities for any large-scale state-on-state warfare, is at best ongoing. However, most of the recent wars have been intra-state or ones that involved coalitions of states fighting non-state actors. Since 1991, world has seen few state-on-state wars. According to SIPRI Year Book 2012, during the first decade of 21st century the world has witnessed 69 armed clashes and 221 non-state conflicts. Even the most spectacular showcase of conventional military hardware of the last century, Gulf War-I, also does not qualify as an inter-state conflict because it was actually fought by a large international coalition against a regime that had, for a long time, waged war on its own people and had lost all credibility. The same can be said about NATO’s campaign against Milosevic’s Serbia, or against Qaddafi’s Lybia.
Empirical evidence also suggests that the states that employ high-tech means and militaries to fight the non-state actors seldom win decisively. Over the last couple of centuries, insurgents’ “rage against machines” has invariably prevailed. Thus, trillions of dollars sunk into building state-of-the-art, often novel, weapon systems have increasingly become painfully irrelevant to modern, “fourth generation” of warfare.
While the world will continue to be home to self-serving nation states with unequal military and economic powers, conflict in the military realm will, for the foreseeable future, ultimately and invariably be decided between the foot soldiers. Expensive space, sea, and air borne assets are condemned to the margins for next several years, possibly decades. As the recent counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved, the technologically superior state militaries will be obliged to climb the mountains, snake the streets, and jump the walls in order to fight the guerillas like the guerillas. While all the impressive air and ground based, hi-tech war-fighting means may help shape the battlefield, the footsloggers will ultimately decide the outcome of the conflict. The political and population-centric nature of the current and future wars will also oblige nation states to maintain militaries that value men more that machines to hold the ground and carefully reap the dividends of politico-economic investments.
This paradigm shift in warfare is bound to have consequences for the larger phenomenon of war as a tool of policy. Well into the foreseeable future, war will continue to become longer but cheaper and manageable for states as it becomes harder for the military planners. Longer, mainly infantry-fought, primitivized wars that can’t be quickly and decisively won through sheer force of armament and which invariably need massive political and economic compliments will strengthen the role and dominance of policymakers and dilute the control of Generals. That means the world will see less and less of the run-away Generals marked for their disdain for the political oversight of the war effort. Similarly, the primitivization of war is also likely to enable political leaders to radically bring down investments in procurement and maintenance expenditures and focus more on people- and employment-friendly futuristic research and development.
Given the fact that war is a permanent reality of human existence, pacifists across the globe have enough reasons to celebrate the down-grading of war from an all-consuming national effort with millions of deaths to a sub-state undertaking that has increasingly cost less in human lives and that progressively demands a nice mix of military, economic, informational, and political means instead of blind force of deadly arms. Increased complexity and longevity of war is bound also to make it ultimately less and less attractive as a tool of statecraft. However, even in its present form, it will be increasingly fought by ground forces, with infantry-men in the van and through intelligence and surgical, targeted operations that will be limited in temporal and spatial dimensions. US-NATO’s war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s counter-terror campaign in its tribal belt are the current exemplars of this type of war.
This transformative trend should lead to several encouraging possibilities for peace:
- Electorates across the world are entitled now to demand a cut in the defense budgets and greater investments in human security - food, shelter, fighting pandemics etcetera. Nation states may still be able to maintain their competitive edge in military technologies through progressive and futuristic R&D and without engaging in irresponsible shopping sprees for hi-tech aerial and naval platforms. As the now-former rulers of Egypt and Lybia have found out – and some more across the Arabian Peninsula may soon discover – their modern day rivals will not be impressed or defeated by multi-billion dollar fighter jets and tanks. Even the relatively mightier nations have found their machines irrelevant to wars in Turkish Kurd regions, Afghanistan, and Palestinian territories. It may therefore be time for the taxpayers to ask their governments: why invest in such systems?
- The long, hard, politically oriented 4GW may also resurrect Clausewitz and so arrange his trinity that governments, guided by what the Master called “reason”, are actually placed on the top corner of the trinity. Policy may thus be able to regain total control of war. In a democratic world, ascendency of policy and its control over war can have only positive consequences for peace. This, for one thing, will ensure that the strong arm of the nation does not run amuck and nullify the gains of the policy.
- It may also be time to de-glorify war as there is no real glory left in the complex, nerve-testing, hard-slog that modern war has become. Fortunately for world peace, humanity is not likely to see any glorious cavalry charges, awe-inspiring tank formations, or earth shattering strategic bombings any time soon. It may be time to worship heroes that do not deal in blood and steal, but instead are simple, boring, humanity-loving people.
- The primitivization of war is also an opportunity to firewall warfare from the limitless imaginative power of the human mind and divert our collective energies to perpetuation of peace. If we fail now, the dogs of war will tear the world with ferocity that humanity has never seen before. This is not hyperbole. Since times immemorial, the demons of war have used periods of relative peace to recover their destructive power and strike back with unprecedented force.
- This may also be time for security establishments to invest in the weapons that hurt the insurgents most: the foot soldiers. A progress in that direction will end up humanizing the warfare by, inter alia, minimizing the terrible cost in terms of collateral damage.
Summing up, seldom before has a step backward actually thrown up a range of opportunities to move forward. Primitivization of war may just prove a giant leap forward for mankind.
 From a poem entitled Waiting for the Barbarians by Greek poet C.P. Cavafy. (Translated into English by John Mavrogordato and reproduced in Readings in World Literature (HRW Library))
 Ralph Peters, “Our New Old Enemies”, Parameters, Summer 1999.
 Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 52-60.
 Smith, Gen Sir Rupert, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, (Allan Lane, 2005), pp. 1-20. .
 Gray, Colin S., Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare, (London: Phoenix, 2006)
 Creveld, Martin Van, The Rise and Decline of the State, (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
 Kaplan, Robert D., The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War (Random House, 2000).
 Lyall, Jason and Isaiah Wilson, III, “Rage Against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency Wars,” June 17, 2008. Available online at http://www.humansecuritygateway.com/documents/LYALL_RageAgainstTheMachines.pdf
 U.S. Marine Col T.X. Hammes has written a great book on the idea (The Sling and The Stone: On War in the 21st Century, Zenith Press: 2004) propounded originally by William S. Lind in his 1989 article for Marine Corps Gazette, entitled "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”.
 The Prussian Master identified State, Society, and the Military as part of a trinity that conducts policy and its extension called war.