March 6, 2006
Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict
By Michael J. Mazarr
When they briefly stated an intention to begin referring to a “global struggle against violent extremism,” certain officials in the Bush administration did more than implicitly acknowledge the vacuity of the idea of a “global war on terror.” They hinted, however obliquely, at something far more profound: a radical shift in the nature of conflict, what it means to be “at war.” From traditional notions of armies fighting armies in vast confrontations, the new concept seems to imply, the warfare of the future will look very different — twilight struggles against non-state networks of evildoers. This notion mirrors an emerging theory about the future of conflict: “Fourth Generation Warfare.” But while the Fourth Generation Warfare concept offers great insight as a description of the causes and character of warfare in the future, it misleads: The major trends of the past century yield up a likely different future for the activity we know, but may not always recognize, as warfare.
There is a tendency, when considering “theories of war,” to default to tactical distinctions for a definition of the core event — tank war versus insurgency, massed attrition as opposed to agile maneuver. But warfare is a product of international politics, and the form warfare takes is closely related to its causes: In the reasons for war, we will find clues as to the sorts of wars we will fight. My argument builds on two facts: First, the form warfare takes derives from, and cannot be considered without reference to, its causes; and second, the fashionable theories of the future of war are mostly silent on those causes. Today, three concepts vie for the position of leading theory of conflict in the twenty-first century: tried-and-true realpolitik, the reliable province of traditional state-versus-state conflict; “transformation,” “network-centric” and information warfare; and Fourth Generation Warfare. None of them accurately describes the change now underway.1
The theory of war that undergirds realpolitik is straightforward. For thousands of years, warfare has meant a clash of wills between opposing military forces on the field of battle, from which one side usually (though not always) emerged as a recognizable winner. The causes of such wars were the combination of an anarchic system of self-help that opened the way for aggressive and imperialistic campaigns of conquest, bitter competitions over scarce resources, escalating mutual security fears, and misperception and miscalculation. Conducting war meant the mobilization of resources and military units to defeat enemy forces in the field. It is from this basic concept — states at war employing organized military units — that most of the hallmarks of modern military science flow: the moral and physical clash of wills; the role of the decisive battle in a campaign; and the endless search for the enemy’s “center of gravity” and the “culminating point” of a conflict.
But we have been moving away from this paradigm for some time.2 Centuries ago, military forces were very nearly divorced from the societies on behalf of whom they fought: crowds of adventurers out at the frontier and beyond, staging highly ritualized über-duels on grassy plains, while the home society went on farming and hunting and carpentering. To be sure, these armies would affect the surrounding societies in profound ways: They would recruit or dragoon young men who otherwise would be farming or cobbling; they would pillage the surrounding landscape as they passed through it; and they would sometimes draw abundant camp-following crowds. But the basic model was one of a quasi-independent army marching off to find its counterpart and slaughter it. Even by Napoleonic times, armies remained remarkably separable from their peoples, grand militarized playthings moving around the chessboard of strategy.
And playthings they were, because armies and navies were the instruments of their leaders — sometimes individual kings or tyrants, sometimes collective groups, but always leaders in search of some self-defined material end, the governing power goal of realpolitik. Philip of Macedon could decide that the time had come to unify the Greek city-states, and off went his army to battle. The Romans could elect to subjugate yet another frontier people, and the legions gathered up their equipment. Kings and princes in early modern Europe, reflecting perhaps the apotheosis of this practice, marshaled bands of expensive knights and attendants in what looks to modern eyes almost like an elaborate game. Even when wars emerged without clear power-seeking intent, issues of security dilemmas and power rivalries always hung about the proceedings.
In such a context, the enemy’s forces in the field embodied very nearly the entirety of the conflict. When they were destroyed, the enemy was vanquished. What “the people” thought about it, hacking away at their farms a thousand miles from the battlefield (or even right next door to it), usually had little or no bearing on the outcome — except when especially reckless leaders bankrupted the home front to such a degree that they were overthrown while on campaign. Even when forces became nimbler and strategy emphasized moving between, around, and behind an enemy to get at his capital or his industrial heartland, these supposedly indirect strategies mostly ended up in force-on-force butchery.
In its actual practice (as distinct from its consequences, which frequently transformed societies from the roots up), then, war stood apart from society, independent, self-regarding. Warfare was armies against armies, and when it became something more than that — the destruction of whole societies, for example — it remained largely in service of the narrower goal: to cripple the enemy’s military instrument, and thus compel his surrender. The character of war in this theory was fierce and brutal, built as it was around the organized employment of violence to break an enemy military’s will.3
All of this made sense in a world governed by the doctrine of realpolitik. From Thucydides onward, the concepts of a realist approach to world politics were clear enough: States sought power; there was no world authority to govern the resulting conflict; stronger states took what they could, weaker ones succumbed or hid under the protective umbrella of alliances. Above all, military power and the diplomatic and political influence that flowed from it was the coin of the realm for the players in the international game, the sine qua non in whose absence no other state powers or goals could be reliably sustained.
For centuries, perhaps millennia — from the Peloponnesian War through the German advocates of machtpolitik — this situation was not only admitted, it was frequently celebrated. The world was a great Darwinistic struggle and courageous peoples sought power and used it. Warfare was welcomed as a means of stiffening national character and a route to glory for individuals and cultures alike — a perverse notion that, sadly, has not quite been put to rest.4 Later, British and American realists mourned the reality of power politics and warned against imperial expansion, but pronounced both of them unavoidable given the twin natures of world politics and human nature. Either way, as a positive doctrine or an empirical analysis, realism spoke to a world governed by unconstrained power rivalries, tragic misunderstandings, and, ultimately, force-on-force military confrontations.
With this background, it becomes clear that one claimed shift in the nature of war does not, in fact, describe any change at all. It goes under the current name of “transformation,” but even the concept is hardly new. Transformation is the child of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) — itself a grandson of maneuver warfare and blitzkrieg, which have their roots in the renewal of strategic thought following the First World War. As one analyst explains it, attrition warfare (an especially slaughterous variant of the canonical force-on-force style) aspired to the annihilation of enemy forces. Maneuver warfare targets the coherence of the adversary’s combat systems, methods, and plans. The hope is that a very selective action can have a cascading effect — an effect disproportionately greater than the degree of effort. An analogy from architecture would be the removal or destruction of the keystone of an arch . . . the removal of which disrupts the stability of the system, resulting in its destruction.5
But the “system” is still the enemy military capability. Maneuver warfare is just a more elegant way of dealing with the usual force-on-force confrontation.
