Capt. Michael Junge, U.S. Navy
Defense future of war entrant
On January 22nd, Tom
opened up his "future of war contest." Two days later, he posted about
Churchill, the tank, and the airplane. The short yet thought-provoking post
included this gem: "As a general I know says: all warfare is a lethal
version of Rock-Paper-Scissors."
The juxtaposition of the two stuck in my brain
and I did what Mark Twain advised -- when I feel like writing I lie down until
the feeling goes away. While I am no longer lying down, the feeling did not go
away. How can someone ask on Wednesday for
thoughts on the future of warfare and on Friday put forward such a simplistic idea as
"all warfare is a lethal version of Rock-Paper-Scissors"? Aren't the two ideas
Actually, they aren't. Well, that's not true. If
you are a real RMA-believing, innovation-pushing tech warrior, then the idea
that war is synonymous with Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) is anathema. But,
when you pull back a bit, that simple child's game tells us so much about the future
For common understanding, as well as for the one
or two who have never heard of the game, RPS is a game played by two people who
simultaneously make one of three shapes with their hands, a closed fist (rock),
a downward facing palm (paper), or the index and middle finger extended
(scissors). The hierarchy of victory is circular. Rock smashes scissors,
scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock.
This is where the RBIPTW says "with a sharp
enough pair of scissors I can cut that rock." Sure, and doing so violates the
rules of the game. Rules? War doesn't have any rules! Well, yes, it does. And
not the Law of Armed Conflict kind, but real, no kidding rules that have
existed since the beginning of warfare and will continue into the future.
1. The rules exist. They can be modified, but
not thrown away.
2. Whoever has more bullets than enemy soldiers
3. Victory isn't about killing the enemy. It's
about fixing the problem that led to the war.
4. The key to winning is in recognizing and
exploiting non-random behavior.
This rule is like that wonderful witticism of
"Rule No. 1: The captain is always right. Rule No. 2: If the captain is wrong,
see Rule No. 1." There are basics of rules. Operational art and its reliance on
the factors of time, space, and force show how the interplay of variables has
existed since the beginning of warfare. No matter how many times someone says
"it's all different now," it really isn't.
has more bullets than enemy soldiers wins.
All war remains based on attrition. Each side
seeks to attrite the other's soldiers, resources, or will to fight. That hasn't
changed. It won't change.
isn't about killing the enemy. It's about fixing the problem that led to the
War can be about all sorts of things. While many
cold warriors think that winning is about killing the other guy (getting the
other poor dumb bastard to die for his country), the reality is that warfare is
political and the only way to resolve the conflict -- to win the war -- is to
address the underlying condition that led to the war. Drones, nukes, k-bars,
limpets, Molotov cocktails, IEDs don't address the underlying condition of the
conflict. People address the underlying condition.
The key to
winning is in recognizing and exploiting non-random behavior.
This is where we come back to RPS. Unlike coin
tosses, RPS has an element of randomness to it. In general, opponents devolve
to non-random actions. The person who favors rock over the other two options
will return to rock often enough that his opponent can eventually counter with
paper. Numerous computer programming contests
have shown that computers can be programmed to defeat human players -- unless
that human player is playing completely randomly. How rare is that? While
political science is replete with the concept of rational actors, how common is
the irrational actor? When one remembers that rationality is bounded and learns
to look at the opponent's actions in relation to what the opponent seeks to
achieve (like lying about WMD to stay in power) we can predict what will happen
next. Having the resolve to act, well, that's another issue altogether.
So, what does the future of warfare look like? Pretty
much like the last four millenia. One group will insist that the nature of
warfare hasn't changed while another insists that everything is different. And
like all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Capt. Michael Junge
is a military professor at the Naval War College. The opinions expressed here
are his own and not necessarily those of the college, the Navy, the Navy
Department, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.
Tom note: Got
your own views of the future of war? Consider submitting an essay. The contest remains open for at least another few weeks.
Try to keep it short -- no more than 750 words, if possible. And please, no
footnotes or recycled war college papers.