Nature of Conflict and Conflict Capabilities

If one were to go to Wikipedia, then you would see that there are 32 different types of warfare listed. Why are certain types of warfare prevalent in certain periods and not in others? I postulate that warfare is always changing to some degree because of a trinity of factors composed of developments in technology, the intangibles of leadership, and the influence that public opinion can have on leadership decisions.

Warfare is forced to evolve when there are new developments in arms & armaments or if there are new applications of the current arms & armaments. For example, it was revolutionary back in medieval times when armored knights mounted on armored horses made their appearance on the battlefield. The shock and awe in battle caused by a group of mounted knights as they charged down on infantry was thought to be the pinnacle of military weapons at that time. Infantry was thought to be obsolete, but as mankind is a cunning and resourceful sort of fellow, a change in infantry tactics like using a phalanx formation along with old weapons like the pole arm countered the almighty effectiveness of those mounted medieval knights. A smart infantry opponent could also choose a field of battle at either higher elevation or in an area that limited movement in order to negate the strengths of the mounted knight. The end result is that warfare has evolved to a combined arms approach in order to support each other and reduce vulnerabilities.

Another big factor in what type of warfare is prevalent is based on the leadership of that time. To see this, one can look to the type of warfare promoted by Osaka bin Laden (OBL). OBL studied America and he advocated asymmetric warfare against the U.S. because he knew that his forces could not go toe to toe against our numerically and technologically superior conventional forces. Obi’s “war of a thousand cuts” strategy is brilliant against the U.S. because it is cost effective and because the plan does not necessarily need OBL’s leadership now that he is dead. The 9/11 operation cost approximately $500,000 for Al-Qaeda to carry out. The cost to America the day of 9/11 and afterwards is estimated to be $500 billion. Another leader that has chosen to alter the type of warfare fought against an opponent is President Barack Hussein Obama. President Obama has significantly increased the usage of drone strikes instead of using traditional boots on the ground forces like special operations units to kill terrorists in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. President Obama’s decision to use drones instead of troops on the ground is because a drone can remain aloft for hours which can help confirm whether a target is hostile and if the target is alone. Also, drone strikes allow more oversight and reduce the risk of losing American lives if they had conducted the operation on the ground.

The last factor of the trinity that affects warfare is the public will. The support or lack of support of the nation’s public can also influence how one wages warfare against an opponent. For example, America’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has led the public to grow weary of war. One of President Obama’s major campaign promises was to end America’s war in Iraq and to bring all U.S. soldiers back home and he accomplished that in 2011. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that ISIS and ISIL militant fighters made significant territorial gains in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Fearing backlash from public opinion and from Democratic Party supporters, President Obama declined to commit U.S. troops for ground combat to intervene in the current Syrian crisis or in Iraq because in the public’s eye that would mean that he was no different from President Bush. Instead, President Obama approved limited air strikes against ISIS/ISIL targets utilizing manned aircraft and armed drones. The U.S. still has not directly intervened in the Syrian crisis even though that crisis has worsened and spread throughout the region. President Obama’s fear of committing political suicide due to the lack of American public pressure for intervention into Syria is an example of how public opinion can shape a leader’s reaction to a crisis.

In conclusion, Carl von Clausewitz’s remarkable trinity can be applied to help us understand why certain types of warfare are prevalent in certain periods and not in others. In this case, the holy trinity is made up of developments in military technology (the armed services), the intangibles of leadership (the government), and the influence that public opinion (the people) can have on leadership decisions. How the legs of this trinity are factored into warfare decisions can have profound positive or negative affects in the implementation and results of warfare. There is no magical axiom that can always be applied to war. Warfare is kind of like investing in the stock market. Past performance is no guarantee of future success. Sun Tzu’s advice is to “take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.” Adversaries will do their due diligence and study past actions and behavior in search of exploitable weaknesses. The use of cyber viruses, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and “dirty” suitcase bombs can easily upset the current status quo of world power. If those types of attacks occur, then does that mean that we would abandon our weapons and our way of doing things in order to combat the new type of warfare? We would not totally abandon our weapons and our way of doing things, but there would definitely be adjustments made to counter the new threat. Change is normal for warfare. That is why certain types of warfare are prevalent in certain periods while not in others.

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