And so are its descendants. The Soviet theorists of the “military-technical revolution” — who were themselves influenced by American writings, and whose concepts Americans then translated into the RMA — were interested in more or less the same things as the German blitzkriegers: slicing up, destabilizing, and defeating enemy forces, only this time with weapons energized by a revolution in microelectronics, computing power, precision strike, and automation. Radical new concepts of command and control, “networked” organizations, “information dominance” — this and much else on the Defense Department’s transformation menu — therefore reflects the latest and most efficient elaboration of the principles of maneuver warfare. Some of the documents of the Office of Force Transformation point to a broader agenda,6 but if we look at the practical efforts of the Defense Department — where its budget goes, what its troops are trained to do, how its operations are conducted — the emphasis remains stubbornly on the force-on-force route to military victory. The primary modernization agendas of the services today speak to the same deep-rooted goal: finding tanks, planes, ships, and people that belong to the enemy and making them explode.
Transformation advocates have grown dextrous in the use of bold terms. They call the whole enterprise “network-centric warfare” and speak of “information superiority” and “shared awareness.” They refer to “systems of systems” and “linked platforms of sensors, shooters and commanders in seamless webs,” and talk of the increased speed and greater lethality with which military operations will now operate.7 But whatever the language, network-centric warfare reflects principles that have governed force-on-force warfare for centuries: Rapid, effective command and control that allows you to get inside an enemy’s “decision loop” has been the goal of the great captains of history for centuries; precision-guided weapons are just the latest and most effective effort to hit enemy forces as accurately as possible.
Some elements of the transformation agenda speak to so-called “information warfare.”8 Like notions of transformation and “network-centric warfare,” accounts of information warfare generally say very little about what the thing actually is.9 Some writers have used the term “cyberwar,” by which they appear to mean the by now conventional idea that warring powers will try to destroy the computer systems of their opponents.10 One account points to the rise of domains that do not require physical force to attack, and the resulting extension of warfare “beyond the traditional military realm.”11
This is not the first time military strategists have pointed to the potential of new technologies to overcome age-old truths about war. Yet Clausewitz wrote the epitaph of “perfect information dominance” some time back: fog and friction. There will never be sensors numerous, accurate, or reliable enough to create a perfect information picture. There will never be information architectures capable of sharing the resulting information widely, perfectly, or quickly enough to allow forces in the field to rely on it.12
As partial evidence, we have a number of recent examples. In Kosovo, the Serbs managed to accomplish a vast amount of movement and operations without NATO knowledge.13 In the Iraq War, despite the full-scale application of sensor and communications technologies greatly more advanced than those of Operation Desert Storm, the most frequent military engagement may have been the venerable “movement to contact” — steaming ahead until you encounter the enemy, then groping your way around the battlefield until you find the right tactical answer for him. The Third Armored Division famously stumbled into the biggest conventional battle of the war without advance warning. Iraqi commanders were able to move huge units around the battlefield without being seen or detected, until more Americans on “movement to contact” orders plowed into them. The immense success of the U.S. and allied drive to Baghdad was far more a product of the tactical skill of middle-level U.S. commanders than it was a victory for sensors and “network-centric operations.”
It is hardly surprising that all of this transformational and network-centric jargon would add up to so little in the way of truly new theories of warfare. These concepts are all about tactics and implementation; they have nothing to say about the causes of war, or the strategic implications of those causes.
From a definitional standpoint, there are at least three concepts at work in any discussion of “warfare.”14 First is the character of battle — the clash of arms where one army physically meets another. This is the meeting point that generates statements about the “unchanging nature of war” — violence, blood, courage, willpower, and so forth. At a second level we find the form of warfare, the tactics and operational art governing units in battle — infantry war versus blitzkrieg, insurgency versus classical force-on-force duels. Whereas the character of battle may be eternal, the form of warfare constantly evolves, responding to new technologies, new tactics, and new social organizations. But then we come, finally and most fundamentally, to the nature of conflict. This is the highest strategic level of analysis and deals with the causes and character of severe political-military-socioeconomic disputes in the international system. International conflict generates the context for warfare, but also much else — Schellingesque bargaining games, coercive diplomacy, deception and artful dodges short of warfare and battle.
Most analyses of “the future of war” don’t adequately distinguish these three levels. Most of them, in fact, deal with the form of warfare, with some implications for the character of battle. But it’s misleading to tackle those issues without comprehending the evolving nature of conflict as a whole, because that larger strategic context sets the stage for warfare and battle.
Suppose, for example, we could satisfy ourselves of the truth of the following five propositions. First, warfare between major and medium-sized states is a thing of the past. Second, most such larger states will become increasingly inward-focused and isolationist in a consumerist era. Third, the number of states truly “left behind” by globalization will be vanishingly small. Fourth, states are vicious economic competitors. And fifth, information warfare capabilities are proliferating rapidly. If those five ideas accurately reflect the future of conflict, then a theory of warfare focusing on insurgency and counterinsurgency wouldn’t make a lot of sense: The “failed states” problem will recede, and in the meantime big states won’t want anything to do with messy counterinsurgency wars. A theory of warfare predicated on cyberwar for economic purposes would, however, match this hypothetical scenario quite nicely. I offer this example not to endorse it, but to illustrate the connection between the nature of conflict on the one hand — the political context and reasons for violent or quasi-violent conflict in the international system — and the character of warfare and battle on the other.
This, again, is the problem with most current approaches to the “future of war”: They are really talking about the future of warfare, or of battle, as I am using those terms. They are not talking about the nature of conflict more broadly understood — and yet, it is axiomatic that changes in the nature of conflict set the stage for everything else. The character of warfare and battle are merely its offshoots, its symptoms.15 There is no theory of world politics implied by these approaches; they do not, in fact, speak much to world politics at all. They talk in great depth about new tools of conflict — cyberwar, “network centric operations,” “information warfare” — without much attention to who would use them, or why.
Consider one interpretation on offer from the transformation and network-centric crowd. The future of war, some suggest, will cease to be linear, with large-scale forces lining up against one another and blasting away. It will be nonlinear, cellular, dispersed — a war of network against network, in which an unmanned drone launches a missile against a radar installation here, a hacker conducts infowar there, a band of special forces goes after key leaders somewhere else. Again, the important questions crouch in the background of this smartly-dressed vision of information-age conflict: Who is fighting? What is at stake? Why are they fighting rather than negotiating or cooperating? Will they be content to limit their warmaking to such genteel techniques, or when things start to turn ugly, will the tank divisions start thudding across national boundaries — and then, ultimately, will someone begin fiddling with the safety seals on the nukes? And, at the heart of it all: How will one side win?
