19 October 2014

Why the Ayatollah Just Said "No"

Attached beneath my introduction are two important essays by Gareth Porter.  The first appeared in Foreign Policy and the second in IPSNews. Links to the originals are included below.
Saddam Husayn invaded Iran without warning on 22 September 1980, probably with the encouragement of the Carter Administration (see Saddam’s Green Light).  Chemical weapons were used extensively during the Iran-Iraq War (Sept 1980 - August 1988).  While it was well known that Iraq initiated their use, the mainstream media became littered with insinuations that Iran had retaliated in kind — and a general impression was created that both sides were using chemical weapons.  In retrospect, it is now widely acknowledged by scholars that Iran did not resort to chemical weapons; i.e., that only Iraq used them. See, for example, this entry in wikipedia:
At the time of the conflict, the U.N. Security Council issued statements that "chemical weapons had been used in the war." U.N. statements never clarified that only Iraq was using chemical weapons, and according to retrospective authors "the international community remained silent as Iraq used weapons of mass destruction against Iranian[s] as well as Iraqi Kurds."[40][41][42]  [emphasis added]
Nevertheless, the impression that both sides used chemical weapons persists in many quarters to this day.  It is important to remember the context of the 1980s: the Reagan Administration (1) was allied with Iraq, (2) was adept in creating narratives for the press and in pressuring the United Nations, and (3) had an interest in demonizing Iran.  
Now, fast forward to 2003: The Bush Administration convinced the American people that the US had to invade and bomb Iraq because Saddam Husayn (1) was  developing atomic weapons, (2) had demonstrated he had no compunctions against using weapons of mass destruction,  and (3) these weapons might well be given to Saddam’s Al Qaeda terrorist allies.  While the Iran-Iraq war suggested the second claim was probably true; the first and third claims were patently false, and neither represented the consensus view of the intelligence community in 2003.  The intelligence was fixed to fit the policy narrative.  Today, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis have died because of the US invasion and its consequences.  Iraq is physically in ruins and is now well on its way to disintegrating into at least three permanent-warring, quasi-tribal statelets, with a good dose of religious war to boot.  Without the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there would be no ISIS to spook the world.  ISIS units are led and trained, at least in part, by former Iraqi military officers, who were impoverished and made unemployable by the U.S. de-ba’athification policy.
A variation of the same info op that grew into the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been in play with respect to Iran for several years.  Today, similar claims vaguely conflating nuclear weapons and terrorism are being made by the U.S. and especially by Israel: namely Iran has an atomic weapons program that must be stopped, in part because Iran is the world’s most dangerous supporter of an undifferentiated blend of global Islamic terrorism.  Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 29 September 2014 speech to the UN conflating Hamas, ISIS, and Iran being perhaps the most bizarre example of this kind of narrative in action. 
So, the question of why Iran did not use chemical weapons when so strongly provoked to do so by Iraq’s chemical attacks in the Iraq-Iran war, ought to be quite relevant to any assessment of Iran’s intentions today.  
But this is a question that has not really been addressed until now.  Attached below are two very important reports by Gareth Porter, one of America’s very best investigative journalists.  In Attachment 1, Porter reveals the inside history of Iranian decisions not to use chemical weapons in the 1980-88 war on moral and legal grounds and its tight connection to the Iranian decision not to develop atomic weapons.  In Attachment 2, Porter describes a specific case of how information is being manipulated and twisted to support the contention that Iran is aggressively pursing an atomic weapons capability (the credibility of which depends in large part on one’s ignorance of the kind of information contained in Attachment 1).  Attachment 2 is also a revealing bookend to Netanyahu’s hyping of the Iranian threat in his speech to the UN. 
Chuck Spinney

