THE REVOLUTION IN MILITARY AFFAIRS AND
CONFLICT SHORT OF WAR
July 25, 1994
The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the
Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This report is
approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
For ideas, comments, and background material, the authors would like to
thank Rudolph C. Barnes Jr., Rod Paschall, William W. Mendel, Charles F.
Swett, Jeffrey Cooper, Stefan Antonmattei III, Gary Guertner, Douglas V.
Johnson, and, especially William T. Johnsen.
Comments pertaining to this report are invited and should be forwarded
to: Director, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle
Barracks, PA 17013-5050. Comments also may be conveyed directly to the
authors by calling commercial (717) 245-3822 or DSN 242-3822, FAX (717) 245-
3820, DSN 242-3820.
For many experts on U.S. national security, the combination of emerging
technology and innovative ideas seen in the Gulf War seem to herald a genuine
revolution in military affairs. The victory of coalition forces demonstrated
the technology and seemed to suggest that the revolution in military affairs
can solve many of the strategic problems faced by the United States in the
post-Cold War security environment.
In this study, the authors concede that the revolution in military
affairs holds great promise for conventional, combined-arms warfare, but
conclude that its potential value in conflict short of war, whether terrorism,
insurgency, or violence associated with narcotrafficking, is not so clear-cut.
Given this, national leaders and strategists should proceed cautiously and
only after a full exploration of the ethical, political, and social
implications of their decisions. To illustrate this, the authors develop a
hypothetical future scenario--a "history" of U.S. efforts in conflict short of
war during the first decade of the 21st century.
It is too early to offer concrete policy prescriptions for adapting many
aspects of the revolution in military affairs to conflict short of war, but
the authors do suggest an array of questions that should be debated. In order
to decide whether to apply new technology and emerging concepts or how to
employ them, the United States must first reach consensus on ultimate
objectives and acceptable costs. The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased
to offer this study as a first step in this process.
JOHN W. MOUNTCASTLE
Colonel, U.S. Army
Director, Strategic Studies Institute
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF THE AUTHORS
STEVEN METZ is Associate Research Professor of National Security Affairs at
the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. His specialties are
transregional security issues and military operations other than war. Dr.
Metz has taught at the Air War College, U.S. Army Command and General Staff
College, and several universities. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in international
studies from the University of South Carolina, and a Ph.D. in political
science from the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Metz has published many
monographs and articles on world politics, military strategy, and national
JAMES KIEVIT is a Strategic Research Analyst at the Strategic Studies
Institute, U.S. Army War College. His specialties are operational art,
military engineering, and U.S. Army force structure issues. Commissioned in
the Corps of Engineers, LTC Kievit has served in a variety of troop leading,
command, and staff assignments in the 1st Cavalry Division, the 7th Engineer
Brigade, and the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized). He has also served as
Assistant Professor of History at the U.S. Military Academy, and as a force
structure analyst and study director at the U.S. Army Concepts Analysis
Agency. LTC Kievit holds a B.S. from the U.S. Military Academy, a M.M.A.S.
from the School of Advanced Military Studies of the U.S. Army Command and
General Staff College, and a M.A. in history and M.S.E. in construction
management from the University of Michigan.
Many American strategic thinkers believe that we are in the beginning
stages of a historical revolution in military affairs (RMA). This will not
only change the nature of warfare, but also alter the global geopolitical
To date, most attention has fallen on the opportunities provided by the
RMA rather than its risks, costs, and unintended consequences. In the arena
of conflict short of war, these risks, costs, and unintended consequences may
outweigh the potential benefits.
The Strategic Context.
The Cold War notion of conflict short of war is obsolete. Politically
and militarily, the Third World of the future will be full of danger. The
future will most likely be dominated by peace enforcement in failed states,
new forms of insurgency and terrorism, and "gray area phenomena." Many if not
most Third World states will fragment into smaller units. Ungovernability and
instability will be the norm with power dispersed among warlords, primal
militias, and well-organized politico-criminal organizations. U.S. policy in
the Third World is likely to be more selective and the U.S. homeland may no
longer provide sanctuary. Renewed external support will restore the lagging
proficiency of insurgents and terrorists.
The Application of Emerging Technology.
Emerging technology will have less impact on conflict short of war than
on conventional, combined-arms warfare. It will, however, have some role. In
noncombatant evacuation operations, new technology can assist with
identification and notification of evacuees. Sensor technology, robotics,
nonlethal weapons, and intelligence meshes will be used in combatting
terrorism, countering narcotrafficking, and peace operations. These
technologies, along with simulator training and unmanned aerial vehicles, will
also be useful in insurgency and counterinsurgency.
Constraints and Countermeasures.
There are a number of constraints on applying the RMA to conflict short
of war. These include the lack of a powerful institutional advocate for this
process, a shortage of money for the development of technology specifically
for conflict short of war, and the possibility that new technology may run
counter to American values.
Enemies may also develop countermeasures to RMA innovations. Rather
than attempt to match the technological prowess of U.S. forces, future enemies
will probably seek asymmetrical countermeasures designed to strike at U.S.
public support for engagement in conflict short of war, at the will of our
friends and allies, or, in some cases, at deployed U.S. forces.
Rather than simply graft emerging technology to existing strategy,
doctrine, organization, force structure, objectives, concepts, attitudes, and
norms, the United States could pursue a full revolution in the way we approach
conflict short of war. This is rife with hidden dangers and unintended
consequences. A hypothetical future scenario illustrates some of these.
Conclusions and Recommendations.
In the near future, change will occur in the American approach to
conflict short of war. To understand and control ongoing change, research,
analysis, and debate is needed on a number of topics:
• A comprehensive general theory of military revolutions set within the
context of broader notion of global politics and security;
• The strategy and policy foundation of military revolutions;
• The ethical dimension of RMA;
• The impact of the RMA on the structure of the U.S. national security
• The impact of RMA on leader development within the military;
• The cultivation of appropriate expertise within the Army; and,
• Technology designed specifically for conflict short of war, especially
psychological, biological, and defensive technology.
THE REVOLUTION IN MILITARY AFFAIRS AND
CONFLICT SHORT OF WAR
Introduction: Groping for the Future.
In the late 1970s Soviet military analysts, led by Marshal N.V. Ogarkov,
began to write of an emerging revolution in the nature of warfare. 1 By the
early 1990s, this idea had spread to the United States, leading strategic
thinkers inside and outside the government to conclude that ongoing innovation
represents a true turning point in history.2 If this is true, the strategic
implications are far-reaching. Revolutionary changes in the character of
warfare, according to Andrew F. Krepinevich, "have profound consequences for
global and regional military balances."3 But while it is clear that dramatic
change is underway, its ultimate repercussions remain hidden.
In its purest sense, revolution brings change that is permanent,
fundamental, and rapid. The basic premise of the revolution in military
affairs (RMA) is simple: throughout history, warfare usually developed in an
evolutionary fashion, but occasionally ideas and inventions combined to propel
dramatic and decisive change. This not only affected the application of
military force, but often altered the geopolitical balance in favor of those
who mastered the new form of warfare. The stakes of military revolution are
thus immense. Full of promise, it seems to offer Americans an answer to many
enduring strategic dilemmas, whether intolerance of casualties, impatience, or
the shrinking military manpower base. In a time of shrinking defense budgets,
emerging technology may allow the United States to maintain or even enhance
its global military power.4 The Gulf War was widely seen as a foretaste of
RMA warfare, offering quick victory with limited casualties. As a result,
most attention has been on the opportunities provided by RMA rather than its
risks, costs, and unintended side effects.
It is ironic that just as Marxism reached final bankruptcy as a
framework for political and economic organization, one of its basic notions
gained new life. Karl Marx, after all, postulated that revolutions can be
deliberate rather than inadvertent; historical change can be created,
engineered, and harnessed by those who understand it. Without direct
attribution to Marx, this idea led many analysts to assume the current RMA can
be the first deliberate one as senior military leaders and strategic thinkers
consciously shape the future.
Whether Marxist or not, revolutionaries must always ask a series of key
questions. First: Do the proper preconditions exist for revolutionary change
or can they be created? In contemporary military affairs, the answer to this
is "yes." Emerging technology; economic, political, and social trends; and,
most importantly, new ideas create the right environment for revolution. Then
revolutionaries must ask: How can I begin, sustain, and control the
revolution? In current military affairs, this question is still under debate.
Finally, the most difficult and often most critical questions are: Do we
truly want a revolution? and, Will the long-term benefits outweigh the costs
and risks? Advocates of a revolution in military affairs have not begun to
grapple with these issues.