My argument is that the answers to these questions paint the portrait of the nature of conflict as it exists in the international system. The specific tools used by the combatants, and the resulting styles of warfare and battle, will vary, but will always flow from the reasons for and contenders in international conflict.
Transformation, information warfare, network-centric warfare — all of these approaches speak, then, to the second-order issue, not the primary one. Another vision of the future of war does address the nature of conflict at the strategic level. It suggests that big war is giving way to small war — low-intensity conflict and insurgency — and furnishes some persuasive reasons why this is the case. And yet it stops short, for the most part, of offering an equally persuasive theory about the causes of conflict in the new era of decentralized warfare.
Martin van Creveld is perhaps the outstanding exponent of this point of view. Van Creveld argues that the chief trend in warfare over several thousand years was its “progressive consolidation”: The accumulation of massive warmaking power in the hands of a relatively few large nation-states. With the arrival of nuclear weapons, this sort of concentrated warfare became self-canceling; interstate war went on the decline, while intrastate war — civil wars, insurgencies, terrorist campaigns — came to the forefront. And the result, van Creveld believed, was that war was becoming decoupled from the state.16
This basic approach has attracted other disciples, and now goes by the name Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). Its core contention is that the nation-state is losing legitimacy and a monopoly on the use of force; one leading exponent refers to the “universal crisis of legitimacy of the state.”17 Fourth Generation Warfare seems to imagine a sort of neofuedalism, a “return to the way war worked before the rise of the state,” in William Lind’s words: a situation in which many entities wage war, for many different reasons, with many different tools. This is radically fragmented, decentralized, bottom-up conflict.18 To some exponents, 4GW is also very much about the clash of cultures, and the sorts of conflict it produces.19 The contestants in 4GW — and here the concept does depart from traditional assumptions about warfare — focus not on an enemy’s military forces, but on broadcasting messages directly into its political system, in order to bring about (in the interpretation of another leading 4GW proponent, T.X. Hammes) “political paralysis” in the target countries.20
There is no question that low-intensity conflict has been, remains, and will continue to be a major challenge for the U.S. military, and that the military — and especially the Army — will likely remain immune to all outside efforts to force it to master the discipline. But such historical references make it obvious that the spread of low-intensity conflict does not itself constitute a “revolution” in warfare. It has been a parallel mode of conflict since Biblical times, one that has merely become more prominent given the role of nuclear weapons in tamping down great power conflict.21 Only its tactics have changed.
In fact, “low-intensity warfare” has often upheld the same goal as traditional military strategy: to defeat an enemy’s fielded forces — through exhaustion, frustration and other indirect rather than direct means. The classic anticolonial and national liberation movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fall squarely into a tradition that runs back millennia: less powerful peoples making use of deception, hit-and-run raids, the sympathy of the local population, and the vulnerability of the occupier’s outposts and forces. Insurgency is, once again, a tool; the important questions remain: Who is using it, and why? Proponents of the 4GW theory know this, and try to build a portrait of a new mutation of the insurgency virus, one that employs global media campaigns, for example, rather than hit-and-run raids on military units. I am not so sure about the distinction: Insurgents have always thought very carefully about the political will of their enemy, terrorists have always used attacks for demonstration purposes, and al Qaeda, especially in Iraq, continues to use age-old tactics of intermittent, shadowy harassment of military forces through ambush and bombing.
To say, moreover, that all war is now small war, that state-to-state conflict has given way to Fourth Generation Warfare, generates an obvious blind spot for the traditional, state-on-state wars that without doubt remain possible. If China were to attack Taiwan, the United States would probably be drawn in — and the resulting conflict would look very little like an insurgency campaign (at least at first). Very quickly, Pentagon planners would be rushing to long-neglected bookshelves for writings on escalation and crisis bargaining, and beleaguered U.S. forces in the field would be conducting large-scale naval, air, and perhaps ground campaigns that would look like a supercharged version of World War II’s Pacific campaign. No serious observer of world politics denies, despite all the trends toward free trade, democracy, and interdependence, that major states could still go to war; but accepting that truism is to place a very large neon asterisk next to theories that claim our future is nothing but counterinsurgency.
The nation-state, in fact, is not losing its monopoly on force. In much of the world there is no such trend; states remain stubbornly devoted to providing order and preventing alternative forms of force from arising. Russia is hardly coming apart at the seams, nor are China or India. With better governance and a sometimes growing integration into the world economy, in fact, some state structures in Asia and Latin America seem actually to be regaining ground they had seemingly lost in the 1970s and 1980s. The old line that globalization makes that state irrelevant has proven to be too simplistic, if not in fact close to the opposite of the truth: more and more governments are discovering the tricks of the trade of institutional legitimacy in a globalizing world — and finding that their peoples, worried about the effects of trade and anxious about the fates of their cultures and desirous of border protections and safe finances, are looking as much to government as ever. Meanwhile, the supposed engines of the annihilation of borders and controls — trafficking in drugs, money laundering, and so on — are perhaps proving to be less omnipotent than once feared. Only in certain times and certain places, where things get disorderly or humiliating enough, is state control seriously threatened; and what most of the resulting armed movements want, anyway, is to seize control of the hollowed-out but still tempting state apparatus — a tendency very much on display in Hamas’s recent electoral victory in the Palestinian territories.
Most of all, though, current writings on Fourth Generation Warfare and related concepts are mostly silent on a matter that ought to be their central focus — the reasons for the insurgencies. They take low-intensity conflict as a given, pair it up with the “decline of traditional warfare,” and project into the future. They do not have anything to offer on the causes of these conflicts. Theories of war that hope to inform us about the nature of the world and the origins of conflict must do have something to say about the reasons for war if they are to say anything worthwhile. Again, suggesting that the form is changing without considering the causes is like describing in exhaustive detail the evolving symptoms of a changing disease. Until the symptoms are connected to a specific cause, it doesn’t get you very far in the direction of an actual cure.
Changes in international conflict — and, by extension, warfare and battle — always come as a result of changes in the societies waging it. The major factors impelling the latest shift in the principles of conflict are very well-known and demand little elaboration—only the implications remain to be spelled out in detail. The trends include:22
Modernization as an accomplished fact in the industrialized world, an emerging trend in the fast-growing developing world, and a hopeless dream for 2 billion of the world’s people being left behind.