—[Attachment 1: This essay first appeared in Foreign Policy]—

When the Ayatollah Said No to Nukes
In an exclusive interview, a top Iranian official says that Khomeini personally stopped him from building Iran's WMD program.
BY Gareth Porter, Foreign Policy, OCTOBER 16, 2014
[Reprinted with permission of the publisher]
The nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran, which are now nearing their November deadline, remain deadlocked over U.S. demands that Iran dismantle the bulk of its capacity to enrich uranium. The demand is based on the suspicion that Iran has worked secretly to develop nuclear weapons in the past and can't be trusted not to do so again.
Iran argues that it has rejected nuclear weapons as incompatible with Islam and cites a fatwa of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as proof. American and European officials remain skeptical, however, that the issue is really governed by Shiite Islamic principles. They have relied instead on murky intelligence that has never been confirmed about an alleged covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.
But the key to understanding Iran's policy toward nuclear weapons lies in a historical episode during its eight-year war with Iraq. 
The story, told in full for the first time here, explains why Iran never retaliated against Iraq's chemical weapons attacks on Iranian troops and civilians, which killed 20,000 Iranians and severely injured 100,000 more. And it strongly suggests that the Iranian leadership's aversion to developing chemical and nuclear weapons is deep-rooted and sincere.
A few Iranian sources have previously pointed to a fatwa by the Islamic Republic's first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, prohibiting chemical weapons as the explanation for why Iran did not deploy these weapons during the war with Iraq. But no details have ever been made public on when and how Khomeini issued such a fatwa, so it has been ignored for decades.
Now, however, the wartime chief of the Iranian ministry responsible for military procurement has provided an eyewitness account of Khomeini's ban not only on chemical weapons, but on nuclear weapons as well. 
In an interview with me in Tehran in late September, Mohsen Rafighdoost, who served as minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) throughout the eight-year war, revealed that he had proposed to Khomeini that Iran begin working on both nuclear and chemical weapons -- but was told in two separate meetings that weapons of mass destruction are forbidden by Islam. I sought the interview with Rafighdoost after learning of an interview he had with Mehr News Agency in January in which he alluded to the wartime meetings with Khomeini and the supreme leader's forbidding chemical and nuclear weapons. The interview had never been translated into English.
Rafighdoost was jailed under the Shah for dissident political activity and became a point of contact for anti-Shah activists when he got out of prison in 1978. When Khomeini returned to Tehran from Paris after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Rafighdoost became his bodyguard and head of his security detail. He was also a founding member of the IRGC and was personally involved in every major military decision taken by the corps during the Iran-Iraq War, including the initiation of Iran's ballistic missile program and creation of Hezbollah.
Despite his IRGC background, however, Rafighdoost has embraced the pragmatism of President Hassan Rouhani's government. In October 2013, he recalled in an interview that Khomeini had dissuaded him from setting up the IRGC's headquarters at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
"Why do you want to go there?" Rafighdoost recalled Khomeini as saying. "Are our disputes with the U.S. supposed to last a thousand years? Do not go there."
Rafighdoost received me in his modest office at the Noor Foundation, of which he has been chairman since 1999. Looking younger than his 74 years, he still has the stocky build of a bodyguard and bright, alert eyes.
Saddam Hussein's Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after Iran repelled the initial Iraqi attack and began a counterattack inside Iraq. The Iraqis considered chemical weapons to be the only way to counter Iran's superiority in manpower. Iranian doctors first documented symptoms of mustard gas from Iraqi chemical attacks against Iranian troops in mid-1983. However, Rafighdoost said, a dramatic increase in Iraqi gas attacks occurred during an Iranian offensive in southern Iraq in February and March 1984. The attacks involved both mustard gas and the nerve gas tabun, which prompted him to take a major new initiative in his war planning.
Rafighdoost told me he asked some foreign governments for assistance, including weapons, to counter the chemical-war threat, but all of them rejected his requests. This prompted him to decide that his ministry would have to produce everything Iran needed for the war. "I personally gathered all the researchers who had any knowledge of defense issues," he recalled. He organized groups of specialists to work on each category of military need -- one of which was called "chemical, biological, and nuclear."
Rafighdoost prepared a report on all the specialized groups he had formed and went to discuss it with Khomeini, hoping to get his approval for work on chemical and nuclear weapons. The supreme leader met him accompanied only by his son, Ahmad, who served as chief of staff, according to Rafighdoost. "When Khomeini read the report, he reacted to the chemical-biological-nuclear team by asking, ‘What is this?'" Rafighdoost recalled. 
Khomeini ruled out development of chemical and biological weapons as inconsistent with Islam.
"Imam told me that, instead of producing chemical or biological weapons, we should produce defensive protection for our troops, like gas masks and atropine," Rafighdoost said.
Rafighdoost also told Khomeini that the group had "a plan to produce nuclear weapons." That could only have been a distant goal in 1984, given the rudimentary state of Iran's nuclear program. At that point, Iranian nuclear specialists had no knowledge of how to enrich uranium and had no technology with which to do it. But in any case, Khomeini closed the door to such a program. "We don't want to produce nuclear weapons," Rafighdoost recalls the supreme leader telling him.
Khomeini instructed him instead to "send these scientists to the Atomic Energy Organization," referring to Iran's civilian nuclear-power agency. That edict from Khomeini ended the idea of seeking nuclear weapons, according to Rafighdoost.
The chemical-warfare issue took a new turn in late June 1987, when Iraqi aircraft bombed four residential areas of Sardasht, an ethnically Kurdish city in Iran, with what was believed to be mustard gas. It was the first time Iran's civilian population had been targeted by Iraqi forces with chemical weapons, and the population was completely unprotected. Of 12,000 inhabitants, 8,000 were exposed, and hundreds died.
As popular fears of chemical attacks on more Iranian cities grew quickly, Rafighdoost undertook a major initiative to prepare Iran's retaliation. He worked with the Defense Ministry to create the capability to produce mustard gas weapons.
Rafighdoost was obviously hoping that the new circumstances of Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Iranian civilians would cause Khomeini to have a different view of the issue. He made it clear to me that Khomeini didn't know about the production of the two chemicals for mustard gas weapons until it had taken place. 
"In the meeting, I told Imam we have high capability to produce chemical weapons," he recalled. Rafighdoost then asked Khomeini for his view on "this capability to retaliate." 
Iran's permanent representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) disclosed the details of Rafighdoost's chemical weapons program in a document provided to the U.S. delegation to the OPCW on May 17, 2004. It was later made public by WikiLeaks, which published a U.S. diplomatic cable reporting on its contents. The document shows that the two ministries had procured the chemical precursors for mustard gas and in September 1987 began to manufacture the chemicals necessary to produce a weapon -- sulfur mustard and nitrogen mustard. But the document also indicated that the two ministries did not "weaponize" the chemicals by putting them into artillery shells, aerial bombs, or rockets.
The supreme leader was unmoved by the new danger presented by the Iraqi gas attacks on civilians. 
"It doesn't matter whether it is on the battlefield or in cities; we are against this," he told Rafighdoost. "It is haram [forbidden] to produce such weapons. You are only allowed to produce protection."
Invoking the Islamic Republic's claim to spiritual and moral superiority over the secular Iraqi regime, Rafighdoost recalls Khomeini asking rhetorically, 
"If we produce chemical weapons, what is the difference between me and Saddam?"
Khomeini's verdict spelled the end of the IRGC's chemical weapons initiative. "Even after Sardasht, there was no way we could retaliate," Rafighdoost recalled. The 2004 Iranian document confirms that production of two chemicals ceased, the buildings in which they were stored were sealed in 1988, and the production equipment was dismantled in 1992.
Khomeini also repeated his edict forbidding work on nuclear weapons, telling him, 
"Don't talk about nuclear weapons at all."
Rafighdoost understood Khomeini's prohibition on the use or production of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons as a fatwa -- a judgment on Islamic jurisprudence by a qualified Islamic scholar. It was never written down or formalized, but that didn't matter, because it was issued by the "guardian jurist" of the Islamic state -- and was therefore legally binding on the entire government. "When Imam said it was haram [forbidden], he didn't have to say it was fatwa," Rafighdoost explained.
Rafighdoost did not recall the date of that second meeting with Khomeini, but other evidence strongly suggests that it was in December 1987. Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi said in a late December 1987 speech that Iran "is capable of manufacturing chemical weapons" and added that a "special section" had been set up for "offensive chemical weapons." But Mousavi refrained from saying that Iran actually had chemical weapons, and he hinted that Iran was constrained by religious considerations.
 "We will produce them only when Islam allows us and when we are compelled to do so," he said.
A few days after Mousavi's speech, a report in the London daily the Independent referred to a Khomeini fatwa against chemical weapons. 
Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a research scholar at Princeton University, confirmed for this article that Khomeini's fatwa against chemical and nuclear weapons, which accounted for the prime minister's extraordinary statement, was indeed conveyed in the meeting with Rafighdoost.
In February 1988, Saddam stepped up his missile attacks on urban targets in Iran. He also threatened to arm his missiles with chemical weapons, which terrified hundreds of thousands of Iranians. Between a third and a half of the population of Tehran evacuated the city that spring in a panic.
Khomeini's fatwa not only forced the powerful IRGC commander to forgo the desired response to Iraqi chemical weapons attacks, but the fatwa made it all but impossible for Iran to continue the war. 
Although Khomeini had other reasons for what he called "the bitter decision" to accept a cease-fire with Iraq in July 1988, the use of these devastating tools factored into his decision. In a letter explaining his decision, Khomeini said he was consenting to the cease-fire "in light of the enemy's use of chemical weapons and our lack of equipment to neutralize them."
Khomeini's Islamic ruling against all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, was continued by Ali Khamenei, who had served as president under Khomeini and succeeded him as supreme leader in 1989. Iran began publicizing Khamenei's fatwa against nuclear weapons in 2004, but commentators and news media in the United States and Europe have regarded it as a propaganda ploy not to be taken seriously.
The analysis of Khamenei's fatwa has been flawed not only due to a lack of understanding of the role of the "guardian jurist" in the Iranian political-legal system, but also due to ignorance of the history of Khamenei's fatwa. A crucial but hitherto unknown fact is that Khamenei had actually issued the anti-nuclear fatwa without any fanfare in the mid-1990s in response to a request from an official for his religious opinion on nuclear weapons. Mousavian recalls seeing the letter in the office of the Supreme National Security Council, where he was head of the Foreign Relations Committee from 1997 to 2005. The Khamenei letter was never released to the public, apparently reflecting the fact that the government of then President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had been arguing against nuclear weapons for years on strategic grounds, so publicizing the fatwa appeared unnecessary at that point. 
Since 2012, the official stance of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has been to welcome the existence of Khamenei's anti-nuclear fatwa. Obama even referred to it in his U.N. General Assembly speech in September 2013. But it seems clear that Obama's advisors still do not understand the fatwa's full significance: 
Secretary of State John Kerry told journalists in July, "The fatwa issued by a cleric is an extremely powerful statement about intent," but then added, "It is our need to codify it."
That statement, like most of the commentary on Khamenei's fatwa against nuclear weapons, has confused fatwas issued by any qualified Muslim scholar with fatwas by the supreme leader on matters of state policy. The former are only relevant to those who follow the scholar's views; the latter, however, are binding on the state as a whole in Iran's Shiite Islam-based political system, holding a legal status above mere legislation.
The full story of Khomeini's wartime fatwa against chemical weapons shows that when the "guardian jurist" of Iran's Islamic system issues a religious judgment against weapons of mass destruction as forbidden by Islam, it overrides all other political-military considerations. 
Khomeini's fatwa against chemical weapons prevented the manufacture and use of such weapons -- even though it put Iranian forces at a major disadvantage in the war against Iraq and even though the IRGC was strongly in favor of using such weapons. It is difficult to imagine a tougher test of the power of the leader's Islamic jurisprudence over an issue.
Given the fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which the Islamic Republic has made policy on weapons of mass destruction, the episode of Khomeini's fatwa has obvious implications for the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Negotiators who are unaware of the real history of Iran's anti-nuclear fatwas will be prone to potentially costly miscalculations.
——[Attachment 2: This essay first appeared in IPS News]——