The change wrought by some revolutions is deep; others do not reach such
extremes. This also applies to RMAs. The United States now faces a crucial
choice. We can choose to drive the current RMA further and faster than any of
its predecessors. In combined-arms warfare, this may be necessary. But
conflict short of war--whether terrorism, narcotrafficking, peace enforcement,
or insurgency--is different. Even if the RMA does prove applicable to these
problems, there are good reasons for deliberately limiting it. As the United
States faces this dilemma, strategic considerations rather than our
fascination with technology and enthusiasm for change must be paramount .
Cry "Havoc!": The Strategic Context.
RMAs are born, develop, and die in specific strategic contexts, each
composed of an array of social, economic, political, and military factors.
The strategic context of the current RMA is dominated by the transformation of
the global system from the Cold War to post-Cold War period. This shapes
conflict short of war and influences the utility of U.S. military force.
During the Cold War, the most strategically significant form of conflict
short of war-- then called "low-intensity conflict"--was revolutionary
insurgency in the Third World. Low-intensity conflict outside the Third World
did not require U.S. military force--the British, Italians, Germans, or
Spanish could deal with their own problems--but revolutionary insurgency
targeting our Third World allies often did. Using the strategy of protracted
guerrilla war perfected by Mao and Giap, insurgents, usually supported by the
Soviet Union, China, or their proxies, sought to overthrow fragile, pro-
Western regimes. Because revolutionary insurgency thwarted political reform
and economic development, often spread to neighboring states, and, when
successful, increased Soviet influence, we considered it a major threat.
Admittedly no Third World insurgency directly endangered the United States,
but in combination they did. The dominant strategic logic was what French
counterinsurgent theorists called "death by a thousand small cuts." 5
In response, Western strategists developed an elaborate
counterinsurgency doctrine. Codified by Robert Thompson, Roger Trinquier, and
others, this initially emerged from the French and British experience in
Malaya, Algeria, and Indochina.6 Eventually Americans assumed responsibility
for the counterinsurgency paradigm; Vietnam replaced Malaya and Algeria as the
seminal event.7 The culmination of Cold War-era thinking was the 1990 release
of Field Manual (FM) 100-20/Air Force Pamphlet (AFP) 3-20, Military Operations
in Low Intensity Conflict.8 By defining counterinsurgency as opposition to
Marxist "people's war," this document viewed low-intensity conflict in general
as a subset of the struggle between the superpowers.9 Regime legitimacy was
the central concept. The United States sought to augment this and,
ultimately, ameliorate the underlying causes of conflict. The military
dimension of counterinsurgency simply allowed economic and political reforms
to take root. Counterinsurgents could not win through purely military means,
according to this theory, but they could lose.
Full of well-developed, impressive thinking, FM 100-20 deals with forms
of violence rapidly becoming obsolete. Today, the essential nature of
conflict short of war is changing. Marxist "people's war" represents the
past. The future will most likely be dominated by peace enforcement in failed
states, new forms of "spiritual" insurgency designed to radically alter the
ideological structure of regimes, and "commercial" insurgency from quasipolitical
"gray area phenomena" such as narcoterrorism.10 Other important
changes are also on the way. During the Cold War, conflict short of war
primarily concerned nation-states. In the post-Cold War era, many if not most
Third World states will fragment into smaller units. Ungovernability and
instability will be the norm. Even those which formally remain intact will
see political and military power dispersed among warlords, primal militias,
and well-organized politico-criminal organizations.11 Most of these will be
characterized by ruthlessness, some also by dangerous sophistication as
terrorists and narcotraffickers master modern technology. Rapid, multilayered
global communications will allow insurgents, terrorists, and narcotraffickers
to learn and adapt quickly and even to form alliances and coalitions. While
war or near-war may be no more common than in past decades, general, low-level
violence will be pervasive.
In this environment, the United States will probably concentrate on
containing rather than ameliorating conflict. Our future policy in the Third
World is likely to be more selective with a trend toward disengagement. While
the global conflict with the Soviet Union forced American engagement in Third
World struggles where tangible national interests were minimal, the end of the
Cold War gives us the option of limiting our role in certain types of
conflicts to support of the United Nations or other multinational efforts, or
rejecting involvement all together. While the great powers are currently
cooperating on Third World conflict, they are likely to lose interest over the
long-term. If this happens, U.S. objectives will increasingly be symbolic as
we pursue humanitarian relief or attempt to cultivate a system of world order
but are not willing to bear the costs of the final resolution of complex and
Most ominously, the U.S. homeland may no longer provide sanctuary as it
did from Cold War-era low intensity conflict. As in Great Britain, insurgents
and terrorists angered by U.S. policy may bring the conflict to our country
using global interdependence and the increased international flow of people.
Moreover, as Third World dictators assimilate the lessons of the Gulf War,
they will see conflict short of war as a useful but safer form of aggression.
Renewed external support will restore the lagging proficiency of insurgents
and terrorists including their technological capability. Politically and
militarily, then, the Third World of the future will be full of danger.
Let Slip the Dogs of War: The Application of Emerging Technology.
The emerging RMA in mid- or high-intensity warfare is centered around
the fusion of sophisticated remote sensing systems with extremely lethal,
usually stand-off, precision-strike weapons systems and automation-assisted
command, control, and communications (C3). Trained with electronic
simulations, virtual reality devices, and field exercises, this fusion is
expected to allow smaller military forces to attain rapid, decisive results
through synchronized, near-simultaneous operations throughout the breadth and
depth of a theater of war.12 The eventual result may be radically new forms
of conventional warfare. With a few exceptions, however, the impact of the
RMA on conflict short of war is far less clear.
Attacks or raids--which are doctrinal missions for the U.S. Army--are an
exception. The military objective of attacks or raids in a conflict short of
war is to damage or destroy high value targets of an adversary in order to
seize and maintain the political or military initiative, and to demonstrate
U.S. capability and resolve.13 Although sometimes such operations are covert
and executed by unconventional or special operations forces, in most cases a
successful operation and its effects should be clearly visible to both the
target and the international community. Emerging RMA technologies should
improve the U.S. military's capability in these types of operations.
Terrestrial, aerial, and space-based, autonomous, wide-ranging, high-speed
collecting devices capable of on-board processing will identify precise
targets and provide near-real-time information about the adversary's
dispositions. Distributed interactive simulations and virtual reality devices
will train the forces and be used to rehearse the strikes. And automationassisted
C3 systems will synchronize and control lethal, stand-off, precisionguided
weapons systems in near-simultaneous attacks.14 Information technology
could be used to both conceal the intent to strike and, later, provide
evidence of a successful strike.15 Attacks and raids during conflict short of
war are, in effect, mid- to high-intensity operations writ small.16 RMA
therefore can have a significant effect. By contrast, the potential impact of
emerging technology on more "traditional" operations in conflict short of war
such as noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs), counterterrorism,
counternarcotrafficking, peace enforcement, and counterinsurgency is more
In the increasingly global economy, large numbers of Americans may find
themselves in areas of instability and conflict. Voluntary and involuntary
noncombatant evacuation operations will therefore be more frequent. The
strategic objective of a NEO is the removal of U.S. (and occasionally allied)
citizens from danger. The presence of Americans in areas of conflict reduces
the flexibility of decision makers not only because U.S. citizens might be
taken hostage or endangered, but also because their injury or death can rally
public support in the United States for more militant action than policymakers
might otherwise favor. But the open declaration of a NEO and its execution
also restricts options since it signals the seriousness of a crisis by
"clearing the decks" for further action. For decision makers this creates a
tension between a desire to remove citizens from danger early and a fear of
intensifying a crisis or precipitating undesirable adversary reaction.
While advances in robotics and information technologies may make it
possible to perform many commercial activities with fewer employees in
dangerous regions, those Americans who are overseas will be more isolated and
dispersed. This complicates the main problems of NEOs: identification and
notification of the individuals to be evacuated, identification of safe
evacuation routes, and assessment of threats to the evacuation. Technology
could diminish these problems. In the near future every American at risk
could be equipped with an electronic individual position locator device
(IPLD). The device, derived from the electronic bracelet used to control some
criminal offenders or parolees, would continuously inform a central data bank
of the individuals' locations. Eventually such a device could be permanently
implanted under the skin, with automatic remote activation either upon
departure from U.S. territory (while passing through the security screening
system at the airport, for example) or by transmission of a NEO alert code to
areas of conflict. Implantation would help preclude removal of the device
(although, of course, some terrorists might be willing to remove a portion of
the hostage's body if they knew where the device was implanted). The IPLD
could also act as a form of IFFN (identification friend, foe, or neutral) if
U.S. military personnel were equipped with appropriate challenge/response
devices. Finally, such a device might eventually serve, like Dick Tracey's
wrist radio, as a two-way communication channel permitting the NEO
notification to be done covertly.
