Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Coming of Post-Industrial War

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the first decade of the new millennium, were possibly the last of the industrial wars that we have experienced over three centuries or thereabout. The side with the industrial might, not with most men, won. What counted is the firepower, and the training and equipment that the men carried, not how many men one had lined up. The format, perfected over the last hundred years or so, was to bomb the enemy out of the existence first, before sending out the infantry. In the last years of the doctrine, increasingly, the manned flights are being replaced by the unmanned ones and the race is on to replace infantry, at least in the more dangerous tasks, with robots of some sort. When this transformation is complete, the art of industrial warfare will reach its peak.

But, I shall argue, that this peak will be reached long after the decline has already started. That is not unusual. The technological peak is often achieved often after the social necessity of the particular area or doctrine has started declining. In fact, if market economies are supposed to address one anomaly, it is this: The market economy can be one of the many defenses of a society against wasteful investment in technological investment. The military-industrial complex of the United States and the Western World may soon be up against the norms of market economy, therefore. The fact that the Tories are having a hard time making up their minds on Trident, Britain's nuclear deterrent, is one such thing. They have already let Harriet jets die. The message is clear: The requirements of national defense, and even international adventures, are changing.

While this trend is clear and there is some sort of consensus already on the subject, less clear is the shape of things to come. Alvin Toffler spoke about Information Warfare, but he was not really being futuristic: Joseph Goebbels took the art of propaganda at the heart of the German wehrmacht half a century ago. And, because of this legacy, and widespread practice of information warfare in major wars like Korea and Vietnam, it should be counted very much as a part of industrial warfare than the precursor of post-industrial ones. In fact, if anything, the undermining of information warfare, by the likes of Wikileaks and amateur videos from Abu Ghraib, points to the coming of post-industrial war. If anyone sees the virtualization of war, like the deployment of drones which made combat piloting not unlike the playing of video games, which can be played sitting in a middle class office against enemies who look like ants from the birds eye view camera of the drone, as the post-industrial warfare, it is the wrong categorization. The drones would not be possible without the might and sophistication of an advanced industrial nation. They should be seen as the highest stage of industrial warfare, the one which establishes supreme advantages of industrial production over human heroics.

The industrial warfare needed scale, and the warfare was played out between large entities, states or group of states, pitted out against each other. The bigness of it ended up making industrial war irrelevant. Russians were more powerful than Americans in a way: They could wipe out America ten times over during the cold war days. However, as an American General quipped, America needed to wipe out Soviet Union only once. The industrial war needed industrial politics - a big wide brush to define enemies in a macroscopic scale, something like a nation is the least one could do with.

So, then, what would be post-industrial warfare? In a way, the post-modern conception that difference is the only sameness may be a good starting point. The nations have stopped becoming enemies. While the technologies of war demanded scale, the politics of the war, to be deployed against groups of people meshed within diverse communities, made them increasingly irrelevant. Cluster Bombs became irrelevant before they become banned; Landmines were counter-productive as wars of territorial aggression may become out of date. It is not simply a precision issue anymore; it is a politics issue.

However, I am not suggesting that this means an end of hard power. Indeed, there is more violence in the world today than ever was, and the ubiquity, not rarity, of weapons possession is a feature of every modern society. Just that the war has become personalized, and reached beyond the army lines to homes, buses, schools and airports, and everyone has become a combatant of sorts, in the post-industrial warfare. The nations as defined, and definable, enemies are melting away, as in Afghanistan, and a confusing mesh of Yemeni tribes. Somalian Pirates, Russian Mafiosi, Irish Anarchists, Japanese Cults, American Corporate Armies and Pakistani Warlords are running the business of today's warfare. The politics of non-state actors have reached the supremely industrial game of warfare, and the rules have already started changing.

Sadly, ideas change slower than the reality, and our thinking is still defined by yesterday's constructs. So, it is still fashionable to see the Chinese and the Americans competing, either directly or through proxy powers such as India and Pakistan. Notwithstanding modern economics, which is driving the nations towards peace (economic interests, rather than 'shared democratic values, keep nations away from war most effectively), some of the nations continue to invest heavily in the technologies, armies and institutions of mass warfare. They have already been caught completely unprepared when they were drawn into today's warfare (Mumbai Massacre in November 2008, for example). The lines between internal and external security of a nation is irrelevant now, and in fact counter-productive, as Americans painfully found out in 2001. But such structures continue to persist, and so does the rhetoric of securing one's borders, as if that is a fixed thing.

I am no futurist, but I see the post-industrial war being played out on the networks, Internet and the mobile. Not unlike the Die Hard movie, the war will arrive not on a rogue North Korean missile, but from the transport, utility and mobile networks. The destruction will not be played out in lives, but in the minds. The modern state is a trust network, and trust runs everything, from financial networks to the legal systems. The undoing of trust will undo nations (as it almost did for Greece), and imagine the new warfare to be based on trust factor more than force factor more than ever.

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