History of Key Document in IAEA Probe Suggests Israeli Forgery
Analysis by Gareth Porter

[Reprinted with permission of the Author]

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS) - Western diplomats have reportedly faulted Iran in recent weeks for failing to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon, according to an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating.
But the document not only remains unverified but can only be linked to Iran by a far-fetched official account marked by a series of coincidences related to a foreign scientist that that are highly suspicious.
The original appearance of the document in early 2008, moreover, was not only conveniently timed to support Israel’s attack on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December that was damaging to Israeli interests, but was leaked to the news media with a message that coincided with the current Israeli argument.
The IAEA has long touted the document, which came from an unidentified member state, as key evidence justifying suspicion that Iran has covered up past nuclear weapons work.
In its September 2008 report the IAEA said the document describes “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.”
But an official Iranian communication to the IAEA Secretariat challenged its authenticity, declaring, “There is no evidence or indication in this document regarding its linkage to Iran or its preparation by Iran.”
The IAEA has never responded to the Iranian communication.
The story of the high explosives document and related intelligence published in the November 2011 IAEA report raises more questions about the document than it answers.
The report said the document describes the experiments as being monitored with “large numbers of optical fiber cables” and cited intelligence that the experiments had been assisted by a foreign expert said to have worked in his home country’s nuclear weapons programme.
The individual to whom the report referred, Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not a nuclear weapons expert, however, but a specialist on nanodiamond synthesis. Danilenko had lectured on that subject in Iran from 2000 to 2005 and had co-authored a professional paper on the use of fiber optic cables to monitor explosive shock waves in 1992, which was available online.  
Related IPS Articles

Those facts presented the opportunity for a foreign intelligence service to create a report on high explosives experiments that would suggest a link to nuclear weapons as well as to Danilenko.  Danilenko’s open-source publication could help convince the IAEA Safeguards Department of the authenticity of the document, which would otherwise have been missing.
Even more suspicious, soon after the appearance of the high explosives document, the same state that had turned it over to the IAEA claimed to have intelligence on a large cylinder at Parchin suitable for carrying out the high explosives experiments described in the document, according to the 2011 IAEA report.
And it identified Danilenko as the designer of the cylinder, again basing the claim on an open-source publication that included a sketch of a cylinder he had designed in 1999-2000.
The whole story thus depended on two very convenient intelligence finds within a very short time, both of which were linked to a single individual and his open source publications.
Furthermore, the cylinder Danilenko sketched and discussed in the publication was explicitly designed for nanodiamonds production, not for bomb-making experiments.
Robert Kelley, who was the chief of IAEA teams in Iraq, has observed that the IAEA account of the installation of the cylinder at a site in Parchin by March 2000 is implausible, since Danilenko was on record as saying he was still in the process of designing it in 2000.
And Kelley, an expert on nuclear weapons, has pointed out that the cylinder would have been unnecessary for “multipoint initiation” experiments. 
“We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing,” Kelley told IPS.
The document surfaced in early 2008, under circumstances pointing to an Israeli role. An article in the May 2008 issue of Jane’s International Defence Review, dated Mar. 14, 2008, referred to, “[d]ocuments shown exclusively to Jane’s” by a “source connected to a Western intelligence service”.
It said the documents showed that Iran had “actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years….”
The article revealed the political agenda behind the leaking of the high explosives document. “The picture the papers paints,” he wrote, “starkly contradicts the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007, which said Tehran had frozen its military nuclear programme in 2003.”
That was the argument that Israeli officials and supporters in the United States had been making in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate, which Israel was eager to discredit.
The IAEA first mentioned the high explosives document in an annex to its May 2008 report, shortly after the document had been leaked to Janes.
David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had “probably” come from Israel.
Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was very sceptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, 
“No one knew if any of this was real.”
ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year programme to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction.
Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity—the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.
Meanwhile, ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish a report on that and other documents – including the high explosive document — as an annex to an IAEA report. ElBaradei’s successor as director general, Yukia Amano, published the annex the anti-Iran coalition had wanted earlier in the November 2011 report.
Amano later told colleagues at the agency that he had no choice, because he promised the United States to do so as part of the agreement by Washington to support his bid for the job within the Board of Governors, according to a former IAEA official who asked not to be identified.