The second emerging technology with direct application in NEOs is the
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). UAVs will be able to conduct rapid
reconnaissance of possible evacuation routes and identify threats during the
evacuation. Their small size will make them less conspicuous than either
ground vehicles or manned air platforms. Large numbers of fast UAVs could
cover multiple exit routes, thus complicating any attempt to interfere with
the NEO. In combination with "wrist-radios," High Altitude Long Endurance
(HALE) UAVs could provide NEO notification capability via scrambled TV/radio
to Americans on the ground.17 When a NEO required combat action, stand-off,
precision-strike weapons systems could allow small military teams to
accomplish missions which today require companies or even battalions.18
Equipping these small units with adaptive camouflage could also reduce the
visibility of NEOs.19 The less visible an operation, the less provocative; the
less visible military teams are, the harder to interfere with them.
Finally, developing military C3I systems could help avoid dangerous,
last minute evacuation of Americans all together. Currently, businessmen and
diplomats facing crises tend to linger until the last possible moment, often
ignoring official warnings. If the U.S. military could gain nondestructive
access to (and perhaps even control of ) the communications of an area from
remote locations and made this available to Americans, businessmen and
diplomats might voluntarily depart early in a crisis knowing they could carry
on their activities even though not physically present. By encouraging
voluntary departure prior to a crisis, reducing the need for a public
disclosure of a NEO, and reducing the political visibility of evacuations,
emerging technology increases options available to decision makers and reduces
the degree to which NEOs act as barometers of U.S. resolve. When evacuees are
actually threatened, the ability to strike quickly, precisely, and from a
distance will provide a margin of safety.
Providing safety is also the primary U.S. objective when combatting
terrorism. Currently, the State Department deals with terrorism overseas and
the Federal Bureau of Investigation has domestic jurisdiction. The military
supports both. Efforts to combat terrorism fall into two categories:
defensive measures to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property
(antiterrorism), and offensive actions to prevent, deter, and punish
(counterterrorism).20 Emerging technologies are a two-edged sword. Some--
like bio-technical weapons--can be tools of terrorism. Others--like
precision, stand-off weapons or intrusive information technologies--may be
used either for or against terrorism.
If technology allows a reduced American presence overseas, antiterrorism
will be easier. Improved sensors and robotic guard systems may make
installations, both military and commercial, more difficult to penetrate. In
counterterrorism, according to Count de Marenches, former chief of French
Intelligence, "Precision personal intelligence can be more critical than
precision-guided munitions."21 Advances in electronics and sensors and, even
more importantly, the ability to fuse data through automation and improved
organizations may provide that most critical commodity. New computer
software, according to Alvin and Heidi Toffler, could "quickly discover and
expose critical associations that would otherwise go undetected."22 As
demonstrated by Israel, UAVs can also play a significant role: "... a
remotely piloted plane followed a car carrying fleeing terrorists back to
their base, so that it could subsequently be demolished by air attack."23 If
the Army develops the aerial capability to broadcast and alter television
signals, it could remove a key and essential weapon from the terrorist
arsenal--media coverage.24 Finally, some authors have speculated that
advances in nonlethal weapons may make it possible to disable and capture
terrorists or "glue" incoming car bombs to the street.
At least one analyst has suggested using "soft kill" weapons such as
high energy radio frequency (HERF) guns and electromagnetic pulse transformer
(EMP/T) bombs, to interdict narcotrafficking flights by damaging or destroying
their avionics.25 Like combatting terrorism, counternarcotrafficking
operations are primarily a law enforcement function, with the military
providing support.26 Because narcotraffickers operate like terrorists, much
counterterrorism technology can be used against them. In fact,
narcotraffickers are even more likely than terrorists to rely on radios,
cellular telephones, fax machines, and computers. This greatly increases
their vulnerability to electronic intelligence gathering and disruption. For
example, remote intrusive monitoring of the financial computer networks of
offshore banks could identify the deposits associated with money laundering.
If desired, such accounts could be electronically emptied.
Because interdicting narcotrafficking is similar to locating a military
opponent's reconnaissance platforms, a military capable, in Martin Libicki's
words, of collecting "more and more data about a battlefield, knitting a finer
and finer mesh which can catch smaller and stealthier objects" could pinpoint
intruders into U.S. territory.27 Existing radar nets can identify aircraft
attempting low altitude entry into the United States, so a favored technique
of drug smugglers is to transfer the contraband from planes to speedboats
offshore. Tracking and stopping high-speed small craft in coastal waters is
difficult today. With projected advances in sensors and directed-energy or
stand-off precision conventional munitions it could become routine. Drugs
smuggled in commercial carriers might be interdicted by hosts of miniaturized,
remote controlled, robotic detectors capable of rapid stem to stern searches
of ships and airliners.28 Interdiction of narcotics at the source, currently
a resource-intensive activity involving search and destroy operations or large
scale spraying of ecologically damaging herbicides, might be done in the
future by miniature, self-mobile, bio-mechanical "bugs" delivered by aerial
dispenser to seek out and kill or modify narcotic producing plants.29
Alternatively, information warfare systems might influence the behavior of
populations by convincing citizens to turn in traffickers or not buy drugs.
Behavior modification is a key component of peace enforcement. The
primary objective of these operations is to prevent violence and facilitate
diplomatic resolution of a conflict.30 "Soft kill" systems can play a key
role. Examples include not only information warfare but also biotechnical
antimaterial agents which "could disable propulsion systems (attacking fuel
and lubricants or clogging airways and critical passages); change the
characteristics of soil or vegetation (to deny terrain to vehicles and
troops); or degrade warfighting material (particularly those with organic
components)."31 Advances in electronics and robotics could also prove useful
in peace operations, allowing commanders to separate forces with a "no man's
land" populated by remote sensing devices or robotic patrols and enforced with
stand-off precision strike weapons, thus reducing peacekeeper casualties and
improving the chances that the peacekeeping force will remain long enough for
a political resolution of the conflict.
The final area of consideration for application of emerging technologies
to conflict short of war are insurgency and counterinsurgency. The military
objectives of insurgency and counterinsurgency are diametrically opposed. In
insurgency the United States assists an armed political organization
attempting to seize power or extract political concessions from a regime
opposed to U.S. interests. Counterinsurgency seeks to contain or defeat an
insurgency attempting the overthrow of a friendly regime.32 How then, might
the RMA affect these operations? According to FM 100-20 the U.S. armed
forces, when directed to do so, can assist insurgent efforts to:
• Recruit, organize, train, and equip forces;
• Develop institutions and infrastructure;
• Gather intelligence; and
• Perform psychological operations, surreptitious insertions, linkups,
evasion, escape, subversion, sabotage, and resupply.33
Emerging technology can augment U.S. capabilities in a number of these areas.
Simulator training devices can help force development and partially
compensate for the difficulties insurgents face in performing actual field
training. UAVs can be used for psychological operations aimed at mobilizing
support and enhancing the legitimacy of the insurgents. Stealth vehicles can
be used for insertions, biotechnological antimaterial agents for sabotage, and
the U.S.'s extensive sensor and collector network can provide intelligence
Counterinsurgency is similar. Success hinges on obtaining accurate
intelligence about the insurgents, and developing or maintaining government
legitimacy. Greatly improved intelligence gathering and fusion is a primary
component of the RMA, and proposed information warfare capabilities might be
ideally suited for helping develop desired emotions, attitudes, or
behavior.34 Stand-off weapons could interdict outside support to the
insurgents without requiring a U.S. presence. This could help a beleaguered
regime maintain legitimacy. Improved training of security forces using
simulators would improve their effectiveness, thus increasing the public's
trust in the regime's ability to provide security.
Potholes in the Information Superhighway: Constraints and Countermeasures.
Emerging technology may improve the application of force in conflict
short of war, but there is probably no imminent RMA in this arena. The
changes in conflict short of war will be considerably less dramatic than in
those projected for mid- to high-intensity combat, particularly when possible
constraints or countermeasures are considered.
These constraints begin at the highest level as the basic nature of our
national security organization generates obstacles to innovation. As Stephen
Peter Rosen points out, large bureaucracies are not only difficult to change,
they are explicitly designed not to change--"the absence of innovation is the
rule, the natural state."35 Ironically, the successful end of the Cold War,
even though it dramatically increased the need for innovation, complicates the
process. In all human endeavors, success tends to stifle innovation. The
natural attitude is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The fact that the
United States has not faced a recent military or national security disaster
has hindered the development and application of new technology to conflict
short of war. To many Americans, the absence of disaster shows that our
national security strategy "ain't broke." Moreover, conflict short of war
lacks a powerful institutional advocate able to transcend this attitude. Both
civilian and military leaders in the Department of Defense fear that effort,
time, and, most importantly, money spent on conflict short of war will be
subtracted from that available for conventional combined-arms warfare. And it
is not clear that the American public and the Congress consider improving our
capabilities in conflict short of war important.