The rise of a global market to which countries are determined, and often desperate, to gain access.
Globalization of the world’s economy, polities, information exchange, institutions, and mindset, and the rise of worldwide markets in commodities formerly best acquired through conquest.
Democratization of the world’s political systems, and the creation of mass-based rather than elite-based decision-making processes.
A global information market that exposes people around the world to each others’ facts, lifestyles, and values.
The advent of nuclear weapons, which fundamentally changed the calculus of war among states that possess them.
The rise of international institutions to govern common issues and problems, from the World Trade Organization to the European Union to global health, sanitary, technological, and labor groups.
On one point, then, my analysis overlaps with many of the other visions of the future of war. Combined with parallel military trends — the rise of a hegemonic U.S. military power, the continued spread of nuclear weapons — these developments have tended to discourage aggressive, large-scale warmaking by major powers and to encourage restraint, especially among nuclear-armed states. One piece of this puzzle, for example, is the growing, though far from complete, consensus on a global territorial sovereignty norm: The agreed rule that countries do not any longer invade and conquer their neighbors (unless both countries are too small for the world community to much care, or unless the invader disregards the sovereignty norm to enforce another emerging norm of world politics — human rights, for example, or nonproliferation). This notion is now an official part of the national security doctrine of the United States, whose 2002 variant speaks to an emerging international community united by shared values and agreed on the inadvisability of mutual war. This suggests that the 4GW advocates have it exactly backwards: The growing predominance of insurgent-style warfare does not evoke the collapse of state authority. It shows the final and irrevocable success of the leading principle of the Westphalian system — territorial boundary norms.
Again, as I have stressed, this is not to say that “major war is a thing of the past.” Such wars could occur — wars whose conduct, character, and principles would be mostly traditional, and which would therefore require some degree of traditionally organized military force to prosecute. New forms of warfare do not displace old ones in an instant, like the turning of a historical page. The two models coexist for a time, often centuries, as the old form slowly dies out and the new one takes over. It is not so much the characteristics as the origins of conflict that are changing; the psychological sources of conflict I will describe could easily generate state-on-state, force-on-force encounters. Nonetheless, these trends do, on balance, have the effect of making state-on-state conflict less likely — and precisely because they ameliorate some of the sources of war even while creating new ones. Modernization, democratization and related trends, when they work out smoothly, have the potential to create a world in which state leaders see far less need, and far more cost, to going to war. When those trends work out badly, however, the result is conflict — at the state or sub-state level.
The difference, then — the true revolution in the nature of conflict — has only secondarily to do with how it is fought. Mostly the change is in why it is fought, which carries implications for the nature of battle and warfare. A garden-variety insurgency of 1890 or 1930 or 1975 would likely have been waged for classical realpolitik reasons — most likely national liberation or “self-determination.” Meanwhile, typical state-on-state contests through the beginning of the twentieth century stemmed from similar thinking by state leaders — the desire for more influence, more territory, crucial natural resources, ethnic or national reunification, and so on. Because of the various trends outlined above, major war between large states had become a largely self-defeating proposition by the early twentieth century. Once the post-colonial wars of liberation had burned off their nationalist steam, insurgencies fought for the classical reasons petered out as well. What remained was for a new sort of conflict to emerge — conflict with new sources and new goals, conflict that demands a very different response from the traditional sort, conflict that cannot really be called “war” at all.
As much as the trends of the last decades — modernization, global awareness, political freedom and economic choice — have empowered individuals as never before, they have challenged, frightened, shocked, disgusted, and damaged people as well. The world brought by modernity is full of golden opportunities as well as daunting risks and responsibilities. And when brewed up in a particular context — a context of national decline, cultural stagnation, and political repression, among other things — the resulting alienation can become explosive.
The story of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the developed world was at least partly the story of people coming to grips with the implications of modernity. And the result in a few places conformed to a dangerous pattern: large numbers of alienated, frustrated individuals, uncertain of their identity or prospects in a rapidly changing world, turning to a number of ruinous political/spiritual movements whose ideologies look remarkably alike.23 In fascist Germany, Bolshevik Russia, nationalist Japan and elsewhere, these movements harked back to a glorious past, condemned the moral degeneration of the present, dismissed their rulers as incompetent and corrupt, generated sinister conspiracy theories to blame outsiders or local scapegoats for their national decline, and offered a way forward through a purified moral order based on the traditional values of the people. And the people, their mindset shaped in ways still best captured by Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer (Harper & Row, 1951) — desperate for redemption from what they perceived to be their despoiled, ruined circumstances — embraced the movement, submerged their identity within it, and transferred to it their moral judgments. One can see very much the same process underway in certain parts of the Middle East today: social and cultural decline and stagnation; an accelerating pace of change and massive insults to tradition, delivered by an outside engine of world modernization; growing uncertainty about identity and frustration at cultural decline; resentment of corrupt and ineffectual established rulers; and, ultimately, a widespread sense of uncertainty and anxiety.24
Alienation generates security threats in a number of ways. One is by paving the way for aggressive, despotic movements to seize control of national governments and wage traditional war. Frustration and rage can also burst forth in the form of civil wars, revolutions, or ethnic conflicts. And of course today, the central security challenge of alienation is global terrorism, emanating from extreme, anti-modern Islamic groups.
The threat of alienation is a somewhat temporary menace, largely confined to the phases of modernization and cultural change that precede complete modernity, by which time most people are prosperous enough and safe enough and have sufficiently reliable avenues to identity to make a postmodern Nazi movement tremendously unlikely. But the risk never entirely subsides: There will always be a hyper-alienated few who turn to violence (the Unabomber comes to mind), and larger numbers of people whose footing in the identity-rich and identity-confused modern world is unsure enough to point them in the direction of hateful or xenophobic movements offering simple answers and comforting doctrines. More fundamental, though, are the global, transitional risks alive in societies still on their way to modernity in areas of the world stretching from Latin America across to Africa, through the Middle East and into South and Southeast Asia (and, as recent events have reminded us, within the immigrant ghettos of Europe as well).
