Character of Wars in 21st Century – Kamal Kapoor

Defining War

Every age has its own kind of limiting conditions, its own preconditions and its own preconceptions. But war in all ages can be defined as the contest of human wills in which the sponsor wishes to subjugate the will of the opponent through all kinetic and non kinetic means available at his disposal. However, application of this definition mandates different rules of engagement for different countries based on their political behavior and aspirations where they construe what constitutes war or an act of war.

 Questioning the Relevance of Wars

Wars shall remain relevant in all ages and times due to the nature of trinity they represent where culture, ideology and economy would be the fulcrum of the wars. However, the character and not the nature of war changes with changes in technology, means of waging full spectrum wars or choosing from a range of options available to wage wars.

Wars will be fought in all geographical, spaces as well in space and cyber space and most importantly in the space between the two ears, that is the mind space, as also in the hearts and minds of the people and the civil population. It will be technologically intensive, ambiguous and complex. It shall be fought on all fronts – infact there would be no fronts at all.

Wars will remain relevant as long as geographical, ideological, economic and social boundaries continue to divide nations. As per analysts, in the 21st century, social, economic and resource wars shall take precedence over geographical wars.

Despite nuclear deterrence being in place, space exists for hybrid wars across the entire range of conflicts the world over. The basic quest of nations push them to wars and hence the relevance of wars in all domains of inter state activity would remain a live possibility. The changes in technology and RMA have only changed the character of war but its essential nature of being the test of human wills remains constant.

In all conflicts of future, all legitimate as well as illegitimate weapons/means would be used and the one who wins is strong and one who looses is weak. In use of Hybrid War as a strategy of the weak or strong, there is no distinction; strong or weak is in the minds of the men, political will and the people’s character.  It may reflect asymmetry in fire power or machinery.

Basic nature or relevance of war does not change, what changes is the character of war, and it changes not only because of the technology of that particular age, it also changes because of the political, social and the economic context in which that generation is operating and is trying to achieve its political objective.   Therefore, ‘Why do nations so furiously wage wars’? It is because of the human dimension, because the human dimension is able to reason creatively what we are made of, or is it because of the greed, or it may very well be on account of the domination.  It is basically the human dimension which ensures war does occur and it operates between the probability of chance and success.

Why War Continues to be an Option

An examination of some 21st century context and where do we place war thus becomes mandatory.  Firstly is the matter of globalization which is very well known to us – intertwined economies.  So far, we only looked at globalization in a very positive perspective.  We are also seeing the impact of globalization in the negative perspective, as we see today.  The interests are becoming much more extended, because the economies and the development of human needs are interlinked.  There is this notion of geography, which is getting compressed because of the information due to C4I2SR revolution and the growing influence of technology.  If this technology is again in the negative sense, in the form of technologies which are associated with the catastrophic events or disruptive technologies, the impact is going to be much wider.  We are also seeing a power transition among states – two world powers, sole super power and you now see a large number of powers.  Along with the transition of power amongst states, we are also seeing the diffusion of power taking place from state to non-state actors.  On the horizon is the diminishing of the West Phalian system under which the nation states came into existence and also declining threshold of national sovereignty.  The weapons of mass destruction have reduced the number of interstate wars.  What is actually coming along is the rise in conflicts which involve the rise of sub national interests.  We see privatization of  the war and emergence of non-state actors, and also these non-state actors being enabled and impacted by the radical ideologies with access to finance and open source technologies.  Media intrusiveness and transparency is raising the bar of international law and spread of common values and norms of international behaviour on the use of military power.  Lastly, the most important issue is what we are witnessing today in this inter-connected world; there is a great amount of thinking and feeling that instead of looking at ‘power of one over the other’ we need to look at ‘power with others’.

The information operations are no longer subordinate to the ‘force on force’ campaign.  In fact, the information campaign has shifted to a strategic campaign and the use of force is playing a subservient role in the case of fourth generation warfare.  This is a major change, in the way in which the character of warfare has evolved over a period of time.  Of course, the targets selected are those that have mental and moral impact, and eventually the aim is to destroy the moral cohesion of the society.