In this era of shrinking defense budgets, little money is available for
technology designed specifically for conflict short of war. Fortunately, much
of the technology developed for conventional mid- and high-intensity conflict
can be extrapolated to conflict short of war, but insurgency, terrorism, and
narcotrafficking also demand some unique capabilities. Like a business'
investment in new plant, military technology increases effectiveness and
efficiency in the long-term, but has major short-term costs. If we choose to
engage in conflict short of war, two things could inspire efforts to develop
and apply cutting-edge technology. One is the emergence of an active and
powerful coterie of visionaries within the national security community,
including both senior military and civilian leaders. The other is defeat or
disaster. Yet even if the United States did make a concerted effort to apply
emerging technology to conflict short of war, our opponents would quickly
develop countermeasures, thus posing new problems and forcing further
innovation by U.S. forces. Because U.S. engagement in conflict short of war
will continue to be have weak domestic support, opponents will not have to
match us innovation for innovation, but only increase the cost of American
engagement beyond the low limits of public and congressional tolerance. How,
then, might future opponents attempt to counter high-tech U.S. forces?
First, they will strike at domestic support for U.S. engagement. One
way to do this is to kill Americans or damage U.S. property. Off-duty and
rear-area U.S. forces in country will--as always--be targets. But in the
increasingly mobile and interdependent world, the United States itself may
also be vulnerable. At times, immigrant or resident alien communities within
the United States may provide a base of support. New alliances among groups
unhappy with our policy will coalesce, share information and, occasionally,
conduct cooperative operations. Electronic terrorism--the sabotage of
communications and computer systems in retaliation for official policy--will
also be a tool of our enemies. Cyberspace will supplement international
airports as the point-of-entry for terrorists. As a National Security
Decision Directive signed by President Bush noted, "Telecommunications and
information processing systems are highly susceptible to interception,
unauthorized access, and related forms of technical exploitation...The
technology to exploit these electronic systems is widespread and is used
extensively by foreign nations and can be employed, as well, by terrorist
groups..."36 Opponents will also undercut domestic support for U.S.
engagement through traditional political mobilization using immigrant and
resident alien communities as well as sympathetic indigenous political groups-
-time-tested tactics honed during Vietnam and the 1980s. Advertising and
public relations firms will be hired to construct sophisticated
"consciousness-raising" campaigns. Often these will attack American public
opinion indirectly by creating international opposition to our policy.
Opponents will also counter American military prowess by targeting our
friends and allies. Reliance on allies has long been an American
vulnerability in conflict short of war. In Vietnam, for example, even our
hard-won understanding of revolutionary "people's war" could not bring victory
to the incompetent and repressive Saigon elite. For American doctrine and
strategy to work, we must have a local ally with some base of legitimacy.
Given this, future opponents may not even attempt to confront high-tech
American forces, but instead steal a flank march by undercutting our allies.
In conventional, combined-arms warfare, backward or weak contingents of
coalitions can be assigned peripheral duties--figuratively holding the horses-
-and thus not erode the overall military effectiveness of the alliance. With
the exception of operations in failed states or certain types of raids and
attacks, a host nation must be the centerpiece of efforts to confront
insurgency, terrorism, or narcotrafficking. The United States can be no more
effective than its allies, a coalition no stronger than its weakest element.
Terrorists, insurgents, and narcotraffickers will quickly recognize this.
In some cases, though, our opponents will attempt to directly counter
deployed American forces. Since new technology will improve the ability of
U.S. forces to locate and track enemies and to collect, analyze, and
disseminate intelligence, the most useful countermeasures will be tactical,
operational, and strategic camouflage and deception. Some opponents,
especially those with an external sponsor, may deploy limited but high-tech
methods of camouflage and deception. External sponsors may also provide just
enough technology to their clients to foil our forces as Stingers did for the
Afghan mujahedeen. Some narcotraffickers, insurgents, or terrorists will take
a purely low-tech approach including things as simple as abandoning electronic
communications in favor of written or voice messages, and relying on timetested
cellular organization to foil intelligence efforts.37 Organizational
decentralization may not totally destroy the effectiveness of RMA technology,
but certainly erodes it. Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the other Third World
caricatures of the Soviet Union are perfect opponents for a RMA-type military.
Driven by the well-earned paranoia of tyrants, they have highly centralized
military forces. This prevents coups d'etat, but also limits the chance of
military victory against determined advanced states. Future insurgents,
terrorists, and narcotraffickers will not be so stupid.
The use of new technology may also run counter to basic American values.
Information age--and in particular information warfare--technologies cause
concerns about privacy.38 For example, the individual position locator raises
several thorny issues: Would Americans overseas be forced to wear (or worse
have implanted) such a device or would its use be voluntary? If forced, would
it apply equally to those employed overseas and tourists? Will Americans
accept the fact that the government might, by access to the NEO locator data
base, know every move they make? If a locator device could be remotely
activated, how could Americans be sure that activation was only effective
outside the United States? How would they know that "wrist radios" were not
used to monitor personal conversations? Similarly, military use of
television against foreign adversaries raises the specter of domestic
applications. Even if domestic use was never contemplated, its possibility
might cause greater public skepticism regarding television appearances,
reducing the impact of one of the American politician's greatest communication
tools. Deception, while frequently of great military or political value, is
thought of as somehow "un-American."
American values also make the use of directed energy weapons against
suspected narcotrafficking aircraft technologically feasible but morally
difficult, perhaps unacceptable. The advantage of directed energy weapons
over conventional ones is deniability. Against whom is such deniability
aimed? Certainly not the narcotraffickers, who will quickly recognize that
interception by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or military planes leads to
loss of their aircraft.39 Instead, deniability must be aimed at the American
people, who do not sanction the imprisonment, much less execution, of
individuals without a trial (and execution is how they will perceive it--the
argument "we only disabled the aircraft, it was the crash which killed the
pilot" will carry little weight). Deniability will not last long, since
narcotraffickers can choose any number of ways to make such interceptions
public such as landing and then challenging the intercept technique in court,
or arranging to relay communications with their aircraft to a ground station
which could broadcast the "nonlethal" downing (ideally of a plane carrying no
drugs). The American public may perceive the DEA or military involved in such
actions to be as bad or worse than the narcotraffickers.
Certain biotechnical weapons--considered by some to violate the
biological warfare convention to which the United States is a signatory--also
may transgress American values regarding appropriate means.40 Most Americans
would not support the use of a weapon designed to target only a specific
racial or ethnic group in anything less than a war for survival of the
nation.41 Could the government and military of this multi-ethnic republic
face charges that it was developing or using a weapon targeting Africans,
Jews, Koreans, Hispanics, etc.? Would defense against such a charge occupy
the attention of policymakers to the detriment of other essential business?
And even accidental injuries or deaths caused by "nonlethal" antimaterial
substances could be politically damaging.
American values and attitudes thus form significant constraints on full
use of emerging technology, at least in anything short of a perceived war for
national survival. Overcoming these constraints to make a RMA in conflict
short of war would require fundamental changes in the United States--an
ethical and political revolution may be necessary to make a military
The Silicon Icarus: Making Revolution.
Even with all the constraints and countermeasures, there is some value
in applying emerging technology using existing strategy, doctrine,
organization, force structure, objectives, concepts, attitudes, and norms.
But there is another alternative: we could deliberately engineer a
comprehensive revolution, seeking utter transformation rather than simply an
expeditious use of new technology. However alluring, such a program is rife
with hidden dangers and unintended consequences. Unlike the architects of the
Manhattan Project, we are not forced to pursue revolution without considering
the implications. In conflict short of war, RMA is a Pandora's box
desperately in need of careful scrutiny before opening.
But how to do so? Because it transcends the comfortable familiarity of
both the past and present, revolution is never easy. It is, above all, a
challenge to the imagination. Even the greatest revolutionaries have only
hazy images of the future, their lives driven more by shadowy vision than
concrete plans. But for decision makers contemplating revolution, visualizing
long-term implications--however difficult--is the only way to gauge whether or
not they truly want the kind of fundamental and irrevocable change revolution
brings. To decide how far we want to push RMA in the arena of conflict short
of war, Americans must speculate on where it might ultimately lead. One way
to do this is by constructing hypothetical future scenarios. There are any
number of feasible scenarios. The probability of any one is less important
than the interconnections it uncovers. What follows, then, is such a
hypothetical future scenario--a "history" of the application of RMA to
conflict short of war written in the year 2010. It is not a prediction and
certainly not a preference, but is a possibility.