The dominant feature of world politics and social development over the coming century will therefore be as it has increasingly been for a century or more — a saga of individuals, freed from the constraints of tradition and culture and repression, finding their place in a changing, globalizing world, doing so in the context of a global interdependence of awareness, information and communications, and then trying to shape the policies of their governments. The basic trend in conflict for which I am arguing might be summed up this way: When an international system arises that allows nations and other groups to conduct extensive and self-satisfying pursuits of power and security without territorial expansion, aggression, or large-scale warfare, the search for basic human needs like identity, belonging, dignity, and self-respect will supplant more traditional quests for political-military power, territory, and natural resources as the defining form of mass national expression; and when a massive, accelerating, and disorienting process of modernization creates enormous social discord around the world, that search for identity and dignity can and will generate conflict.
This is hardly the first time psychological problems sparked by modernization and modernity have ushered in a period of conflict. The pattern played itself out roughly from the 1880s through the 1930s, capped by the devastating illegitimacy and humiliation embossed on a number of states by the Depression, and it played the decisive role in generating the aggressive tyrannies that launched World War II. That war was a product of psychological issues far more than geopolitical ones: Its authors were totalitarian regimes caught in the grip of utopian fantasies — amalgams of romantic folk religions, imperialism, nationalism, ethnic and racial superiority, and a thirst for revenge for dishonors imposed by the “West.”
A crucial part of this story is the rise of mass, as opposed to elite, politics. States and peoples dominated by a handful of aristocrats or monarchs could think more regularly in realpolitik terms. They could, and did, view their armies as playthings, filled out with the ignorant, disposable rabble. But with modernization came massification — of education, economic achievement, entrepreneurialism, and much else; and also of governance. Times may still arise when a handful of individuals can lead a state into war based upon rational cost-benefit calculations. Again, old forms of warfare do not die out overnight. But in the future, the pattern will be almost entirely in another direction — wars as a result of mass psychology gone bad. We think of Hitler and Stalin as madmen, and the Japanese imperial nationalists likewise; but they would not have reached power, nor gained the assent of their people for adventurism, if they were not standing atop some of the most intensely traumatized societies of the past century.25 Pragmatic realpolitikers, almost no matter how power-hungry, are always preferable to reckless idealists at the helm of radical movements — a lesson we are re-learning thanks to President Ahmadinejad in Iran.
Realpolitik is giving way to psychopolitik; geopolitics to psychopolitics. The essential truth about the future of conflict is not to be found in information warfare or Netwar or Fourth Generation War. The bigger truth is that the nature of conflict has already shifted from a largely rational enterprise waged by elite-dominated states conducted in pursuit of power objectives, to the product of mass psychological trauma attendant to modernization. Our strategic response must shift from realpolitik and machtpolitik to something far more encompassing and far less political-military in its assumptions and tactics.
Increasingly, the dominant mode of conflict in the world will not be force-on-force military engagements guided by traditional principles of warfare. Increasingly, “conflict” will be something vaguer, more interdisciplinary, more to do with psychology and identity than military forces. To be very clear: The form warfare takes could still extend into state-on-state conflict, as in the case of a Chinese modernization process gone wrong; but it could also include terrorism, insurgency, information war, and much else. The critical issue is the foundational dynamics of conflict, the causes of all of these various forms of warfare.
We need, in fact, a new terminology; the idiom of “warfare” carries too much baggage. As is often said these days, the “war on terror” is a war in the sense in which the “war on drugs” was a war, or the “war on poverty.” Which is to say, not a war at all, as we have usually understood war. The shift for which I am arguing involves more than a change in the principles of war, as traditionally defined. It involves the end of war as we have known it, and its replacement with something else.26 This, incidentally, is what makes the employment of tough and well-trained Marines and Army troops in places like Iraq so awkward, and what places these brave young people in such bewildering circumstances. They are instruments of war, being asked to fight a very different form of conflict according to principles and tactics that no longer fully apply.
By this claim I mean more than the prosaism that “troops trained for high-intensity warfare don’t do counterinsurgency.” That has long been true, but as long as the insurgents were fighting for traditional goals — national liberation, the defeat or exhaustion of the enemy’s fielded military forces — some broad approximation of traditional tactics would have an effect on the irregular forces, and when combined with the right accompanying political-economic strategies, might actually work. When the primary motive of the insurgents is to quench a desperate thirst for identity, dignity, and authenticity, though, the ground shifts profoundly. Against a geopolitically-minded insurgency, the application of military force could achieve some measurable tactical success and longer-term bargaining leverage. Against fantasists, the same application of force offers them precisely what they crave — an identity-affirming war against an evil outsider, and a reconfirmation of everything their ideologists have claimed.
We could simplify matters with a definitional trick: defining war as battle, and shifting the ground to a discussion of tactics and men at war. But the wrong diagnosis would lead to the wrong cure. If the nature of conflict is indeed based now on psychological rather than geopolitical grounds, then reminding ourselves that “war is violence and killing and a contest of wills” won’t tell us very much. It will, in fact, generally recommend the wrong policies, in service of the notion that prevailing in the man-versus-man willpower games will “win” these “wars.” But it will not, at least not unless we are prepared to slaughter far more people than has been our recent custom. The idea of overpowering an opponent on the battlefield with superior wits, courage, and will is a relic of the geopolitical chessboard games of yore, as much as is the continued obsession with concepts of credibility, prestige, and intimidation. All too often in an era of psychopolitik, these prescriptions will worsen the disease, which is already grounded in weak identity, national humiliation, and socioeconomic frustration and rage. Try to overpower a people in the grip of this sort of worldview and you only justify and reinforce their perceived need to fight.27
It is not enough, then, merely to change the definition to “counterinsurgency” and call it a day. In some of those who attack our forces in Iraq or the radical Islamists around the world, we are up against something far more enigmatic, far more complex, in its way far more sinister. We are not fighting proto-Bismarcks, who want nothing more than to seize state power and start operating as realpolitikers. (There are surely some such people among the former Baathists and Saddam loyalists in the Iraq insurgency, and perhaps some among the top ranks of al Qaeda as well. But I think they represent the smaller threat.) We are fighting people in the grip of what Lee Harris has accurately called a “fantasy ideology,” people who have lost a grip on normal standards of rational and especially moral calculation.28
What, then, are the implications of this view? What would be the principles of conflict fought against a mindset? The central route to war in such psychological dramas is national humiliation and society-wide alienation. “Fighting” such conflicts has just a little to do with winning “the close battle” — force-on-force engagements, however small they might be. We want to hunt down fully self-identified al Qaeda operatives, to be sure. But prevailing means to win a battle for the society, for its mindsets and psychologies, to address sources of grievance and anxiety, to shore up institutions of governance — and, recognizing that all of that will be extraordinarily difficult in the best of circumstances, trying, in fact, to absent oneself from such conflicts, to remain as free of the effects of these traumas as is possible for the worldwide exemplar of globalized modernity. It seems to me, then, that a theory of psychopolitik would point to three pillars of statecraft: restraint, compassion, and fiscal responsibility.