When we look at the last thirty years or so, there are a number of ways in which the wars have been waged and the countries that have participated.  On to one side are the state actors, on the other side are the non-state irregulars and somewhere in between is the state sponsored hybrid warfare.  If we look at the organizations, weapons and command and control, we find the subtle difference which is occurring.  When we sum it up, we find that there is an increase in the irregular conflict and technology threshold in the hands of non-state actors.  So are they different? Can they be compartmentalized or separated? If they cannot and if they converge, then we have a much larger issue to address.

Soldiering being the oldest profession has and will always contribute towards nations flexing their might to subjugate others to meet their political ends. While strategies of warfare are changing war as an option is the last resort available to nations. There is no pacifist assessment which disproves this theory. The character of war though has changed in the 21st Century.

Firstly, let us look at the regularity of this irregular form which is being played out in the spectrum of operations.  As far as we people in the Armed Forces are concerned, we find that war is a condition between states, everything is legislated, drills, orders, procedures, SOPs; it is very very regimented.  But irregular is against the basic rules.  It involves potentially illegal methods and we are dealing with asymmetrical powers, it has become a war of choice for an outmatched adversary.  Therefore, while a state on state collision may be possible when there are two symmetrical powers, but while dealing with a much weightier opponent, it may become necessary to deal with him in an irregular manner.

To quote Max Boot, from his book ‘War Made New’ published in 2001, ‘The boundaries between “regular” and “irregular” warfare are blurring.  Even non-state groups are increasingly gaining access to the kinds of weapons, which were once the exclusive preserve of states.  And even states will increasingly turn to unconventional strategies to blunt the impact of conventional might’.  And what is this irregular component doing? It is hitting at the weakness and capability gap of the opponents after analyzing as to where exactly the weakness lies.  As far as the Indian Army is concerned, our doctrine talks about the irregular warfare and it says, that it may take many forms, of which Terrorism and Guerilla war are two important ones.  Irregular warfare implies infrequency.  What we see in a military conflict is that, ‘what is happening most infrequently is the most common thing’.  It is a common saying that no war survives contact because it is a matter of human will and adaptation.  Therefore, nothing is constant; everything is changing, especially when a clash occurs.  It is a military event that departs from the set piece, and so it may be an irregular component or an irregular activity, but when we plan or plot, it becomes very regular because it occurs most frequently.  It is distinct from regular, it is a fight amongst the people and it limits the utility of conventional application of military power.  In its execution, irregulars employ physical, economic, or psychological subversion, attrition and exhaustion to erode the power and will of the adversary.

 Warfare Domains

When regular forces conduct regular activities, it is an act of war.  This is just 25 % of the warfare domain space.  But, when we look at the balance, it is either irregular force carrying out regular activity, or an irregular force carrying out an irregular activity which occupies the maximum amount of space in the spectrum of operations.  Therefore, the irregular domain is much larger as it occupies 75% of the warfare domain space.  To summarize the observations; firstly, regular warfare occupies only 25% of the quadrant, where as 75% lies in the irregular warfare domain.  Secondly, it does not have any fixed character; its irregularity is determined by specific historical and cultural circumstances.  Thirdly, the elements of tactical asymmetry have been critical elements of warfare; regular and irregular war coexisted in the same theatre of operations or in a different theatre.

Lastly, treating such warfare as ‘irregular’ and dissociated from ‘regular’ warfare diminishes the understanding of both.  This is very important, because when we talk about irregular warfare, we tend to ignore this aspect as we are looking at state on state wars or conventional armies fighting each other.  We must look at how the irregulars fight, and then see whether our doctrine and training encompasses this aspect or not.  If we dissociate ourselves with the way the irregulars fight and impact the regulars, then we will not be coming to a definite and a wholesome conclusion.

When we look at conventional warfare, we see the military and the government fighting the population, but, when we see the irregular form of warfare, we find that it is the government and the population that is fighting the military.  If we combine conventional, irregulars, terrorists and criminals it encompasses the whole spectrum because it consists of trans and intra state warfare which co-exist and is referred to as the Hybrid War.  Dividing them into neat distinctions will give us both deductive and inductive errors in understanding of the character of war.