The first question is: What led American leaders and national
security professionals to apply the revolution in military affairs to
conflict short of war? Most often, a revolution in military affairs
occurs in response to defeat or a perception of rising threat. Napoleon
led an undrilled army stripped of most veteran officers against a host
of enemies; the architects of blitzkrieg all had first-hand experience
with bitter military defeat. Likewise, the RMA of the 2000s was sparked
by a series of fiascos in the mid-1990s. First was the emergence of
what became known as "third wave terrorism." Recognizing the strategic
bankruptcy of old-fashioned hijacking, kidnapping, assassination, and
bombing, terrorists rapidly adopted state-of-the art technology to their
sinister ends. Within Third World countries, they developed the means
to identify and kill American businessmen, diplomats and military
advisors at will, and to disrupt international air traffic and
electronic communications in and out of their countries. Even more
damaging was their ability to "carry the war to its source" in the
United States. Biotechnology and information warfare, especially
sabotage of communications and computer networks using mobile high power
microwave sources, replaced AK-47s and SEMTEX as the preferred tools of
terrorism. The new post-Mafia generation of silicon criminals provided
models and even mentors for third wave terrorists.
About the same time, the U.S. military became embroiled in several
horrific ethnic struggles. Our involvement usually began as part of a
multinational peacekeeping or peace enforcement operation, but rapidly
turned violent when American forces were killed or held hostage. The
usual response to the first few attacks on Americans was to send
reinforcements, thus placing U.S. prestige on the line. Since our
strategy was contingent on global leadership, we were aware of the
political damage which would result from being forcibly expelled from a
Third World country, and thus doggedly "stayed the course" until
domestic pressure forced withdrawal. On the ground, enemies would not
directly fight our magnificent military forces, but relied instead on
mines, assassination, and terror bombings.
The costs of these imbroglios were immense. A bitter dispute
broke out in the United States between supporters of multinational peace
operations and isolationists. And domestic political acrimony was not
the only long-term cost of these operations: many of our troops assigned
to operations in tropical areas brought back new resilient diseases
which then gained a foothold in the United States. Debate was fierce
over the new law requiring long-term quarantine of troops returning from
Third World operations.
American efforts at counterinsurgency during the mid-1990s were no
more successful. Whether facing commercial insurgents such as
narcotraffickers or spiritual insurgents attempting to forge new systems
of identity and personal meaning in their nations, we found that our
allies were penetrated with enemy agents, corrupt, and unable to
ameliorate the severe political, economic, and social problems that had
given rise to insurgency. When a number of these allied governments
collapsed, we were privately relieved but publicly aware of the
precipitous decline in our prestige. At times, the United States
tottered dangerously close to being the "poor, pitiful giant" Richard
Nixon warned against.
In areas where the United States was not militarily involved, the
major trends of the 1990s were the disintegration of nations,
ungovernability, ecological decay, and persistent conflict. Much of
this had a direct impact on the United States whether by generating
waves of desperate immigrants, inspiring terrorists frustrated by our
failure to solve their nations' problems, creating health and ecological
problems which infiltrated the continental United States, or increasing
divisiveness in the robustly multicultural American polity.
This series of fiascos led a small number of American political
leaders, senior military officers, and national security experts to
conclude that a revolution was needed in the way we approached conflict
short of war. They held the Vietnam-inspired doctrine of the 1980s and
1990s directly responsible for these disasters. Only radical
innovation, they concluded, could renew U.S. strategy and avoid a slide
into the global irrelevance. Nearly everyone agreed the old strategic
framework which coalesced in the 1960s was bankrupt. This thinking,
derived from the Marshall Plan, sought to use American aid and advice to
ameliorate the "root causes" of conflict in the Third World and build
effective, legitimate governments. By the 1990s this was impossible or,
at least, not worth the costs. Few, if any, Third World governments had
the inherent capability of becoming stable and legitimate even with
The revolutionaries'first task was to recruit proselytes
throughout the government and national security community. Initially
the revolutionaries, who called their new strategic concept "Dynamic
Defense," were opposed by isolationists who felt that new technology
should be used simply to build an impenetrable electronic and physical
barrier around the United States. Eventually the revolutionaries
convinced the president-elect following the campaign of 2000 that
Dynamic Defense was both feasible and effective--a task made easier by
his background as a pioneering entrepreneur in the computer-generated
and controlled "perception-molding" systems developed by the advertising
industry. The President was thus amenable to the use of the sort of
psychotechnology which formed the core of the RMA in conflict short of
The first step in implementing Dynamic Defense was reshaping the
national security organization and its underlying attitudes and values.
Technology provided opportunity; only intellectual change could
consolidate it. With the full and active support of the President, the
revolutionaries reorganized the American national security system to
make maximum use of emerging technology and new ideas. This loosely
reflected the earlier revolution in the world of business, and sought to
make the U.S. national security organization more flexible and quicker
to react to shifts in the global security environment. The old Cold War
structures--the Department of Defense, Department of State, Central
Intelligence Agency, National Security Council, and others--were
replaced by two organizations. One controlled all U.S. actions designed
to prevent conflict, including economic assistance programs and
peacetime diplomacy. The second was responsible for containing conflict
by orchestrating sanctions, quarantines, embargoes, the building of
multinational coalitions, and conflict short of war. This integrated
the military, civilian law enforcement, the diplomatic corps, and
organizations responsible for gathering and analyzing intelligence.
Since so many of the conflicts faced by the United States were "gray
area" threats falling somewhere in between traditional military problems
and traditional law enforcement problems, the organizational division
between the two was abolished. Moreover, many aspects of national
security were civilianized or sub-contracted to save costs.42
One of the most difficult dimensions of the reorganization was
altering the dominant ethos of the armed forces. As technology changed
the way force was applied, things such as personal courage, face-to-face
leadership, and the "warfighter" mentality became irrelevant.
Technological proficiency became the prime criterion for advancement
within the military while the officer corps came to consider research
universities such as Cal Tech and MIT its breeding ground rather than
increasingly archaic institutions like West Point and Annapolis. For
the military, the most common career track alternated assignments in
national security with ones in business and science. Since physical
endurance was not particularly important, military careers no longer
ended after 20 or 30 years. In fact, soldiers and officers were given
few responsibilities until the twentieth year of their careers. As
proposed by Carl Builder, the Army was organized into highly specialized
units permanently associated with a territorial franchise.43 Careers
were within one of these units, thus allowing all soldiers and officers
to develop the sort of language and cultural abilities previously
limited to Special Forces and Foreign Area Officers.
One of the turning points of the revolution came when its leaders
convinced the President and key members of Congress that traditional
American ethics were a major hinderance to the RMA. This was crucial:
the revolutionaries and their allies then crafted the appropriate
attitudinal vessel for the RMA. Through persistent efforts and very
sophisticated domestic "consciousness-raising," old-fashioned notions of
personal privacy and national sovereignty changed. This was relatively
easy since frustration with domestic crime had already begun to alter
attitudes and values. In fact, the RMA in conflict short of war was, in
many ways, a spin-off of the domestic "war on drugs and crime" of the
late 1990s when the military, as predicted by William Mendel in 1994,
became heavily involved in support to domestic law enforcement.44 The
changes in American values that accompanied that struggle were easily
translated to the national security arena. Once the norms concerning
personal privacy changed, law soon followed.
Old-fashioned ideas about information control and scientific
inquiry also changed. Preventing enemies (or potential enemies) from
responding to our technological advantages became a prime objective of
U.S. national security strategy. The government closely controlled and
monitored foreign students attending American universities and exchanges
of information within the global scientific and business communities.
When necessary, the government protected valuable information through
outright deception. And the national security community cooperated
closely with business on counterespionage, providing training, advice,
With values changed, technology then opened the door to profound
innovation. Vast improvements in surveillance systems and information
processing made it possible to monitor a large number of enemies (and
potential enemies). In the pre-RMA days, psychological operations and
psychological warfare were primitive. As they advanced into the
electronic and bioelectronic era, it was necessary to rethink our
ethical prohibitions on manipulating the minds of enemies (and potential
enemies) both international and domestic. Cutting-edge pharmaceutical
technology also provided tools for national security strategists.
Sometimes the revolutionaries found it necessary to stoke the
development of technology designed specifically for conflict short of
war. Whenever possible, profitability was used to encourage private and
quasi-private enterprises to develop appropriate technology. For
example, much of the lucrative technology of surveillance, intelligence
collection, and attitude manipulation used to solve the domestic crime
problem was easily adapted to conflict short of war. The same held for
new weapons, especially nonlethal biological ones and advanced
psychotechnology. Only when there was absolutely no expectation of
profit did the government directly sponsor research of cutting-edge
technology, often with funds freed by disbanding what were seen as
increasingly irrelevant conventional military forces.
