I owe the Faceless Bureaucrat my thanks for blazing the trail on the topic of what constitutes a state of war. (1) Is Kings of War on something of an existential trip? I am not at all certain I am qualified to answer that, but at the very least there is an urge to get back to the roots of our subject to consider, what is war?
The overwhelming response to the “Casus Chaos” post (both on this comment board and off) hinged upon the issue of what followed. The scenario only amounted to war if it were accompanied by some declaration by a legal entity. I wonder at the strength of this requirement. So I want to use this piece to explore further what constitutes war with respect to the role legal declarations play, as well as the intent and tactics of combatants. If we consider how these aspects of war can evolve as a shifting international landscape changes the terms of geopolitics it may in fact be that the casus chaos becomes war.
Addressing first the sense that a declaration of war was necessary to give meaning to actions and events, I understand and empathize with the historical logic of this. And I cannot deny that it is also rather comforting to rely upon the enemy to do us the favour of announcing his identity, location, and intentions.
But who really believes we can expect logic and comfort from war? These are not characteristics for which it is generally known. (2) Furthermore, the only constant in war is that it changes. As historians have chronicled the modern decline in the importance of set piece battles to war, perhaps it is time to consider whether a similar fate awaits set piece wars as well. Ramping up one’s economy and armed forces and sending the troops off to war is costly in every respect. More importantly, it also may be of increasingly less service to policy.
Thus, although the proper and formal declaration of war has been the norm for the past so many centuries, there is more than enough room to argue that this standard may be on the wane. Doubt this? When was the last American declaration of war? How many conflicts has the US been party to notwithstanding? Yes, let us be clear, declarations of war are not really the sine qua non of war, certainly not across its broad spectrum of types.
Clearly, then, we must accept that the absence of a formal declaration need not mean that war – the continuation of policy by other means – does not exist. Returning to the scenario put forward in “Casus Chaos,” there must be a point when such acts rise to the level of war, in fact if not in law. Were a country to discern the intentions of a state or other entity after six months of such a low level siege, where calculable economic and other harm has been done, it would be justified claiming them as acts of war and responding in self-defence. Nevertheless, in such a world where the line between war and peace is made faint or blurry, apprehending the proper state will be difficult.
To assert a changing character of warfare, generally, would argue for flux in the objective of war as well. Whereas, for example, territorial acquisition (or defence against its loss) will necessarily announce the state of war, such brazen intentions may no longer be the norm.
Undeclared wars of low level chaos would serve incremental objectives. War as an act of weakening the enemy could look very different than what we have come to expect. Moderated attacks upon infrastructure, markets, confidence, and so forth will not devastate, but over time they will shift the balance of international power.
Such warfare could be used to shift a negotiating calculus prior to treaty talks. It may also do nicely for political and regime change. (3) Or it may be that a small country wants to punish a larger, stronger one. Obviously it could not confront the other on the conventional field of battle – and has no theatre in which to conduct an insurgency. However, incremental warfare is well within the capabilities of any entity. (4)
If we alter the nature of war in these ways, then the tactics and strategies can change as well. Within undeclared incremental warfare, military activities will look different from what we are used to. Sorry, I can’t afford a cruise missile, so I’ll make my military point with ten Suburbans crashed at various critical nodes. Why spend billions building bombers or missiles when a vehicle – and a used one at that – will do? Arms races will become about who can do more with less.
The easiest and cheapest activity is havoc, particularly in urban terrain. As societies collect into heaving masses of soft targets with massive potential energy for injurious chaos, the potential strategic effectiveness of the activity increases. With chaos the city can be made to crush itself with relatively little effort.
And why not? Warfare on the cheap aimed at the critical strategic core of an opponent – its people, its home and its wealth – using the weight of its own fragile mega-cities against itself seems eminently sensible to me. It is a far more sophisticated application of precision to warfare than simply getting a bomb to land in the right place.
In sum, if historical trends are driving things to a point where declared war no longer serves the needs nor is necessary, perhaps it is because war no longer necessarily requires the clash of armies to serve policy, because war is becoming about incrementalism, moderate acts that shift and shape the behaviour of an opponent or those who might be watching. That is, we are in a paradigm shift. [Please, someone smack me for writing that.] If this is what war looks in then chaos tactics are in.
In which case, we need to rethink everything. (5)
(1) http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2013/02/declarations-of-war-the-real-unreal-and-hyperreal/ The rise of the super-hero pundit is fascinating. I wonder if there is a secret annual conference? Does the Faceless Bureaucrat know Doctrine Man!!? The questions, oh the questions.
(2) No, war is smart, bitter, tempestuous (though also occasionally dull), and, perhaps I will be chastised for such lightness, it has a wicked sense of humour. You may definitely want to drink with war (once!), but you would never bring it home for dinner.
(3) Let’s be honest, I would do this to China – if my intent were to bring about regime change there. Historically the central authorities have not fared well in the face of dispersed chaos.
(4) Who doesn’t think it’s possible that Mexico or Columbia might consider allowing the cartels to survive because as bad as they are at home, they are a significant cost to the US. (Can Al Qaeda rent Cartel logistics?)
(5) If I seem giddy at the prospect it is only for the intellectual repast such a change would present, a Las Vegas buffet of material and issues to consider.