The concept of restraint recognizes that, in a still-modernizing and increasingly globalizing world, intense psychodramas are playing out everywhere, especially in developing countries — and that it would be disastrous for the United States to become embroiled in all of them. With its emphasis on psychological traumas rather than hard cost-benefit calculations, psychopolitik breathes new life into the central insight of classical realism of the modern variety: Pushing your weight around will generate resentment. Psychopolitik highlights the role of national humiliation in generating conflict — from the French humiliation in 1870 that helped generate World War I, to the post-World War I humiliation of Germany that fed so directly into Nazism, to the humiliation of much of the Arab world (for centuries, really, but most pointedly in 1967 and the Palestinian territories) and the role it plays in energizing radical Islamism. Psychopolitik urges restraint and prudence and an overarching strategy of eschewing involvement in foreign conflicts in a way that would allow angry foreigners to blame the United States for their rage.
The parallel emphasis on compassion recognizes the limits of restraint in an era in which the United States is already held responsible for much of what goes on in the world and draws the conclusion that the long-time realist scoffing at “do-goodism” in the international community is in need of serious modification. If we are trying to influence the thinking of a Napoleon or a Genghis Khan, of course, trying to “make friends” by piling on economic assistance will have no good effect, and probably much bad (a consideration that halfway applies to recalcitrant Genghis Khans like Kim Jong Il; but only halfway, because they are now the outcasts, not the big powers). Nor will such efforts, even if directed, for example, to the Palestinian territories, mean much to the likes of Zawahiri and bin Laden. But these days, our audience is much bigger — the mass publics of key countries whose psychological fate in a modernizing context has yet to be finally decided. Their view of the globalization process, and the U.S. role in it, will play a major role in shaping that fate. This points to the need for a multi-billion-dollar effort to work toward development, the growth of civil society, effective governance, and much else throughout the Middle East and the broader Islamic world.
Some will still characterize a pillar of statecraft built around the compassionate investment in developing-world success as soft, wooly-headed nonsense. It matters little that people around the world like or revere the United States, some say; it matters a great deal whether they respect and fear us. But more modern wars are the product of mass psychology gone wrong than of cold geopolitical calculation. Magnifying a fearful respect would also exacerbate humiliation and rage; far from deterring the aggrieved, it would merely provoke them.
A third pillar of statecraft must comprise strenuous efforts to keep the global economy on a sound footing. Always in the past, mass psychological reactions against modernization — which had been percolating in societies like Germany and Japan, but were not yet ascendant — gained crucial momentum from a widespread economic dislocation, or a series of them. In most contexts, the anxieties, resentments, and grievances of an uncertainly modernizing people remain under control. Only with large-scale socioeconomic calamities do they burst forth, do mass publics throw their support to radical extremists out of desperation rather than true preference. America’s current fiscal irresponsibility — our massive budget deficits, our vanishing savings rates, our rampant consumerism — appears calculated to set the stage for precisely the sort of traumatic global economic shocks that could take the still-moderate levels of radical Islamism (and other radicalisms as well) and elevate them to frightening new heights.
If we take these three injunctions seriously, it becomes obvious that the military instrument will gradually become a secondary tool in efforts to “fight” the “conflicts” of the future.29 Its roles will include tracking down those few dedicated and violent foot-soldiers of alienation (such as al Qaeda) and destroying them; sweeping aside the decaying militaries of the handful of true rogue states when necessary; and, most of all, remaining ready during the long transitional period, in case an old-style force-on-force war does break out. An understanding of the principles of conventional warfare will thus continue to serve us well for some time — as will, it is worth reminding ourselves, the sorts of advanced conventional weapons systems, like the F-22 fighter and next-generation naval vessels, that populate typical policy-wonk lists of things we ought to razor out of the defense budget.
The great danger, though, is that, as we are doing now, we will persist in our faith that traditional conventional conflict is the dominant mode of warfare and assume that buying the thirty-eighth iteration of manned-precision-destruction-from-the-air capabilities will answer our security needs. Increasingly, it will not. One implication of this revised view of conflict could be crudely summarized as follows: We ought to shift $50 billion to $70 billion from the U.S. defense budget into a wider array of instruments of national power more attuned to the needs of conflict against alienation. These would include strengthened and expanded institutions of diplomacy, scholarship programs, a vastly reenergized Peace Corps, direct foreign aid, debt forgiveness, a restored and expanded public diplomacy program, and much else.
The odds are, of course, that we will not do these things. The American popular understanding of war and national security are firmly lashed to images of Iwo Jima, laser-guided bombs, and tough, bearded special operators to allow any political leader to broaden self-defense in these apparently social-worky ways. The notion of substituting grand, society-wide therapeutic efforts for the 82nd Airborne — and justifying it with the use of terms like identity, alienation, and grievance — is not a challenge most politicians will tackle on the campaign trail. The domestic sustainment of the social effort needed to wage conflict has always relied on brute invocations of the need to “hit back at evil.” And so, in all likelihood, we will continue to militarize conflicts that are essentially psychological in character, continue to burst onstage in a Freudian drama dressed up as Bismarck. The result will be — the result is today — to exacerbate rather than calm the grievances, alienations, fears, and resentments that feed conflict.
We could once be confident that unilaterally following our geostrategic interests was usually the right thing to do, regardless of what the world thought about it — and there remains a distinct odor of such thinking about U.S. policy in the global war on terror. But if psychology, alienation, and perception are the wellsprings of the greatest threats to our national interests, we have much firmer reasons to tread lightly on public resentment and hatred. Anti-Americanism, in this new strategic context, is not merely a curiosity or a joke; it is a deadly serious symptom of attitudes that will be, to our grandchildren’s generation, what hostile armies and navies looming abroad were to our grandparents’. This might represent an updated, and even more devilish, version of the “security dilemma” of classical realism: In striving hard for more security by annihilating the leaders of radical anti-modern movements, we risk feeding the legitimacy and strength of those same groups.
If we were wiling to do things differently, the principles of conflict in an era of psychopolitik would suggest a number of specific efforts.
Attend to identity. The top strategic priority is providing avenues to identity formation — opportunities for people to escape stagnation and despair and to strive toward secure identities. This principle has obvious economic, political and social components.
