SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Friday, April 07, 2006

British Defense Minister Makes Important Observations About Contemporary Warfare

In OpinionJournal, Daniel Henninger summarizes John Reid and make commentary on his London speech.


In an important speech delivered Monday in London, the British Defense Minister John Reid suggested that we consider revising the Geneva Conventions regarding conduct in war. He wants to accommodate the altered reality of modern terrorism. "I believe we need now to consider whether we--the international community in its widest sense--need to re-examine these conventions," Mr. Reid said. "If we do not, we risk continuing to fight a 21st-century conflict with 20th-century rules." The Geneva Conventions were shaped 50 years ago, Mr. Reid said, but "warfare continues to evolve, and, in its moral dimensions, we have now to cope with a deliberate regression towards barbaric terrorism by our opponents."
This summary does not do justice to Mr. Reid's speech, which was at pains to seek a balance in the tension between a West that struggled to mitigate the savagery of armed conflict and an enemy that daily dishonors those principles. He is not suggesting that we adopt the enemy's methods. He is worried that the old rules are putting the soldiers on our side at unacceptable risk. "If we act differently today from how we behaved yesterday, it is not necessarily wrong. Indeed it may be wrong not to."

Most likely, any such reconsideration would pass through the United Nations, an institution perhaps irreparably damaged by September 11. Set aside the disqualifying facts of the Oil for Food scandal; the U.N. has never been able to agree on a definition of "terrorism." That is so the worst of them can escape censure for crimes against civilian populations. Thus the legitimacy of suicide bombings as an instrument of policy remains, repulsively, an "open question." So it worsens.
The central issue raised in the speech by U.K. Defense Minister Reid involves the tension between what up to now has been illegal in war and what in the future should be illegal, if the purpose of law is to protect the innocent against barbarism. My view is that the likelihood of the U.S. or the U.K. "losing its soul" if it upgrades the rules to suppress a shame-free terrorism is about nil. Yes, September 11 changed everything, and it's time to start talking about whether the changes are helping us, or them.


Full text of the speech available here.

From Reid's speech:

Change 1 The enemy are unconstrained

The first of these great changes is in the type of enemy we face today. The enemy our parents and grandparents faced in the first and second world wars wore a different uniform to theirs, but had aims and, by and large, had conduct they could understand. The enemy fought much as we fought; his forces were structured in much the same way. And, by and large, they accepted the same conventions. Today's most dangerous, global enemy, the terrorist, does not.


Although listing the changes made to warfare, the barbarity of the enemy, the risk to civilians, he, as do most leaders refuses to name the real enemy: Islam, for as the Koran is taken as a whole and mandates Jihad against all of the "enemies of Islam," those that seem moderate, at the drop of a hat, can snap into extremist mode or become intransigent about cultural or theological issues as is still being demonstrated in the ongoing Cartoon Controversy.

He calls the enemy "unrecognizable from the past, indeed unprecedented. It is the completely unconstrained terrorist, giving no mention that this terrorist spring from only one source: Islam.

We face an adversary: 
· which revels in mass murder; 
· which sets out to cause the greatest pain it can to innocent people; 
· which is entirely unconstrained by any law; 
· which sees all civilians, including women and children not as non-combatants but as easy targets; 
· which sees terror as a key part of its arsenal, and
· which both glorifies and operates suicide bombers.

It is an enemy, unfettered by any sense of morality - indeed it is spurred on by a perverse perception of morality to achieve ever-greater extent of civilian carnage. It is thus driven to take innocent people as prisoners and degrade them, humiliate them, even ritually murder them on camera for the purpose of terrorising others - methods which we could not conceive being used even a short time ago.

Where we intrinsically value life, they do not. And worst of all - these are not isolated aberrations, condemned or punished when discovered by their superiors. They are the systematic tools of terror.

In our history we have faced enemies before which have embraced some of these methods. Never, though, have we faced an enemy that had the will and the technological means to embrace them all on such a scale.


He speaks of the World War II British traitor, nicked named "Lord Haw Haw," who daily attempted to demoralize he British population by his radio broadcasts of propaganda and disinformation. Ironically in the 21st century we are surrounded by thousands of Lord Haw Haws who are again constantly propagandizing and misinforming, this time against another enemy who was counting on their participation. Which is Reid's second Change

Our adversary will try to achieve his aims by using our very freedoms against us. It sees the free western media as a virtual battleground in itself - where the swaying of public opinion away from support for our campaigns, can be the path to a swift victory; a quick way of undermining our public morale and endurance.
Endurance, said Napoleon, is more important than even courage in a struggle. And it is morale which underpins endurance. That is why undermining our morale is so important to the enemy.