All of this reorganization and technological development was
simply preface for the full flowering of the revolution in military
affairs. American leaders popularized a new, more inclusive concept of
national security. No distinction--legal or otherwise--was drawn
between internal and external threats. In the interdependent 21st
century world, such a differentiation was dangerously nostalgic. The
new concept of security also included ecological, public health,
electronic, psychological, and economic threats. Illegal immigrants
carrying resistant strains of disease were considered every bit as
dangerous as enemy soldiers. Actions which damaged the global ecology,
even if they occurred outside the nominal borders of the United States,
were seen as security threats which should be stopped by force if
necessary. Computer hackers were enemies. Finally, external
manipulation of the American public psychology was defined as a security
The actual strategy built on the RMA was divided into three
tracks. The first sought to perpetuate the revolution. Its internal
dimension institutionalized the organizational and attitudinal changes
that made the revolution possible, and pursued future breakthroughs in
close conjunction with business, the scientific community, and local law
enforcement agencies--the core troika of 21st century security. The
external dimension actively sought to delay or prevent counterresponses
by controlling information and through well-orchestrated deception.
The second track consisted of offensive action. Our preference
was preemption. In a dangerous world, it was preferable to kill
terrorists before they could damage the ecology or strike at the United
States. While Americans had long supported this in theory, the RMA
allowed us to actually do it with minimal risk just as the Industrial
Revolution allowed 19th century strategists to build the massive
militaries they had long desired. If regional conflicts--whether
ethnic, racial, religious, or economic--did not damage the global
ecology or appear likely to bring disease or violence to the United
States, they were ignored. When conflicts seemed likely to generate
direct challenges, the United States did not attempt ultimate
resolution, but only to preempt and disrupt whatever aspect of the
conflict seemed likely to endanger us. In the quest for strategic
economy, preemption was the byword. Since the RMA made preemption
quick, covert, usually successful, and politically acceptable, the
United States gradually abandoned collective efforts. Nearly all
allies, with their old-fashioned, pre-RMA militaries, proved more an
encumbrance than a help. When preemption failed, the United States
sought either passive containment which included isolation and
quarantines, or active containment where strikes (electronic,
psychological, or physical) were used to limit the spread of the
deleterious effects of a conflict. For opponents with the ability to
harm the United States, the military preemptively destroyed their
The third track of the strategy was defensive, and included
missile defense, cyberspace defense, and rigid immigration control.
By 2010, the RMA accomplished its desired objectives. Most of the
time, we prevented Third World conflict from directly touching our
shores. Probably the finest hour of the new warriors was the Cuba
preemption of 2005--Operation Ceberus. This was so smooth, so effective
that it warrants explanation. Following the overthrow of Fidel Castro
in 1995 by a popular revolt, an elected government of national unity
quickly proved unable to engineer massive economic and ecological
reconstruction of the country or build a stable democracy. Frequent
seizures of emergency powers and fraudulent elections were the rule.
Within a few years, nostalgia for the stability of the old regime gave
rise to an armed insurgency; most of the front-line rebels were former
members of Castro's security forces and military. The United States
refused to directly support the corrupt and inept regime, but recognized
that the conflict required our attention.
The operation officially began when the President transferred the
Cuban portfolio from the Conflict Preemption Agency to the Conflict
Containment Agency. An existing contingency plan with implementing
software provided the framework for quick action. Immediately, all
electronic communication in and out of Cuba was surreptitiously
transferred to the national security filter at Fort Meade. This allowed
full monitoring, control, and, when necessary, manipulation of private,
commercial, and government signals. Potential or possible supporters of
the insurgency around the world were identified using the Comprehensive
Interagency Integrated Database. These were categorized as "potential"
or "active," with sophisticated computerized personality simulations
used to develop, tailor, and focus psychological campaigns for each.
Individuals and organizations with active predilections to support
the insurgency were targets of an elaborate global ruse using computer
communications networks and appeals by a computer-generated insurgent
leader. Real insurgent leaders who were identified were left in place
so that sophisticated computer analysis of their contacts could be
developed. Internecine conflict within the insurgent elite was
engineered using psychotechnology. Psychological operations included
traditional propaganda as well as more aggressive steps such as drug14
assisted subliminal conditioning. At the same time, Cubans within the
United States and around the world were assigned maximum surveillance
status to monitor their physical presence and communications webs. This
thwarted several attempts to establish terrorist cells in the United
Within Cuba itself, fighting was widespread. Several acts of
industrial and ecological terrorism led to the outbreak of disease.
U.S. forces under the command of the Conflict Containment Agency helped
control these while limiting the chance of their own infection by
"stand-off" and robotic medical and humanitarian relief. Naturally all
food supplies contained a super long-lasting sedative. This calmed
local passions and led to an immediate decline in anti-regime activity.
Where there were no direct U.S. relief efforts, sedatives were
dispersed using cruise missiles. In areas thought to have high areas of
insurgent activity, the dosage was increased.
Since all Americans in Cuba had been bioelectrically tagged and
monitored during the initial stages of the conflict, the NEO went
smoothly, including the mandatory health screening of all those
returning to the United States. Coast Guard aircraft and hovercraft
stanched illegal refugees. The attitude-shaping campaigns aimed at the
American public, the global public, and the Cuban people went quite
well, including those parts using computer-generated broadcasts by
insurgent leaders--"morphing"-- in which they were shown as disoriented
and psychotic. Subliminal messages surreptitiously integrated with
Cuban television transmissions were also helpful.45 In fact, all of
this was so successful that there were only a few instances of covert,
stand-off military strikes when insurgent targets arose and government
forces seemed on the verge of defeat. U.S. strike forces also attacked
neutral targets to support the psychological campaign as
computer-generated insurgent leaders claimed credit for the raids. At
times, even the raids themselves were computer-invented "recreations."
(These were a specialty of the Army's elite Sun Tzu Battalion.)
Eventually it all worked: the insurgents were discredited and
their war faded to simmering conflict unlikely to directly threaten the
United States. Even the relatively unimportant criticism from domestic
political groups was stilled when the President temporarily raised the
quota of Cuban orphans eligible for adoption in the United States.
Unfortunately, there are growing signs in 2010 that the great
advantages brought by the RMA might be eroding. With a decade to adapt,
many opponents of the United States–both state and non-state actors–are
themselves bending technology to their ends. While none can match the
prowess of American forces across the board, indications are that by
concentrating on one potential weakness of U.S. forces, enemies might be
able to increase the human costs of intervention and, if not defeat the
United States, at least deny us success. The RMA has amplified our
distaste for death, a liability our enemies initially disdained and are
now learning to manipulate in simple, low-tech ways.
In 2010, a decade of constant success in counterterrorism was
marred by several dramatic failures. The post-attack environmental
clean-up and reconstruction of St. Louis will take decades. Many of the
difficult-to-detect drugs and psychotechnology developed for use in
conflict short of war have appeared on the domestic black market and,
increasingly, in American schools and workplaces. Perhaps most
important, Americans are beginning to question the economic, human, and
ethical costs of our new strategy. A political movement called the "New
Humanitarianism" is growing, especially among Americans of non-European
descent, and seems likely to play a major role in the presidential
election of 2012. There are even rumblings of discontent within the
national security community as the full meaning of the revolution
becomes clear. Since the distinction between the military and
non-military components of our national security community has eroded,
many of those notionally in the military service have to come to feel
unbound by traditional notions of civil-military relations. This group
has founded a new political party–The Eagle Movement–which is beginning
to exert great pressure on the traditional political parties for
inclusion in national policymaking. The traditional parties are, to put
it lightly, intimidated by the Eagle Movement, and seem likely to accept
In the end, only historians and philosophers of the future can
ultimately assess the consequences of applying the RMA to conflict short
Defining the Agenda: Conclusions and Recommendations.
The impact of purely military innovation, whether revolutionary or
evolutionary, is nearly always less in conflict short of war than in
warfare. The military dimension of conflict short of war is smaller, a
less decisive proportion of the total struggle. Political, diplomatic,
cultural, psychological, and economic factors matter in all conflicts,
but are preeminent in conflict short of war. Military superiority–
however measured–nearly always brings battlefield victory, but as
Vietnam, Algeria, and a hundred other steamy struggles showed, it is not
always strategically decisive in conflict short of war.
Still, there is some value in applying emerging technology and
innovative concepts to conflict short of war. If the United States wants
marginal improvements of effectiveness and efficiency, emerging
technology and new concepts offer it. The bigger question is whether to
seek true revolution rather than simply marginal improvements. To do so
will demand fundamental changes in attitudes and values as well as
organization, force structure, doctrine, and techniques. After serious
debate, the people and leaders of the United States may decide the costs
and risks of applying RMA to conflict short of war are not worth the
Even without such debate, undesirable change may come through
accretion. By applying new technology here and new concepts there, by
making apparently limited and benign modifications in the way we
approach conflict short of war, by serendipity, we may eventually
stumble into change as ultimately profound as deliberate revolution.