Attend to the global economy. Worldwide economic shocks are the surest means to accelerate the growth of all forms of anti-modernization radicalism, especially radical Islamism.
Practice the greatest restraint possible in foreign policy. We must keep two stubborn facts firmly in mind: a number of psychologically-induced conflicts are likely to be underway at any given time in the world, and each of them will be devilishly hard to resolve. Staying out of their way is the most reliable avenue to safeguarding U.S. national interests, and as often as not this means adhering to a narrow definition of those interests. It suggests, then, something close to the opposite of a global crusade on behalf of democratic reforms, something that may easily worsen rather than alleviate psychological stress. In Russia, Germany, and Japan alike, ineffectual, short-lived parliamentary democracies were the precursors to radicalism; the combination of governmental ineffectiveness and corruption with the dashed hopes for a better and freer society has played a leading role in bringing down a host of emerging democracies.30
Avoid humiliating others. Because humiliation, hopelessness, and rage stand as the most volatile flavors of alienation, we must avoid the temptation to impose it, even on strategic rivals. Trying to enforce our will on other peoples, militarily or diplomatically, is bound to be self-defeating. Patience will be the watchword; allowing a false sense of urgency and an obsession with “credibility” to compel a standoff with a national movement bound on an expression of identity — Cuba in 1958, Iran in 1979, Venezuela today — will almost always represent a strategic error.
Do not become the focus of the alienation. Adopting policies in the name of geopolitics that place us in the crosshairs of psychopolitics — supporting a repressive regime beset by an exploding antimodernist social movement for “pragmatic, strategic” reasons — will almost always work to our disadvantage.
Crush the true extremists. When we encounter a group that is truly beyond reach, who have gone so far down the road of alienation and humiliation and rage, there is no alternative but to capture and kill them as rapidly and completely as possible.
Note again the contradictory requirements of this agenda. Our task these days is not the linear requirement of destroying a given percentage of enemy forces; it is a fluid, nonlinear undertaking strewn with paradoxes and dilemmas. How do we crush extremists without generating humiliation? How do we accelerate economic growth to create avenues for identity formation without aggravating the specter of “Westernization” that helps spark alienation in the first place? The paradoxes of this challenge are on vivid, and often tragic, display in Iraq today — the need to destroy insurgents without mistreating innocent Iraqis; the desire to hasten economic and social development without creating even more cultural disquiet; the effort to liberate the Iraqi people while making them feel as if they’ve done it for themselves. These are dilemmas with which we are sadly stuck because, in taking on this intractable challenge, we violated the principles of restraint and avoiding humiliation — reasons why a psychopolitik approach would have argued, on balance, against invading Iraq in the first place. (It would also argue, for reasons that ought by now to be obvious, that we should do everything in our power to avoid a military showdown with Iran.)
Note, too, that this agenda disputes the idea that we are engaged primarily in a “war of ideas.” Certainly, ideas and ideologies play leading roles in the psychodramas of modern life, and a vastly upgraded public diplomacy effort is in order. But we must not fool ourselves: Ideas are the product of circumstances, and unless those circumstances change, all the glossy pro-American magazines and graduate school scholarships in the world will only serve to harden perceptions about callous Western propaganda. This is a conflict with roots in the condition of societies — issues like opportunity, effective governance, status in the world community, and so on. Fighting it as a “war of ideas” will merely be to treat, once again, a symptom rather than the cause.
And note, finally, what this perspective has to say about the claims of our national leaders that we are “at war,” with all that that has traditionally meant: an effort to mute dissent “during the war”; the breathtaking escalation of executive powers, free from any legislative restraint, “during the war.” The fact is that we are not “at war” in the way the framers of our Constitution understood that concept when they wrote the document. We are engaged in a different enterprise entirely, one that overlaps only a little with war as it has been traditionally — and politically — understood. More than any well-honed constitutional theory, it seems to me, this simple distinction hacks the legs out from under the assertions of executive privilege in wartime being made today.
It is therefore extraordinarily difficult to spell out any unqualified principles of this new era of conflict. It will be vague, gradual, diverse. It will frustrate efforts to understand it, let alone forestall it. All of which suggests that it is a form of conflict likely to drive the United States — with its blunt, direct, linear, firepower- and technology-obsessed style of fighting — to distraction. That result, like the broader shift in warfare, is already much in evidence.
Michael J. Mazarr is professor of national security strategies at the U.S. National War College and adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the policy or position of the U.S. government or the National Defense University.
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1 In the comments that follow, part of my goal is to build on the brilliant comments of Tony Corn in the first essay offered in this space, “World War IV as Fourth Generation Warfare,” Policy Review, Web Special, (January 2006); available at http://www.policyreview.org/000/corn.html. As I’ll note, I don’t agree with all of his perspectives. But in a sense, my purpose here is to round out one idea to which he gives only glancing attention — the specific social-psychological foundations of modern Islamist insurgent violence.
2 Some will suggest that the portrait of Westphalian state-vs-state war has always ignored centuries of insurgencies, civil wars, family blood feuds, and other forms of nontraditional conflict. The existence of such nonstate forms of warfare cannot be denied, but I think a persuasive answer — though a subjective and interpretive one — has to do with the question of relative emphasis. Most national leaders, writers on war, and citizens of countries at war or contemplating war thought of the organized-armies-in-the-field version as the default form for several hundred years. That may now be changing — a change that implies not the sudden birth of nonstate or nonorganized-army warfare, but its emergence as the dominant form.
3 In the modern era, a tendency to focus on the will of an enemy society in addition to, or even instead of, the will of its fielded military forces has been more and more in evidence. (For a good brief discussion of this issue in a broadly provocative paper, see Antulio J. Echevarria II, "Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths," U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute (November 2005). Some will say that clever strategists have long targeted the will of an opposing society, have long looked past a narrow focus on fielded military forces. The question, to me, is one of relative emphasis, and I think a fair case can be made that the emphasis until quite recently has been on destroying an enemy's army. Interestingly, too, modern efforts to break an enemy's willpower at the societal level have failed as often as they have succeeded, working generally only when colonial or quasi-colonial powers were persuaded to abandon frontier counterinsurgency wars of dubious strategic value.
4 Even in the Peloponnesian War we find the first stirrings of a sense that the slaughter of tens of thousands could not go on forever and still be considered rational policy. See the recent work of Victor Davis Hanson: A War Like No Other (Random House, 2005).