The Efficacy and Relevance of the Hybrid Construct

 Let us now move on from the irregular to the hybrid construct.  Hybrid warfare construct lies in the centre of irregular, conventional, terrorism and criminal activities.  Hybrid construct indicates that these forms of warfare are interconnected, unpredictable, combined with traditional, mixed with irregular, applied simultaneously and adaptively in time and space.  Hoffman spoke of hybrid war and said that it comprises of conventional capability as well as irregular tactics and formations, it includes terrorist acts and criminal disorder.  Both could have disruptive or catastrophic capability, and so it changes the character of warfare again and thus becomes full spectrum warfare.  It is conducted by same or different units or entities in the same time and space.  It can be coordinated at the strategic, operational and tactical levels in the main battle space.  Therefore, the co-ordination is more likely to be at the three levels and that also will depend upon how fast we go, based on the decisions that are taken.  If we do not give adequate time to the enemy, he will not be able to coordinate these activities, but, if the enemy is given more time, he will be able to plan and coordinate both the regular and irregular activities at the three levels.

The Wars of the Cities – The Psychological Construct

The battle space would include the burgeoning cities of the developing world where large demographic shifts have taken place, the dimension both physical (enemy) and psychological (population) because it is no more merely a state on state and so it is not just the destruction of military might.  That is the reason that ‘People are the Centre of Gravity’ in all forms of war.  To achieve this, the synergistic effects in the physical and psychological dimension of conflict are necessary.  To further amplify, it would be pertinent to say that within the complete zone of operations or the continued extent from war to peace, we tend to see this activity separately.  War and peace, combatants and non combatants, kinetic and non kinetics, state and non-state actors, we tend to see these distinctly.  Distinct is the traditional or conventional warfare and convergence is terrorism, insurgency and irregular warfare.  In the case of hybrid war, it is blurring the distinction, blending the approaches; distinct modes are no more present, whereas multiple types and simultaneous fusion is present instead of separate forms.  The issue is to select from a variety of forms to fit goals and objectives based on the need of that particular time or moment, to pick up anything out of the range of options that are available to the state to progress the war and impose the will or to seek the political advantage over the adversary.  Hoffman defines a hybrid warrior as ‘Any adversary who simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism and criminal behavior in the battle space to obtain political objective’.

 Unrestricted Warfare

After a study of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ by the Chinese Colonels Liang and Wang, we came to the conclusion that this was a work that was undertaken by them to arrive at theorems for war against the US….  again asymmetrical and counter balancing a mighty enemy.  The basic rules are that there are no rules and nothing is forbidden, because they feel that the blurring face of war which could be in the form of weapons to suit new concepts or concepts to suit new weapons could be used to achieve the desired political end state.  Economy, technology, space, internet, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods and so on; the list is unending.  What is it that they want to do? With the menu that is available on the table both in peace and war they want to achieve victory with controlled application on selective basis, based on the requirement of that particular time.  Aim is to avoid annihilation, and to an extent use non lethal and precision weapons to alter the process of war while keeping the essence unchanged which is to win.  Obviously, this has a certain amount of moorings in the Sun Tzu’s thinking.  Art of war lies in ‘Combination’ and ten thousand methods combined as one.

Indian Army’s Experience

The Indian Army has successfully dealt with the hybrid character or nature of war, which is another form of warfare, most recent being the 1971 war and the 1999 Kargil war.  However, there is a requirement of renewed awareness, thinking and also looking at our doctrines.  This can only happen, provided we start a system to imbibe the lessons of irregular warfare into our contemporary thinking of regular warfare.  Unless we do this, we will not be able to achieve our purpose of winning wars against hybrid adversary.  Out of all this, the message we want to drive is that the leaders need to undergo a change; they need to adapt themselves to the changing character of war.  We also need to take a de novo look on the aspect of doctrine, organization, equipment and training to meet the challenges of hybrid or unrestricted warfare.

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