Equally, revolutionary change in our approach to conflict short of war
may come about indirectly as we grapple with domestic problems such as
crime and drugs. If our traditional notions of privacy and public
security are altered to fight these battles, it is an easy step to
change our attitudes toward intervention in the affairs and psyches of
foreign foes. Again, the focus on short-term considerations may lead to
an undesirable future.
Whether we opt for revolution or evolution, change will occur. Our
current approach to conflict short of war is a child of the Cold War.
New threats demand new ideas; old assumptions no longer hold. To
understand and control ongoing change, research, analysis, and debate is
needed. Adaptation of military force structure, doctrine, and procedures
must follow rather than precede this. The agenda for research, analysis,
and debate, at least, is fairly clear.
For starters, we must develop a comprehensive general theory of
military revolutions set within the context of broader notion of global
politics and security. Currently, there is no accepted definition of
RMAs or even agreement on which historical transformations constituted
revolutions. It is not clear whether military revolutions are
independent variables created by military leaders, or dependent
variables that occur as spin-offs of wider social, political, and
economic changes. We do not know conclusively whether military
revolutions can be deliberately created, or whether rapid change is only
seen as revolutionary after the fact. If the latter is true, then
perhaps military revolutions are gist only for historians and not
strategists. The concept of the "life-span" of a revolution–the period
during which the enemy deliberately or inadvertently allows asymmetry to
persist–also demands attention. What determines the "life-span"? Does
military innovation increase the chances of conflict or diminish it?
Finally, what is the relationship between the nature of future armed
conflict and RMAs? Most of what are considered RMAs occurred in the
Westphalian state system. Can they also occur in some different type of
political system not based on nation-states and traditional inter-state
The strategy and policy foundation of military revolutions also
warrants further study. Again, the direction of influence is central:
Can military revolutions cause strategy to change, do strategic changes
somehow generate military revolutions, or must they always occur
simultaneously? Can an incomplete or partial military revolution occur
in the absence of fundamental strategic change? Once these questions
are answered, the architects of RMA must, if they are to gauge the
potential for a military revolution, discern the future of U.S. strategy
and policy in the Third World. American decision makers and strategists
must then decide whether institutionalizing military revolution should
be an integral part of our national security strategy in the absence of
an equally innovative opponent like the Soviet Union.
Perhaps more importantly, analysis of the ethical dimension of RMA
is needed. Military strategists often overlook the fact that the
employment of force occurs within and is structured by an elaborate
normative framework. This has a historical foundation based on just war
theory, the Judeo- Christian ethical tradition, and international law as
well as a superstructure constantly modified by specific military and
political developments. In the 20th century total war, strategic
bombing, nuclear weapons, limited war, and revolutionary people's war
forced adaptation of the normative framework Americans use when
employing force. The RMA will require a new assessment. We must decide
whether innovative military capabilities are, in fact, acceptable and
desirable. That can only happen through open debate. The military must
be a vital participant, but not the sole one. But as the institution
most intensely aware of both the opportunities and dangers offered by
emerging technology and concepts, the military must–as our notion of
civil-military relations evolves to meet changing conditions–serve as a
catalyst of this debate.
We must also examine the impact of the revolution in military
affairs on the structure of the U.S. national security organization
including both the policymaking apparatus and the military services.
Reflecting the Cold War strategic environment, the military services are
each organized around a key warfighting competency defined by geographic
medium–landpower dominance, air superiority, control of the seas, power
projection on the oceanic littoral. If writers like Alvin Toffler and
Winn Schwartau are correct and the key to future conflict is
information, organization of the military by geographic medium may be
obsolete.46 At a minimum, the growing importance of information suggests
the need for an integrated, interservice C4I force.47 The same logic
holds for conflict short of war: since it must be confronted with a
cohesive blend of military, political, economic, and intelligence
assets, organizational integration makes sense. This notion bears
careful analysis in the context of changes in the global security
environment and emerging technology. Organizational change which was
politically impossible or undesirable in the past should be considered
The military services must also assess the impact of RMA on leader
development. Since the Army plays the largest role of any service in
conflict short of war, it must take the lead in this assessment. Based
on a careful analysis of recent history, Stephen Rosen concludes that
neither money nor outside encouragement determines the ability of a
military to innovate. The key is acceptance by senior leaders that the
nature of conflict is undergoing fundamental change. Then, Rosen argues,
if "military leaders...attract talented young officers with great
potential for promotion to a new way of war, and then...protect and
promote them, they [can] produce new, usable military capabilities."48
This suggests that the ultimate fate of the current revolution in
military affairs will not be decided in the laboratories of the great
universities, the board rooms of the major defense contractors, or even
the offices of the Pentagon, but at Fort Leavenworth, in the classrooms
of the Combined Arms Services and Staff School and the Command and
General Staff College, and at PERSCOM.
The cultivation of expertise is related to leader development, but
is not the same. Technological expertise should be of particular concern
to the Army. Because of their roles and functions, the Air Force and
Navy have traditionally emphasized technological expertise. For the
Army, successful officers need branch-specific competence, interpersonal
leadership and management ability, proficiency at staff functions, and,
later in their careers, expertise at the operational and strategic
levels of war. Technological acumen is relegated to a very few Army
officers. But if an RMA is, in fact, underway, whether in conventional
warfare or conflict short of war, and the Army intends to play a major
role, it must develop a long-term program for cultivating technological
expertise among all its officers rather than simply a tiny cadre. The
same holds for nontechnological skills. If the Army is to pursue a RMA
in conflict short of war, it must decide which nonmilitary skills from
the worlds of law enforcement, science, intelligence, and psychology are
necessary and then cultivate them throughout an officer's career.
Research and analysis is also needed on technology designed specifically
for conflict short of war. Currently, the primary advances of the RMA
are in integrated, stand-off strike systems–the ability to find and
destroy or disable targets by synchronized strike forces. Such
capabilities form the heart of conventional, combined-arms warfare, but
play only a very limited role in conflict short of war. Advances in
sensors and other elements of information technology may bring great
benefits to conventional, combined-arms warfare, but will have less
impact in conflict short of war, which is most often won or lost through
the manipulation of images, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions.49 These
things rather than troop concentrations, command and control nodes, and
transportation infrastructure are the key military targets in conflict
short of war. This makes psychological technology much more important
than strike technology. Ways must be found to use emerging technology,
including advanced artificial intelligence and information dissemination
systems, to help military strategists develop, implement, and
continually improve methods of influencing opinion, mobilizing public
support, and sometimes demobilizing it. There is also the potential for
defensive pyschotechnology such as "strategic personality simulations"
to aid national security decision makers.50 To date, most analysts feel
that the RMA has not generated adequate advances in such "soft war"
capabilities or even the promise of such gains. But ultimate success in
applying the RMA to conflict short of war hinges on the development of
psychotechnology. As this emerges, it could be tested for political
acceptability by using it first in non-lethal operations other than war
like humanitarian relief and nation assistance.
Additional research is also needed on defensive technology for
conflict short of war. Most current attention to defensive technology
concerns protection against missiles. This is appropriate: ballistic
missile proliferation poses a real and present danger to American
national security. But in the arena of conflict short of war, different
forms of strategic defense apply. For example, research is needed on the
defense of cyberspace against politically-motivated terrorists.51 As
Winn Schwartau argues, the United States needs a national information
policy to integrate the efforts of the national security community,
business, and the criminal justice system.52 And, as public health
increasingly becomes a national security issue, strategic medical
defense, including buffering the effects of ecological decay and
preventing the import of new resilient diseases, demands study.
Finally, research is needed on the application of biotechnology to
conflict short of war. It is possible that some of the conceptual
confusion concerning the current RMA may have to do with the compression
of time which is such an integral characteristic of the modern era. In
the past, RMAs took years, often decades to develop. Today, two RMAs may
be underway simultaneously. The first (and more mature) is electronic.
Its manifestations are improved C4I and precision strike systems. The
second (and potentially more profound) RMA is biotechnological,
including genetic engineering and advanced behavior-altering drugs.
Because of the compression of time and the shortening of historical
patterns, the biotechnical revolution is totally enmeshed with the
electronic. It may ultimately be the combination of the two that proves
Distilled to their essence, revolutions are acts of supreme
creativity. The U.S. military is not inherently hostile to creativity,
but is cautious. If the nation–our political and intellectual leaders
and the public–decide that improving American capabilities in conflict
short of war is necessary and desirable, the preeminent task for the
military is to continue to build and enlarge a culture of creativity and
strategic entrepreneurship among the officer corps. To some extent, this
has begun. The changes leading to AirLand Battle, victory in the Gulf
War, and the current RMA were supremely creative. Still, these were only
first steps. To make a revolution in conflict short of war will be more
difficult. But to allow technology to develop without concomitant
creativity would, in the end, endanger the Nation's security.