04 October 2014

Damascus SITREP: a Window into Syria's Complexity

US policy in the Syrian Civil is confused and contradictory.  On the one hand, we are trying to overthrow the Assad regime; and on the other hand, President Obama just declared war on ISIS, Assad’s most dangerous enemy.  To this end, Obama initiated a bizarre open-ended strategic bombing campaign that aims at merely degrading ISIS by attacking ISIS's critical nodes, as if ISIS were an industrial power with a conventional infrastructure and large army (i.e., leadership targets, oil refineries, and command centers, checkpoints, buildings etc).  Moreover, the U.S. is funneling resources and weapons to our supposed allies on the ground, the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA).  But we know that elements of the FSA are shipping or selling many of these weapons to, and providing recruits for, the same Jihadis we and the Assad government  are fighting.  This confusion is the outward manifestation of a war policy shaped by a toxic brew of cavalier attitudes in government, hysteria in the mass media and the general public, little or no appreciation for what is going on in the Syrian Civil War, and what the real U.S. interests are in the war's outcome.
Regarding the question of what is going on in Syrian, attached herewith is Franklin Lamb’s SITREP for one neighborhood in Damascus. Think of it as microscopic portrait of a tiny part of a complex whole.  While it is dangerous to generalize from such a specific; this report is important, because it illustrates the complexity and nuance of Syrian Civil War, and Lamb is a very knowledgeable observer.  Note especially his discussions of recruiting, the declining support for all the militias, and the outreach being made by the Assad regime.  He concludes with an assessment of the neighborhood’s attitudes toward the so-called Free Syrian Army.
I reformatted his report to highlight its important feature (no text has been changed or omitted).
Chuck Spinney

Da’ish (IS), FSA and al Nusra Compete for Dwindling Support…

Street Scenes from a Damascus Neighborhood

Franklin Lamb
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).
Barzeh neighborhood, Damascus
Changes are underway in Damascus’s suburban neighborhoods. 
  • In some of these neighborhoods there are few families’ left—only fighters. 
  • But in others, residents are trickling back in (or in some cases never even left) despite the danger. Here in these areas, those who have chosen the armed opposition route fall are grouped roughly in the following percentiles: 70% FSA, 25% Al Nusra, and, as of now, relatively few, Da’ish (IS). 
During meetings with young men from the Barzeh neighborhood, an area maybe five blocks by eight blocks, this observer learned of approximately 700 FSA fighters in the neighborhood, 110 from al Nusra, compared with only 7 or 8 Da’ish fighters. The latter do not appear very active in community matters, but reportedly keep their eyes peeled watching what the other militia are up to. Even so, Dai’sh still recruits and sends applicants to other locations for military training, this while promising that within two months the Islamic State will attack central Damascus. 
At the same time, desertions among the rebels are reportedly on the upswing in these areas, and some of the FSA and al-Nusra fighters are splitting off to join Da’ish. It seems that some of these young militia members—pretty much like youngsters everywhere—simply want to play for a ‘winning team’ or in the ‘big leagues,’ and Da’ish is still a strong magnet for ‘tryouts.’ Al-Nusra and Da’ish fighters both claim they are eager to fight Hezbollah—and Western forces—who they believe will show up sooner or later. And many of them exhibit an attitude similar to that of a European jihadist who recently remarked to this observer, “Let’s get it on. And the world will itself judge who are the best fighters, we who believe in Allah or the kuffers (disbelievers).”
Another disturbing attitude, all too frequently expressed in Damascene neighborhoods, is the desire of many of these young men, many of them from “good” families, to sacrifice themselves and become martyrs to their various causes. Residents report that some of the most promising students—majoring in subjects like medicine, law, engineering, computer science, business and other professions—are disaffected and see no future for themselves. And while many are deeply religious, a surprising number appear not to be.
Overwhelmingly the rebels come from areas where outsiders are few. This observer’s friend of more than three years, whose name I withhold for his security, has lived most of his life in Barzeh and knows many of the militia guys. He reports that currently there are only two foreign fighters in Barzeh, one from Algeria and the other from Saudi Arabia. And he expressed shock to me that a friend of his from childhood—who joined al-Nusra 18 months ago and had since become one of its local leaders—had suddenly disappeared. A few days later, my friend got a ‘what’s up’ message from Turkey and learned that his friend had shaved his beard, changed his style of clothing, and left Barzeh without telling anyone. Now he reports that he wears shorts and swims during the day on the Turkish coast and no longer has any desire to fight anyone.
Many among al Nusra and other rebel groups, it seems, are trying to leave Syria and go somewhere, anywhere, that might offer them a positive future of some sort—because they see the war in Syria as being a long one. And in this respect they are no different from the war-weary, exhausted, traumatized Syrian population in general. With very few jobs and nearly ten million displaced from their homes—and with some 3 million living as refugees in neighboring countries—what one finds here 
  • on the one hand is a growing desire to get out, to establish, sadly, a new life elsewhere, in a land other than the one they most love. 
  • Yet on the other, significant numbers of fairly hard-core al-Nusra fighters, as noted above, are quitting that militia in order to join the winning team—Da’ish. 
It is a combination of social factors pointing to what the Iranians have already made note of: that Obama’s strategy of trying to fight Da’ish and the Syrian government at the same time is probably doomed to failure.
Some Syrian analysts, whose views this observer credits, identify two trends that appear to be developing in Syrian neighborhoods controlled by violent militia.
  • One is the growing resistance by the local population to being intimidated and abused by the occupying gunmen—
  • while another is the role the Syrian government is playing in engaging in dialog, usually privately, with the rebels, and offering what some locals here refer to as “contracts.” These are proposals of ceasefires of varying scope in order to help give some hope and help to the increasingly besieged population.
Also, neighborhood attitudes toward militia in areas around Damascus are dramatically changing. This observer is advised by fighters from Barzeh that 
  • as recently as 12-18 months ago, maybe 80% of the citizens supported the FSA, while some backed al Nusra or other groups. 
  • Today militia support is estimated at less than 40%—and dwindling. 
Even those who still back the armed gangs are weaker in their support and no longer respect the militia or defer to them as before. Increasingly neighborhood residents are confronting the rebels on neighborhood streets via ‘citizen committees.’ They are showing up at rebel checkpoints or headquarters to complain or demand respect and an end to arbitrary street “justice.” Reasons for this include 
  • abhorrence of brutality, 
  • exhaustion, 
  • disillusionment, 
  • as well as demonstrable efforts by the Syrian government to increase and maintain services while trying to make important and long overdue changes. 
Even many rebels are said to credit the government for its willingness to be flexible and to make “contracts” with them to improve the lives of the besieged population. For example, 
  • when families return to their homes after having fled, nearly all find that their flats have been broken into and personal property stolen, and they sometimes discover some of their stolen items being sold in neighborhood ‘jihadist souks.’ 
  • According to one resident of Barzeh, computers and plasma TV’s are among the most commonly stolen property. 
By contrast, “neighborhood watch” citizen groups seek the return of stolen goods and demand that the militias stop the thievery.
Also people are increasingly calling for a return to Syrian secularism, and they may actually be making some progress on this point. 
  • Unlike Da’ish, al Nusra does not insist that people attend a mosque for prayers—while the FSA is relatively secular. 
  • Nusra does require that women wear hijabs in neighborhoods under its control, and the first two times a woman is caught without one she is issued a warning. The third time she risks a public whipping. This observer is advised that many younger women, despite the risks, will remove their head scarves the moment they cross out of rebel-held areas, sometimes in plain view of those manning the checkpoints, leaving the neighborhood at this point, traveling to downtown Damascus for work or other purposes. It’s not dissimilar actually to what one finds among many Iranian women, particularly students at Tehran University, who openly admit, often with grins, to giving the local “morality police” a hard time when demands—for instance to adjust their headscarves so as to reduce the amount of hair visible—are made by roving “purists.”
As for the Free Syrian Army, now dubbed by some in the Obama Administration as the “National Coalition—kind of like the National Guard”—it is viewed by many here as corrupt, manned to a large extent by lowlifes and thieves. 
  • The “Free Syrian Army,” as one pithy adage has it, is neither free, nor Syrian, nor an army
  • And at least in Barzeh, at any rate, it is also viewed as being for sale to the highest bidder
  • Moreover, the residents here, though increasingly vocal about jihadist militias, seem to hold actually more respect for al-Nusra, despite its Islamist extremism, than for the Western-backed FSA.