5 Carl Conetta, “Maneuver Warfare Principles and Terms,” Project on Defense Alternatives (March 12, 1998); available at http://www.comw.org/pda/webman.htm.
6 One of its basic pieces of literature, for example, entitled “Elements of Defense Transformation,” makes reference to the “domain of cooperative engagement,” the “domain of strategic primacy,” the “domain of political victory,” and the “domain of military victory.” See http://www.oft.osd.mil/library/library_files/document_383_ElementsOfTransformation_LR.pdf.
7 A good, and appropriately critical, survey of some of these ideas can be found in Frederick W. Kagan, “War and Aftermath,” Policy Review 120 (August–September) 2003.
8 A good recent example is Bruce Berkowitz, The New Face of War: How War Will Be Fought in the 21st Century (Free Press, 2003).
9 See, for example, one of the defining works in the field: Roger C. Molander, Andrew S. Riddile, and Peter A. Wilson, Strategic Information Warfare: A New Face of War (Rand, 1996), esp. xiii, 2, and 11–14.
10 Alan D. Campen and Douglas H. Dearth, Cyberwar 2.0: Myths, Mysteries and Reality (AFCEA International press, 1998).
11 Edward Waltz, Information Warfare: Principles and Operations (Artech House, 1998), 8.
12 A good argument on this score is Col. T. X. Hammes, “War Isn’t a Rational Business,” Proceedings (July 1998).
13 For a detailed examination of this point, see Timothy L. Thomas, “Kosovo and the Current Myth of Information Superiority,” Parameters (Spring 2000).
14 This particular typology is my own, of course. Many definitions are in play for each of these terms, and I don’t mean to suggest that “warfare” or “conflict” only or properly can be defined only in the way I’m going to do here.
15 Some will suggest that I am mixing disciplines here — that the causes and nature of conflict is the realm of political science, whereas the form of warfare and character of battle are military operational or historical issues. But this is precisely my point: Severing the connection between the three, whether in service of disciplinary orthodoxy or anything else, slices right through critical analytical issues of causality, and renders the assessment largely meaningless. It is my conscious intention to offer an argument that sits, perhaps uncomfortably but necessarily, right on the border between the two disciplines.
16 An excellent short version of van Creveld’s argument can be found in “Through the Glass Darkly: Some Reflections on the Future of Warfare,” Naval War College Review (Autumn 2000). A longer treatment is Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (The Free Press, 1991).
17 William S. Lind, “Understanding Fourth Generation Warfare,” at www.lewrockwell.com/lind/lind3b.html, accessed November 2, 2005.
18 Similar ideas are at work in some of the most radical visions of information warfare, which a few analysts have extended to cover what would seem to be socioeconomic harassment, or crime, or terrorism. One canonical text of the paradigm proposes a concept called “Netwar,” which is defined as “conflicts short of war involving actors who may or may not be military.” Its key characteristic is that “at least one of the protagonists, usually a nonstate actor, organizes as a network rather than a hierarchy.” The emphasis is on the nonhierarchical, information-based organizations characteristic of the exuberant pronouncements of social revolution that emerged during the mid-1990s flirtation with an “information age” form of business. As examples, the authors point to the “leaderless resistance” of Mohamed Farah Aidid’s networked clan fighters in Somalia, transnational criminal organizations, and NGO activism. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, The Advent of Netwar (Rand, 1996), 1, 4, 9, and 57.
19 William S. Lind, John F. Schmitt, and Gary I. Wilson, “Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look,” Marine Corps Gazette ( December 1994).
20 Thomas X. Hammes, “Insurgency: Modern Warfare Evolves Into a Fourth Generation,” Institute for National Strategic Studies Strategic Forum, National Defense University, Washington, D.C. (January 2005); available at http://www.ndu.edu/inss/strforum/SF214/SF214.pdf.
21 For an example from Roman times, see Vincent J. Goulding, Jr., “Back to the Future with Asymmetric Warfare,” Parameters (Winter 2000–2001).
22 The literature on these various trends is beyond voluminous. For some especially paradigmatic and insightful treatments, see Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (Blackwell, 1996); Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization (Princeton University Press, 1997); Tomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (Anchor Books, 2000); and Jean-Marie Guehenno, The End of the Nation State (University of Minnesota Press, 1995). The best source for facts and figures about the progress of democratization is Freedom House; see www.freedomhouse.org/ratings/index.htm.
23 This is a heroically brief summary of enormously complex social trends. For a representative survey of sources that make a similar case, see Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton University Press, 1999); Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism (W. W. Norton, 2003); Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (Penguin, 2004); Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God (HarperCollins, 2003).
24 For my earlier argument on this, see “The Psychological Sources of Islamic Terrorism,” Policy Review 125 (June–July 2004).
25 Critics of overweening presidential power will reply that the Iraq war was made, in the end, by one man: George W. Bush. But he was only able to make it, at least in the fashion that he did, because of the tacit or active support he received from a traumatized people. An America untouched by 9–11 might have considered tougher steps against Saddam Hussein, who was, after all, a monster. But it would never, I think it fair to say, have gone along so docilely with a preemptive, unilateral invasion of a country of 25 million people.
26 This is why I disagree with the use, by Tony Corn and other thoughtful commentators, of the term “Fourth World War,” more for perceptual than substantive reasons. I agree with the notion that a global conflict is underway, but my concern is that — whatever the true psychological origins of World War II, for example — the phrase cannot help conjuring images of tank divisions and air campaigns. The idea of a world-war-as-traditional-war is so ingrained that the phrase will inevitably mislead, and help to generate precisely the policy responses we ought to be trying to avoid.
27 A brilliant argument against waging “war” on terrorism can be found in Richard E. Rubenstein, Alchemists of Revolution: Terrorism in the Modern World (Basic Books, 1987); see, for example, xvi, 36, and 202.
28 Lee Harris, “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology,” Policy Review 114 (August–September) 2002.
29 In this, we are merely matching the long-time recognition of several Islamist groups like Hamas which, as Tony Corn recognizes, combine military operations with “relief work and hate media”; Corn, “World War IV as Fourth Generation Warfare.” Perhaps there is a new Clausewitzian trinity to be unearthed here — instead of the people, the army, and the government, the new trinity would focus on elements underlying psychological health — something like social opportunity, information, and national dignity.
30 On this model interestingly, the greatest transitional risks in the emergence of a new Iraq might not be during the next year, but three or five or ten years from now, in the midst of some sort of major global or regional economic crisis, when a Weimaresque Iraqi regime becomes the focus of long-simmering humiliation and frustration.