SHOCK AND AWE: THE CHET RICHARDS PREVIEW BRIEF
“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. “
– Sun Tzu
Dr. Chet Richards, the editor of Defense & The National Interest, former collaborator with military theorist Colonel John Boyd and author of A Swift Elusve Sword, has posted a brief based on his forthcoming book, Neither Shall The Sword . It’s a breathtaking piece of work that argues not for a mere “revolution in military affairs” but that the nature of warfare is undergoing an epochal shift.
Even if you have read The Sling and The Stone or are generally familiar with the ideas of John Boyd or other theorists like William Lind, Thomas P.M. Barnett or Philip Bobbitt this one by Dr. Richards is a fall out of your chair brief.
Drawing on Martin van Creveld, William Lind, John Boyd and Thomas P.M. Barnett, Richards illustrates the general theory of 4GW and takes that premise to their most radical logical conclusions regarding the appropriate military structure and geopolitical strategy for the United States. Conceding that we still do not know the final shape that 4GW will take, Richards points to the known aspects or tendencies of 4GW movements to be:
Frequently anti-State and not just anti-regime
Emphasize conflict at the ” Moral” level
Uses the modality of guerilla warfare
The strategic posture the United States should adopt in the view of Dr. Richards is containment of problem regions and privatization of military and security functions. His rationale is that nuclear weapons makes State vs. State warfare among Core nuclear powers exceptionally unlikely and the massively expensive” Leviathan” conventional military cannot be employed effectively against 4GW insurgencies, is ponderous and too slow to adapt. We do not know how to ” rollback” nor do we reconstruct adequately or without fostering corruption. PMC’s on the other hand, being creatures of the market rather than the State, are creative and adaptive; moreover the history of pre-Westphalian era private warfare stretches back to the ancient world, so PMC’s moving to the forefront represents a return to the historical norm. Problem states will be integrated the way we absorbed the old Soviet bloc, with soft power and incentives and contained until they are ready to join the civilized world.
Dr. Richards deserves great praise for his willingness to challenge not merely conventional thinking but the validity of the paradigm in which most discussions of military strategy and policy take place. It would be hard to imagine any government entity – even forums like the National Intelligence Council and the Defense Science Board, where unorthodox viewpoints are supposedly encouraged – creating so highly original a brief that challenges so many fundamental assumptions of U.S. military doctrine.
Secondly, in regard to the collapse of the Westphalian state system and the rise of PMC’s as increasingly significant evolutionary trendlines, Dr. Richards is, in my view, quite correct in emphasizing their strategic importance. They represent major changes in the global balance of power and the parameters by which that power may be exercised. PMC’s have become a necessary adjunct even to the mighty U.S. military but for small to medium sized but wealthy states, PMC’s represent power-multiplying leverage that can be hired far more cheaply than could be developed internally. If we are entering, as Philip Bobbitt argues, the era of the “Market-State”, then military power represents a commodity and not merely a public good for the State.
Critically speaking, I have a number of problems with the proposed strategy of Dr. Richards:
Foremost, is the problem of State power calculus. Currently, all the world’s actors, State and non-State, begin with the premise of American military preeminence and the substantial ” gap” between the United States and any potential first rank peer competitor. Even in our currently strained condition, national leaders are well aware that America is still capable of dealing out tremendous damage by air and sea on very short notice with a fraction of our total forces. Removing that power by a dramatic downsizing to expeditionary PMCs will badly destabilize the global system of states by lowering the risks for interstate warfare. Globally, military agression will be given newfound incentives from which unforseeable ripple effects will follow. Moreover, the PMCs themselves will make warfare more likely between minor states or lesser powers by creating a highly mobile, global labor market for advanced military skills.
Secondly, the oft-cited maxim from Mao ZeDong that ” power flows from the barrel of a gun” is in my view a good reason why PMC’s, as efficient, creative and useful as they might be, should not become completely untethered from the supervision of Core states. Nor Core states too dependent on PMC’s for their national security. The Pre-Westphalian era was not just the age of the warrior-prince but also of the freebooter amd mercenary usurper. The Free Companies that once ravaged France, Spain and Asia Minor are not a model for growth we want PMC’s to adopt. The 21st century does not need its own version of “Catalonian Revenge” playing out in Africa or Central Asia, much less in Europe and North America.
Thirdly, Dr. Richards vastly overestimates the role of Afghanistan in provoking the Soviet collapse. While the war in Afghanistan certainly did not help matters for the Soviets, the cost of battling mujahedin was fractional compared to the vast sums the Soviets were spending as a percentage of GDP on military and state security services. Morally, the regime had crippled itself in the mod-1960’s when Brezhnev-Kosygin-Suslov reversed Khrushchev’s attempts to morally reconnect the regime with the Russian people and imposed a creeping ” neo-Stalinist” orthodoxy that became more sterile as the Politburo grew grayer. Afghanistan was a product of the Soviet leadership’s total moral isolation and the regime’s economic implosion, not the cause.
Fourth, I would like to see more of what would constitute ” containment” of Gap State problems in Dr. Richards view. I’m dubious that in the absence of economic development or connectivity inside the Gap that the Core can contain the resultant migrational pressures. William Lind has written about having to wage ” Roman, that is to say annihilatory” campaigns in response to terror emanating from these states, but Julius Caesar put uncounted Germans to the sword in Gaul; his successors launched expeditions into the Rhineland, Britain and Dacia. In the end, the empire became Germanized and fell, with Rome having been sacked by Vandals and menaced by Huns.
If the utterly ruthless Romans could not make “containment” permanent, how can we ? Without some strategy to relieve the pressure of human misery we are containing, how can we “win” ?
Nevertheless this powerful brief marks Never Shall The Sword as a ” must read”book for policy makers, military officers as well as academics and journalists interested in military affairs. Dr. Chet Richards has offered a provocative and radical vision that is likely to be as deeply influential in the long-run as it will no doubt be controversial in the short-term.
Read the first review of the Richards brief by Evan Lehmann.
Read the Introduction to Never Shall The Sword by Chet Richards.
Watch the Conflict in The Years Ahead brief by Dr. Richards ( hat tip: Jacob H.)