Late word just received by this observer from his friend, the aforementioned son of Barzeh: yesterday he, too, snuck across the Syrian-Turkey border in search of a new life-somewhere until peace returns to his beloved Syria.

21 September 2014

Is the Nation State Obsolete?

Introduction to the Changing Face of War

Uri Avnery’s thoughtful essay Scotland on the Euphrates questions the future viability of the nation-state as a form of social organization.  His concerns are not new, although as Avnery noted, recent events certainly make them more believable — or less unbelievable to those who opine for the comforting stasis predicted by Fukyama’s silly postulation of the "end of history."  The Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, has been making arguments along these lines for years (e.g., The Rise and Decline of the State, 1999).  And van Creveld was not the only one to address the emerging problems of sustaining the nation state in the emerging world.

Twenty-five years ago, in October 1989, four active duty military officers (2 marines and 2 army) and one civilian military historian wrote a prescient article in the Marine Corps Gazette, entitled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” attached below.  At that time, the Gazette was edited by Colonel John Greenwood (USMC Ret.); and thanks to him, the Gazette was by far the most stimulating, vibrant, and spunky of the professional military journals.  The article initially attracted a lot of attention, but unfortunately 4GW became a buzzword in some overly enthusiastic circles.  To make matters worse, the buzz triggered sharp resistance in traditional circles.  In my view, the authors’ warning became diluted by the intersection of uncritical enthusiasm with hardening resistance, and was missed entirely.  

But their warning was timeless and is particularly appropriate for today. For example, they predicted the general outlines of why the drone war — the apotheosis of what the traditionalists call the military-technical revolution —  is failing so miserably in the face of the kind of adversaries these authors identified.  Some might argue that their paper is written from the narrow confines of European military history and variations of what they call 4GW have always been around, particularly in the East.  But this is a red herring; a careful reading shows that they accounted for and agreed with both these points.  

More importantly, their central recommendation was missed entirely by their critics and many of their enthusiasts alike.  These men were not being dogmatic about the future; the authors' aim (and Greenwood’s) was to stimulate critical thinking and debate about future possibilities.  Unfortunately, they were arrogantly dismissed by those living comfortably off a continuation of the status quo, and the unbridled enthusiasm of some of their followers weakened their case.  In the end, they failed utterly in achieving their aim of stimulating a serious debate, but not for wont of trying.  

The results of that failure to stimulate debate and reform can be seen generally in the perpetual war on terror and specifically in President Obama’s declaration of a hi-tech bombing war against ISIS

The big green spending machine, the Military - Industrial - Congressional - Complex (MICC), rolled throughout the 1990s into the 21st Century, essentially unthinking and unchanged, driven by its own well established internal dynamics and constituent interests.  The authors feared the MICC's  claim of a military-technical revolution quite explicitly in their discourse on what they called a technology-driven 4GW — which I urge readers to pay particular attention to.  

As they feared, the MICC opted for a technology driven answer to the war on terror by force-fitting the MICC’s tired old cold-war-inspired vision of techno war — i.e. the system of network centric systems embodying (1) an all-seeing surveillance system, coupled to (2) an all-knowing computerized assessment, decision making and targeting system and a (3) command system that controls (4) precision weapons — into what Avnery clearly recognizes as an ideas-driven change to the face of war.  The results have been disastrous and are continuing to worsen, an outcome also foreseen by these five men.

The United States is paying the price today: The arrogance of ignorance has created a perpetual war at ever increasing cost that is ruining America’s image in the world and bankrupting its government.  Where this will lead, no one can say. 

It is with a sense of admiration* that I am attaching their Gazette paper.  I urge you to read it carefully and hope you find it interesting.
Caveat emptor: two of the authors, William Lind and Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMC ret), were colleagues and remain valued friends of mine.  

Chuck Spinney

"The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation."

