By Jeff Williams
Best Defense future
of war entry
So we have the question of what will future war look like? In
our look at war, it is difficult to think of a conflict that transformed itself
into an event so completely different from the early notions of all the
combatants at its outset than the First World War. By contrast, the Second
World War -- excluding the development of nuclear fission -- seems in
retrospect more a qualitative refinement of the notions, concepts, and
appliances of war developed in 1914 -1918.
That experience leads one to wonder if a new war will end up
being as much of a surprise how it unfolds as World War I was to its warring
contenders? Will we find that our nation's current stock of weapons and
doctrines are more of a look back into the past, or that they are a discerning
glimpse into the future?
Could our preconceptions about how a future war will evolve
be confirmed much in the same manner as the U.S. Navy's pre-World War II wargaming
which foretold the actual pattern of the Central Pacific offensive, leading to
Japan's doorstep? Like previous wars, will we have time to correct material and
doctrinal shortcomings or will we be stuck with the force we have rather than
the one we need?
In history we find if not explicit answers to our questions,
at least some plausible hints about future war. In the First World War, the
process of rethinking war began with the very first encounter battles in
Alsace. These rethinks did not always lead to success, but nonetheless
continued throughout the war for all sides so that the end of the war was a
very different thing than its beginning. Virtually all the preconceptions and
notions about what war would look like in August of 1914 were violently torn
away and the war took a course of its own, as wars tend to do.
Traditionally, the shifting dynamics of war have played to
America's strong suit of innovation, flexibility and great organizational
aptitude. Yet one cannot help but wonder if in a future war we may not have the
time to regroup and realign our forces to whatever the stark new reality
happens to be.
Will connectivity, networks, and profuse real-time
communications ease the burden on commanders as is intended or, ironically,
will they have the opposite effect? Too much information and too little time
could make for a whole host of difficulties that may dramatically shape the
character of future war.
However, one aspect of the phenomenon of war remains
absolute to this day and will as long as man uses war as an instrument of
policy. The character and the nature of war may change but Clausewitz's dictum
that "the ultimate objective of war is to impose your will upon the enemy" will
remain firm and unchallenged.
If war is in our future, what we will require from our
leadership is, in Clausewitz's fine phrase, "a far-reaching act of judgment" to
appreciate the kind of war they are embarking on and not mistake it for
something other than it is. Not as easy as it sounds, but in the long run
probably the single most crucial consideration the state can make once a
decision for war has been made.
Jeff Williams is a
retired Wall Street type.