1. Jeffrey R. Cooper, "Another View of the Revolution in Military
Affairs," a paper presented at the Fifth Annual Conference on Strategy,
U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA, April 27, 1994, pp. 42-43.
2. See, for example, reports of the roundtables on the revolution in
military affairs held for the Army, Air Force, and Navy by Science
Applications International Corporation of McLean, VA, and Michael J.
Mazarr, et. al., The Military Technical Revolution, Final Report of a
CSIS Study, Washington, DC: CSIS, March 1993. Another important early
work was Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., "The Military-Technical Revolution:
A Preliminary Assessment," a report prepared for the Office of the
Secretary Defense/Net Assessment (OSD/NA), July 1992.
3. Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., "The Coming Revolution in the Nature of
Conflict: An American Perspective," in The US Air Force Roundtable on
the Revolution in Military Affairs, a report prepared by Science
Applications International Corporation, January 1994, p. 2.
4. Dan Gouré, "Is There a Military-Technical Revolution in America's
Future?" Washington Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, Autumn 1993, p. 175.
5. John Shy and Thomas W. Collier, "Revolutionary War," in Peter Paret,
ed., Makers of Modern Strategy From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age,
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986, p. 852.
6. See Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency, New York:
Praeger, 1966; and Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare: A French View of
Counterinsurgency, New York: Praeger, 1967.
7. On the development of American counterinsurgency doctrine, see
especially Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era, New York:
Free Press, 1977; Larry E. Cable, Conflict of Myths: The Development of
American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War, New York: New
York University Press, 1986; and, D. Michael Shafer, Deadly Paradigms:
The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1988.
8. FM (Field Manual) 100-20/AFP (Air Force Pamphlet) 3-20, Military
Operations in Low Intensity Conflict, Washington, DC: Headquarters,
Departments of the Army and the Air Force, December 5, 1990.
9. Ibid., pp. 2-7 through 2-14.
10. On the concepts of commercial and spiritual insurgency, see Steven
Metz, The Future of Insurgency, Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War
College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1994.
11. For detailed analysis, see Steven Metz, America and the Third
World: Strategic Alternatives and Military Implications, Carlisle
Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1994,
12. See, for example, Gordon R. Sullivan and James M. Dubik, Land
Warfare in the 21st Century, Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War
College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1993. Also the reports of the
roundtables on the revolution in military affairs held for the Army, Air
Force, and Navy by Science Applications International Corporation of
13. FM (Field Manual) 100-5, Operations, Washington, DC: Headquarters,
Department of the Army, 1993, p. 13-8.
14. These are the capabilities identified as essential to future
reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) technologies
in the Army's final draft Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)
Pamphlet 525-xx, Concept for Information Operations, Ft. Monroe, VA:
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, May 5, 1994, p. 4-7.
15. Although the Army's most recent proposed doctrine in regard to
Information Operations merely states: "The Army supports the timely and
accurate release of information to the media as well as open and
independent reporting as the principal means of coverage of U.S.
military operations." TRADOC Pamphlet 525-xx, p. 2-9.
16. FM 100-20, pp. 5-5 to 5-7.
17. National Research Council, STAR 21 (Strategic Technologies for the
Army of the Twenty-first Century), Airborne Systems, Washington DC:
National Academy Press, 1993, pp. 49-55. Also Chuck de Caro, "Sats,
Lies, and Video-Rape: The Soft War Handbook," unpublished paper,
Aerobureau Corporation, 1994.
18. See for example the discussion in National Research Council, STAR
21, Airborne Systems, p. 19.
19. "Chameleon" camouflage is based on commercially available heat- and
light-sensitive colorants that adapt to the surrounding environment, as
well as electrically stimulated colorants that change color according to
the surrounding landscape. See "Living Camouflage," Soldiers' Magazine,
Volume 49, No. 3, March 1994, p. 9. Also National Research Council,
STAR 21, Special Technologies and Systems, Washington DC: National
Academy Press, 1993, pp. 23-24.
20. FM 100-5, pp. 13-6 and 13-7.
21. Quoted in Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War: Survival at
the Dawn of the 21st Century, Boston: Little, Brown, 1993, p. 157.
22. Ibid., p. 157.
23. Ibid., p. 113.
24. de Caro, "Sats, Lies, and Video-Rape," pp. 32-34.
25. Winn Schwartau, Information Warfare: Chaos on the Electronic
Superhighway, New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1994, pp. 171-176. Note that de
Caro defines "soft war" as the hostile utilization of global television.
"Soft kill" is used here in a more generic sense of any system designed
to achieve its effect without causing harm to human beings. See National
Research Council, STAR 21, Technology Forecast Assessments, p. 314.
26. FM 100-5, p. 13-6 .
27. Martin C. Libicki, The Mesh and the Net: Speculations on Armed
Conflict in a Time of Free Silicon, Washington, DC: National Defense
University Institute for National Strategic Studies, March 1994, p. 24.
The utility of Libicki's very interesting analysis is limited by his
failure to provide supporting references.
28. For a brief description of very small autonomous systems, see
Richard O. Hundley and Eugene C. Gritton, Future Technology-Driven
Revolutions in Military Operations: Results of a Workshop, Santa Monica,
CA: RAND Corporation, November 1993, pp. 12-37.
29. Possible advances in biotechnology are outlined in STAR 21,
Technology Forecast Assessments, Washington DC: National Academy
Press, 1993, pp. 314-346.
30. FM 100-5, p. 13-7.
31. National Research Council, STAR 21, Technology Forecast
Assessments, Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1993, p. 346.
32. FM 100-20, p. 2-0 and pp. 2-7 to 2-9.
33. Ibid., pp. 2-17 to 2-18.
34. Ibid., p. 2-22.
35. Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the
Modern Military, Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991, p. 5.
36. Quoted in Schwartau, Information Warfare, p. 127.
37. A classic explanation of cellular organization by insurgents is
Andrew R. Molnar, Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in
Insurgencies, Washington, DC: American University Center for Research in
Social Systems, 1966, pp. 3-22.
38. See, as an example, Stephen Sloan, "Technology and Terrorism:
Privatizing Public Violence," Technology and Society, Vol. 10, No. 2,
Summer 1991, pp. 8-14.
39. Narcotraffickers may, in fact, respond by arming their own aircraft
with conventional air-to-air weaponry. Imagine the surprise of the first
DEA crew who sees, as they pass ahead of a suspected drug laden aircraft
to aim their HERF gun at its vulnerable avionics, a Sidewinder exiting a
concealed cargo compartment.
40. The Army contends that its research falls within the limitations of
the chemical and biological conventions. See National Research Council,
STAR 21, Technology Forecast Assessments, pp. 314-315.
41. Tofflers, War and Anti-War, p. 122.
42. Michael Mazarr, an early analyst of the revolution in military
affairs, considered "civilianization of war" one of the principles of
the RMA. See The Revolution in Military Affairs: A Framework for Defense
Planning, Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Strategic
Studies Institute, 1994, pp. 22-27.
43. Carl Builder, "Information Technologies and the Future of
Conflict," Briefing to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (OASDSOLIC), March 23,
44. William W. Mendel, "The Cold War Returns," Military Review, Vol.
74, No. 5, May 1994, pp. 69-71.
45. This is described in Rod Paschall, LIC 2010: Special Operations and
Unconventional Warfare in the Next Century, Washington: Brassey's, 1990,
46. Tofflers, War and Anti-War; Schwartau, Information Warfare.
47. For a detailed discussion, see Libicki, The Mesh and the Net, pp.
48. Rosen, Winning the Next War, p. 252.
49. By contrast, a seminal study by the Center for Strategic and
International Studies suggests that emerging sensor technologies (at
least) will have equal benefits for conventional and unconventional
military operations. (Mazarr, et. al., The Military Technical
Revolution, p. 44.)
50. See Norman D. Livergood and Stephen D. Williams, "Strategic
Personality Simulation: A New Strategic Concept," unpublished draft
paper, Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1994.
51. For thinking on this topic, see Hundley and Gritton, Future
Technology-Driven Revolutions in Military Operations, pp. 60-73.
52. Schwartau, Information Warfare, pp. 316-353.
U.S. ARMY WAR COLLEGE
Major General William A. Stofft
STRATEGIC STUDIES INSTITUTE
Colonel John W. Mountcastle
Director of Research
Dr. Earl H. Tilford, Jr.
Dr. Steven Metz
Lieutenant Colonel James Kievit
Mrs. Marianne P. Cowling
Mrs. Shirley E. Martin
Mr. James E. Kistler
Mr. Daniel B. Barnett