By William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR)
Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989, Pages 22-26
The peacetime soldier's principal task is to prepare effectively for the next war. In order to do so, he must anticipate what the next war will be like. This is a difficult task that gets continuously more difficult. German Gen Franz Uhle-Wettler writes:
"At an earlier time, a commander could be certain that a future war would resemble past and present ones. This enabled him to analyze appropriate tactics from past and present. The troop commander of today no longer has this possibility. He knows only that who ever fails to adapt the experiences of the last war will surely lose the next one."
The Central Question
If we look at the development of warfare in the modern era, we see three distinct generations. In the United States, the Army and the Marine Corps are now coming to grips with the change to the third generation. This transition is entirely for the good. However, third generation warfare was conceptually developed by the German offensive in the spring of 1918. It is now more than 70 years old. This suggests some interesting questions: Is it not about time for a fourth generation to appear? If so, what might it look like? These questions are of central importance. Whoever is first to recognize, understand, and implement a generational change can gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, a nation that is slow to adapt to generational change opens itself to catastrophic defeat.
Our purpose here is less to answer these questions than to pose them. Nonetheless, we will offer some tentative answers. To begin to see what these might be, we need to put the questions into historical context.
Three Generations of Warfare
While military development is generally a continuous evolutionary process, the modern era has witnessed three watersheds in which change has been dialectically qualitative. Consequently, modern military development comprises three distinct generations.
First generation warfare reflects tactics of the era of the smoothbore musket, the tactics of line and column. These tactics were developed partially in response to technological factors the line maximized firepower, rigid drill was necessary to generate a high rate of fire, etc. and partially in response to social conditions and ideas, e.g., the columns of the French revolutionary armies reflected both the elan of the revolution and the low training levels of conscripted troops. Although rendered obsolete with the replacement of the smoothbore by the rifled musket, vestiges of first generation tactics survive today, especially in a frequently encountered desire for linearity on the battlefield. Operational art in the first generation did not exist as a concept although it was practiced by individual commanders, most prominently Napoleon.
Second generation warfare was a response to the rifled musket, breechloaders, barbed wire, the machine-gun, and indirect fire. Tactics were based on fire and movement, and they remained essentially linear. The defense still attempted to prevent all penetrations, and in the attack a laterally dispersed line advanced by rushes in small groups. Perhaps the principal change from first generation tactics was heavy reliance on indirect fire; second generation tactics were summed up in the French maxim, "the artillery conquers, the infantry occupies." Massed firepower replaced massed manpower. Second generation tactics remained the basis of U.S. doctrine until the 1980s, and they are still practiced by most American units in the field.
While ideas played a role in the development of second generation tactics (particularly the idea of lateral dispersion), technology was the principal driver of change. Technology manifested itself both qualitatively, in such things as heavier artillery and bombing aircraft, and quantitatively, in the ability of an industrialized economy to fight a battle of materiel (Materialschlacht).
The second generation saw the formal recognition and adoption of the operational art, initially by the Prussian army. Again, both ideas and technology drove the change. The ideas sprang largely from Prussian studies of Napoleon's campaigns. Technological factors included von Moltke's realization that modern tactical firepower mandated battles of encirclement and the desire to exploit the capabilities of the railway and the telegraph.
Third generation warfare was also a response to the increase in battlefield firepower. However, the driving force was primarily ideas. Aware they could not prevail in a contest of materiel because of their weaker industrial base in World War I, the Germans developed radically new tactics. Based on maneuver rather than attrition, third generation tactics were the first truly nonlinear tactics. The attack relied on infiltration to bypass and collapse the enemy's combat forces rather than seeking to close with and destroy them. The defense was in depth and often invited penetration, which set the enemy up for a counterattack.
While the basic concepts of third generation tactics were in place by the end of 1918, the addition of a new technological element — tanks — brought about a major shift at the operational level in World War II. That shift was blitzkrieg. In the blitzkrieg, the basis
of the operational art shifted from place (as in Liddell Hart's indirect approach) to time. This shift was explicitly recognized only recently in the work of retired Air Force Col John Boyd and his "OODA (observation-orientation-decision-action) theory.
Thus we see two major catalysts for change in previous generational shifts: technology and ideas. What perspective do we gain from these earlier shifts as we look toward a potential fourth generation of warfare?
Elements That Carry Over
Earlier generational shifts, especially the shift from the second to the third generation, were marked by growing emphasis on several central ideas. Four of these seem likely to carry over into the fourth generation, and indeed to expand their influence.
  • The first is mission orders. Each generational change has been marked by greater dispersion on the battlefield. The fourth generation battlefield is likely to include the whole of the enemy's society. Such dispersion, coupled with what seems likely to be increased importance for actions by very small groups of combatants, will require even the lowest level to operate flexibly on the basis of the commander's intent.
  • Second is decreasing dependence on centralized logistics. Dispersion, coupled with increased value placed on tempo, will require a high degree of ability to live off the land and the enemy.
  • Third is more emphasis on maneuver. Mass, of men or fire power, will no longer be an overwhelming factor. In fact, mass may become a disadvantage as it will be easy to target. Small, highly maneuverable, agile forces will tend to dominate.
  • Fourth is a goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him. Targets will include such things as the population's support for the war and the enemy's culture. Correct identification of enemy strategic centers of gravity will be highly important.
In broad terms, fourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between "civilian" and "military" may disappear. Actions will occur concurrently throughout all participants' depth, including their society as a cultural, not just a physical, entity. Major military facilities, such as airfields, fixed communications sites, and large headquarters will become rarities because of their vulnerability; the same may be true of civilian equivalents, such as seats of government, power plants, and industrial sites (including knowledge as well as manufacturing industries). Success will depend heavily on effectiveness in joint operations as lines between responsibility and mission become very blurred. Again, all these elements are present in third generation warfare; fourth generation will merely accentuate them.
Potential Technology-Driven Fourth Generation
If we combine the above general characteristics of fourth generation warfare with new technology, we see one possible outline of the new generation. For example, directed energy may permit small elements to destroy targets they could not attack with conventional energy weapons. Directed energy may permit the achievement of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) effects without a nuclear blast. Research in superconductivity suggests the possibility of storing and using large quantities of energy in very small packages. Technologically, it is possible that a very few soldiers could have the same battlefield effect as a current brigade.
The growth of robotics, remotely piloted vehicles, low probability of intercept communications, and artificial intelligence may offer a potential for radically altered tactics. In turn, growing dependence on such technology may open the door to new vulnerabilities, such as the vulnerability to computer viruses.
Small, highly mobile elements composed of very intelligent soldiers armed with high technology weapons may range over wide areas seeking critical targets. Targets may be more in the civilian than the military sector. Front-rear terms will be replaced with targeted-untargeted. This may in turn radically alter the way in which military Services are organized and structured.
Units will combine reconnaissance and strike functions. Remote, "smart" assets with preprogrammed artificial intelligence may play a key role. Concurrently, the greatest defensive strengths may be the ability to hide from and spoof these assets.
The tactical and strategic levels will blend as the opponent's political infrastructure and civilian society become battlefield targets. It will be critically important to isolate the enemy from one's own homeland because a small number of people will be able to render great damage in a very short time.
Leaders will have to be masters of both the art of war and technology, a difficult combination as two different mindsets are involved. Primary challenges facing commanders at all levels will include target selection (which will be a political and cultural, not just a military, decision), the ability to concentrate suddenly from very wide dispersion, and selection of subordinates who can manage the challenge of minimal or no supervision in a rapidly changing environment. A major challenge will be handling the tremendous potential information overload without losing sight of the operational and strategic objectives.
