Air University Review, March-April 1984
The Commission concludes that state-sponsored terrorism is an important part of the spectrum of warfare and that adequate response to this increasing threat requires an active national policy which seeks to deter attack or reduce its effectiveness.
Long Commission Report,
Part Nine, Section III.C
IN The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn argued that the day-to-day developments of a science are governed largely by its paradigm, an intellectual framework that includes such things as the body of knowledge comprising the science and the rules governing the conduct of research. The paradigm in large measure shapes the scientist's world view and dictates the research questions he will ask, thus determining the direction in which the science will develop. At times in the development of a science, explanations of phenomena provided within the paradigm become esthetically displeasing to the practitioners. All the phenomena can still be explained within the paradigm; but, because the explanations are so complex, they are no longer convincing. At this point a paradigm crisis exists and the science is ready for a revolutionary change that will send it in a new (revolutionary) direction. Today, a similar situation seems to prevail with regard to the paradigm of warfare that is accepted in the Western world.
For some time now, Western states have tended to view war within a Clausewitzian framework in which violence is considered legitimate only when it occurs in the course of the relations between recognized, established states; war is an extension of the relations between states by violent means. Within this paradigm, it has been possible to differentiate clearly between war and peace, between combatants and noncombatants. War existed when two or more states "agreed" to fight by declaring war on one another; otherwise, nations were at peace. Combatants were those who served in the armed forces of a nation and were the only legitimate human targets in war.
As the limits of warfare expanded in the twentieth century, we began to speak of a spectrum of war with guerrilla war on one extreme and nuclear war on the other. Still, all of this could be made to fit within the confines of the Clausewitzian paradigm. Clausewitz had recognized that war at least tended toward absolute violence. Furthermore, he had commented on an example of guerrilla war which he said was "a broadening and intensification of the fermentation process known as war." (Book VI, Chapter 26)
But while these developments still fit within the established framework of war, things were becoming crowded and intellectually uncomfortable. For one thing, the advent of long-range bombing made it increasingly difficult to separate combatants from noncombatants as nations sought to use air power to win wars by destroying resources and undermining a people's support for a war effort.
With the appearance of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missile systems, this development seems to have reached some sort of illogical conclusion where nuclear war would result in mutual annihilation of the adversaries and thus serve no rational end of policy. This was why Bernard Brodie declared in 1946 that armed forces can no longer have a rational reason for existence other than to deter war. Here seemed to be a basic break in the continuity between politics and war that is fundamental to the Clausewitzian view of war.
Nevertheless, in the real world of international relations, conventional wars are still fought in support of national policies. However, in the interest of controlling popular passions and for other reasons, nations have taken to fighting without declaring wars. Increasingly, states engage in political, economic, and technological conflicts that blur into warfare through a host of half-tones that obscure the traditionally sharp focus of war.
At the low end of the warfare spectrum, terrorism (state-sponsored or otherwise) poses an equally perplexing challenge to the Clausewitzian paradigm. Terrorists, however well trained, are not soldiers in the usual sense of the word; they present no military structure for conventional armed forces to attack. The target of terrorism can be anyone, regardless of nationality, political views, and affiliation with the military. Terrorists' goals can vary from securing publicity for their organization and gaining freedom for "political prisoners" to eliminating an effective leader and toppling an established government.
These and other developments seem to have increased the complexity of military phenomena to the point where they no longer fit into the procrustean bed of Western, Clausewitzian thinking. The time would seem ripe for the appearance of a new unifying synthesis of modern military thought, a new paradigm of war, that can accommodate twentieth-century trends in war.
A start in that direction may already be under way if Alexander Atkinson's Social Order and the General Theory of Strategy is any indication. This difficult but richly suggestive book argues that the Western approach to war involves an unspoken agreement to respect the basic social order of an enemy state while attacking the enemy's armed forces which are seen as his center of power. More modern forms of warfare, such as Mao's people's war, involve what Atkinson refers to as an armed invasion of the social order that has as its goal a basic reordering of the social structure. Since the social structure is the real base of a nation's power, this is a more fundamental approach to war that cuts the ground from under the Western approach. In Atkinson's view, a force using armed invasion of the social order would defeat an enemy that employs the Western approach to war.
Atkinson's ideas cast a new light on Brodie's 1946 observations concerning the use of armed forces. Perhaps Brodie was right, but for the wrong reasons. In today's state of "peaceful coexistence," armies may merely prevent or limit open warfare, while at the more fundamental level of the social order, nations compete and evolve in a gigantic, Darwinian-like struggle for survival. In such a competition between a wide-open, liberal Western society and a rigid, closed society, blue jeans and rock music might prove more powerful than tanks and airplanes, although tanks and airplanes are no less necessary.
In a science, a faulty paradigm can lead practitioners to overlook or misinterpret key phenomena. Similar oversights can occur in the case of a faulty military paradigm, as this passage from the Long Commission Report suggests: "From a terrorist perspective, the true genius of this attack [on the Marine barracks] is that the objective and means of attack were beyond the imagination of those responsible for Marine security." (Part Nine, Section I.C.)
This issue of the Review examines some of the changes that are afoot in international conflict. We hope that it will contribute to the rethinking of the Western military paradigm.
D. R. B.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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