Psychological operations may become the dominant operational and strategic weapon in the form of media/information intervention. Logic bombs and computer viruses, including latent viruses, may be used to disrupt civilian as well as military operations. Fourth generation adversaries will be adept at manipulating the media to alter domestic and world opinion to the point where skillful use of psychological operations will sometimes preclude the commitment of combat forces. A major target will be the enemy population's support of its government and the war. Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.
This kind of high-technology fourth generation warfare may carry in it the seeds of nuclear destruction. Its effectiveness could rapidly eliminate the ability of a nuclear-armed opponent to wage war conventionally. Destruction or disruption of vital industrial capacities, political infrastructure, and social fabric, coupled with sudden shifts in the balance of power and concomitant emotions, could easily lead to escalation to nuclear weapons. This risk may deter fourth generation warfare among nuclear armed powers just as it deters major conventional warfare among them today.
major caveat must be placed on the possibility of a technologically driven fourth generation, at least in the American context. Even if the technological state of the
art permits a high-technology fourth generation, and this is not clearly the case, the technology itself must be translated into weapons that are effective in actual combat. At present, our research, development, and procurement process has great difficulty making this transition. It often produces weapons that incorporate high technology irrelevant in combat or too complex to work in the chaos of combat. Too many so-called "smart" weapons provide examples; in combat they are easy to counter, fail of their own complexity, or make impossible demands on their operators. The current American research, development, and procurement process may simply not be able to make the transition to a militarily effective fourth generation of weapons.
A Potential Idea-Driven Fourth Generation
Technology was the primary driver of the second generation of warfare; ideas were the primary driver of the third. An idea-based fourth generation is also conceivable.
For about the last 500 years, the West has defined warfare. For a military to be effective it generally had to follow Western models. Because the West's strength is technology, it may tend to conceive of a fourth generation in technological terms.
However, the West no longer dominates the world. A fourth generation may emerge from nonWestern cultural traditions, such as Islamic or Asiatic traditions. The fact that some non-Western areas, such as the Islamic world, are not strong in technology may lead them to develop a fourth generation through ideas rather than technology.
The genesis of an idea-based fourth generation may be visible in terrorism. This is not to say that terrorism is fourth generation warfare, but rather that elements of it may be signs pointing toward a fourth generation.
Some elements in terrorism appear to reflect the previously noted "carryovers" from third generation warfare. The more successful terrorists appear to operate on broad mission orders that carry down to the level of the individual terrorist. The 'battlefield" is highly dispersed and includes the whole of the enemy's society. The terrorist lives almost completely off the land and the enemy. Terrorism is very much a matter of maneuver: the terrorist's firepower is small, and where and when he applies it is critical.
Two additional carryovers must be noted as they may be useful "signposts" pointing toward the fourth generation. 
The first is a component of collapsing the enemy. It
is a shift in focus from the enemy's front to his rear. Terrorism must seek to collapse the enemy from within as it has little capability (at least at present) to inflict widespread destruction. First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy's front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy's rear through the emphasis on encirclement. The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy's rear. Terrorism takes this a major step further. It attempts to bypass the enemy's military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets. Ideally, the enemy's military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist.
The second signpost is the way terrorism seeks to use the enemy's strength against him This "judo" concept of warfare begins to manifest itself in the second generation, in the campaign and battle of encirclement. The enemy's fortresses, such as Metz and Sedan, became fatal traps. It was pushed further in the third generation where, on the defensive, one side often tries to let the other penetrate so his own momentum makes him less able to turn and deal with a counterstroke.
Terrorists use a free society's freedom and openness, its greatest strengths, against it. They can move freely within our society while actively working to subvert it. They use our democratic rights not only to penetrate but also to defend themselves. If we treat them within our laws, they gain many protections; if we simply shoot them down, the television news can easily make them appear to be the victims. Terrorists can effectively wage their form of warfare while being protected by the society they are attacking. If we are forced to set aside our own system of legal protections to deal with terrorists, the terrorists win another sort of victory.
Terrorism also appears to represent a solution to a problem that has been generated by previous generational changes but not really addressed by any of them. It is the contradiction between the nature of the modern battlefield and the traditional military culture. That culture, embodied in ranks, saluting uniforms, drill, etc., is largely a product of first generation warfare. It is a culture of order. At the time it evolved it was consistent with the battlefield, which was itself dominated by order. The ideal army was a perfectly oiled machine, and that was what the military culture of order sought to produce.
However, each new generation has brought a major shift toward a battlefield of disorder. The military culture, which has remained a culture of order, has become contradictory to the battlefield. Even in the third generation warfare, the contradiction has not been insoluble; the Wehrmacht bridged it effectively, outwardly maintaining the traditional culture of order while in combat demonstrating the adaptability and fluidity a disorderly battlefield demands. But other militaries, such as the British, have been less successful at dealing with the contradiction. They have often attempted to carry the culture of order over onto the battlefield with disastrous results. At Biddulphsberg, in the Boer War, for example, a handful of Boers defeated two British Guards battalions that fought as if on parade.
The contradiction between the military culture and the nature of modern war confronts a traditional military Service with a dilemma. Terrorists resolve the dilemma by eliminating the culture of order. Terrorists do not have uniforms, drill, saluting or, for the most part, ranks. Potentially, they have or could develop a military culture that is consistent with the disorderly nature of modern war. The fact that their broader culture may be nonWestern may facilitate this development.
Even in equipment, terrorism may point toward signs of a change in generations. Typically, an older generation requires much greater resources to achieve a given end than does its successor. Today, the United States is spending $500 million apiece for stealth bombers. A terrorist stealth bomber is a car with a bomb in the trunk — a car that looks like every other car.
Terrorism, Technology, and Beyond
Again, we are not suggesting terrorism is the fourth generation. It is not a new phenomenon, and so far it has proven largely ineffective. However, what do we see if we combine terrorism with some of the new technology we have discussed? For example, that effectiveness might the terrorist have if his car bomb were a product of genetic engineering rather than high explosives? To draw our potential fourth generation out still further, what if we combined terrorism, high technology, and the following additional elements?
  • A non-national or transnational base, such as an ideology or religion. Our national security capabilities are designed to operate within a nationstate framework. Outside that framework, they have great difficulties. The drug war provides an example. Because the drug traffic has no nationstate base, it is very difficult to attack. The nationstate shields the drug lords but cannot control them. We cannot attack them without violating the sovereignty of a friendly nation. A fourth-generation attacker could well operate in a similar manner, as some Middle Eastern terrorists already do.
  • A direct attack on the enemy's culture. Such an attack works from within as well as from without. It can bypass not only the enemy's military but the state itself. The United States is already suffering heavily from such a cultural attack in the form of the drug traffic. Drugs directly attack our culture. They have the support of a powerful "fifth column," the drug buyers. They bypass the entire state apparatus despite our best efforts. Some ideological elements in South America see drugs as a weapon; they call them the "poor man's intercontinental ballistic missile." They prize the drug traffic not only for the money it brings in through which we finance the war against ourselves but also for the damage it does to the hated North Americans.
  • Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through manipulation of the media, particularly television news. Some terrorists already know how to play this game. More broadly, hostile forces could easily take advantage of a significant product of television reporting the fact that on television the enemy's casualties can be almost as devastating on the home front as are friendly casualties. If we bomb an enemy city, the pictures of enemy civilian dead brought into every living room in the country on the evening news can easily turn what may have been a military success (assuming we also hit the military target) into a serious defeat.
All of these elements already exist. They are not the product of "futurism," of gazing into a crystal ball. We are simply asking what would we face if they were all combined? Would such a combination constitute at least the beginnings of a fourth generation of warfare? One thought that suggests they might is that third (not to speak of second) generation militaries would seem to have little capability against such a synthesis. This is typical of generational shifts.
The purpose of this paper is to pose a question, not to answer it. The partial answers suggested here may in fact prove to be false leads. But in view of the fact that third generation warfare is now over 70 years old, we should be asking ourselves the question, what will the fourth generation be?

19 September 2014

Cockburn Report: The Fatally Flawed Theory of Victory Thru Airpower Alone


President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS depends crucially on precision bombing by drones and airplanes.  The heavy lifting on the ground is supposed to be accomplished by our ‘allies' in Iraq and the Syrian opposition, but as any reader of the news knows, these allies are, to put it charitably, unreliable and prone to panic and/or treachery.  So, despite Obama’s rhetoric, our new war against ISIS will be an air power war.
The key ideas in Obama's bombing strategy will be the identification and killing of ISIS leadership targets and the disruption/destruction of coherent ISIS ground operations with precision weapons.  That target identification task is likely to be done by small numbers of US forces working with our supposed allies. This plan is a prescription for disaster.
The seductive idea of victory thru airpower alone is not a new one, and Obama has fallen for a modern improv of an old score —  no doubt, in part, for domestic political reasons.  The background music was conceived and advocated in the 1930s by a small group of officers in the Army Air Corps based in the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.  The two-part claim was that (1) targeteers use detailed analysis to identify key nodes crucial to functioning of the enemy’s economic infrastructure and (2) precision bombing of those nodes would bring about a socio-economic collapse. (Destroying ball bearing factories in WWII became the quintessential example of this thinking).  A subsidiary proposition was that precision bombardment (code for the Norden bombsight) would minimize civilian casualties, even when targets were inside cities.  The theory was tried in Germany and failed. The bombing campaign did not achieve its predicted effects; the ambiguity surrounding perceptions of progress caused the target list to grow like crazy; and the bombing campaign degenerated into carpet bombing on cities, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of civilians — readers who doubt this should read the Strategic Bomb Survey conducted after WWII (The Summary Report is easily available, but the real meat is in the full report.)  The fire bombing raids on Japanese cities and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not pretend to play the charade.   The intent behind the claim of victory thru air power alone was that such a war winning capability justified an independent Air Force, equal in stature and budget grabbing capability to the Army and the Navy.  That intent was achieved in 1947.
Using wildly proliferating target lists to cover for failed predictions has been a staple of every precision bombing campaign since WWII.  Strategic bombing in subsequent wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Kosovo, Iraq II, Afghanistan) played on the idea of the critical target theme with similar results.  This phenomenon has reached what may be an apotheosis of absurdity in the proliferating lists of high value terrorist targets.  And the rise of ISIS proves the point — we obsessed over and eventually killed Abu Musab al-Zakawi,  the founder of the original incarnation of ISIS, only to see an even more capable ISIS arise from ashes. 
But there is more to the failure of the theory of precision bombardment.  The precision war in its current incarnation suffers from the same historical flaw that complimented the theory of critical targets: Bombing is never as precise as its advocates claim. The theory assumes we can use technology to turn war into a methodical predictable battle; in effect this mentality places priority on technology at the expense of human factors.  The substitution results in magnified organizational and technical complexities that always break down in real war.  My good friend Andrew Cockburn has just written an outstanding essay (also attached below) in Harpers that examines this aspect of a fatally flawed theory of victory thru airpower alone. And in so doing, he has provided a case study in how this theory captures thinking and creates a rigid, non-adaptable, techno-mechanical OODA loop* that turns Colonel Boyd’s maxim — machines don't fight wars, people do, and they use their minds — on its head.
* An  introduction to the late Colonel Boyd’s theory of the OODA loop and why it is a foundation for thinking about tactics and strategy in any type of conflict can be found here.  Ironically, Boyd was a retired Air Force officer.

HEART OF EMPIRE — September 18, 2014, 2:55 pm

Flying Blind

The U.S. air-power lobby, botched bombing missions, and bootless combat.
President Obama’s war against the Islamic State will represent, by a rough count, the eighth time the U.S. air-power lobby has promised to crush a foe without setting boot or foot on the ground. Yet from World War II to Yemen, the record is clear: such promises have invariably been proven empty and worthless. Most recently, the drone campaign against the Yemeni jihadists has functioned mainly as an effective recruiting tool for the other side, now rapidly growing in strength (and pledging loyalty to the Islamic State).
Such realities, however, are of little concern to the lobby, which measures success in terms of budgets and contracts. Therefore, in assessing progress in the anti-IS crusade, observers should be aware that the choice of weapons and associated equipment being deployed will be dictated by Pentagon politics, not the requirements of the battlefield. Hence the appearance, in late August, of the $300 million B-1 bomber in the skies over Iraq. ... continued.