The strategic goal of the act of terrorism is fear, directed at breaking the will of their opponent. To a terrorist, the news reporting of an incident is nothing more than a method of amplifying and transmitting that fear. I fully accept that this is a difficult bind for a free media in a democratic country whose news values are driven by commercial competition in an international market.

But, be in no doubt, terrorists want to use our democratic freedom of speech to destroy our will to fight for our democratic values.

There would be no free media in a world run by al-Qaeda, but they are happy to issue press releases and videos to independent news organisations in the hope they broadcast their messages.

There is no curtailment of systematic violence against civilians by al-Qaeda; quite the opposite. But they and their apologists will be the first to complain and exploit isolated unlawful acts by those ranged against them. In this life and death struggle they want both of their hands free and both of our hands tied behind our back.

The terrorists have become adept at using the media to their ends. It is the media's responsibility to ensure that in reporting the facts, which it can and must do, does not fall victim to this campaign.


Why do we fight?: "It is the rule of law and the virtue of free of expression versus barbarism." There was no rolling over the border as did the Nazis into Holland or Czechoslovakia, no the changes that have been brought about came about gradually. "Neither of these two changes has been sudden. They did not happen overnight. Instead they have been slow, and subtle. But for all that they have been very real.

Reid is speaking for the U.K. We all know that Europeans and peoples of other parts of the world have felt the effects of Islam for some time. Now Islam is rising on North America where both Canada and the United States have experienced and acquiesced to some demands.


Change 3: Technological and communications revolution

For the battlefield soldier and civilian alike, changes in technology are creating situations making many tactical actions strategic...and political. The new technology has 'so compressed command hierarchies' that the old divisions between the so called 'levels of war' - grand strategic, military strategic, operation and tactical - are breaking down. This makes political military command and control hierarchy 'flatter.'

And most significantly technology has enabled, for the first time, real-time media scrutiny of war, on a scale and a level of intrusiveness inconceivable only a few decades ago.

Indeed military academics now argue that this presence of "the international media (accredited and otherwise) with very sophisticated means of communication, introduces another real time debate that does not merely enable political involvement in the conduct of the campaign, but insists on it" (Dr Paul Cornish, Carrington Chair in International Security, Chatham House in "Cry Havoc and let slip the managers of war" 2006)


The Clausewitz Diversion Has technology rendered the premisses of Clausewitz obsolete?

Now those of us with even a passing familiarity with Clausewitz should not be surprised at this, since, contrary to assumptions, he never argued that political discourse is suspended when war breaks out, but that it continues to shape and constrain the conduct of warfare.

However, when he described war as "simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means" he did draw a divide between politics and policy on the one hand and matters military on the other by saying: "Policy of course will not extend its influence to operational details. Political considerations do not determine the posting of guards or the employment of patrols". He was right in his time. But I don't believe he could have imagined an era when technology had gone so far in breaking down this division, and these very issues would have been beamed into living rooms across the globe live on television within seconds and analysed within minutes.

One observer, with one videophone, or today even one mobile phone, standing in one square metre of a vast and hugely complex theatre of operations can convey an oversimplified and sometimes misleading picture with an impact that is incalculable.

And unlike the changes I have already outlined - civilian culture, an unconstrained enemy and their will to use our freedoms against us - I contend this is something we are going to have to live with. This technological genie cannot be returned to its bottle.

The actions of our armed forces, at home and abroad, have never been under greater scrutiny than they are today. Our forces are operating - in this hazardous new environment - under a microscope and that microscope is here to stay.
And this is why I believe British troops are now forced to operate on what I call "an uneven playing field of scrutiny". Real time analysis of our forces' actions down to the level of a single private soldier, whilst the enemy which refuses any scrutiny at all and endeavours to exploit our highly prized free media against us.

There is now asymmetric - uneven - scrutiny of warfare. And it is unlikely to go away so long as we fight terrorists who oppose our democratic way of life.

This is a matter of crucial importance. Given the importance of morale in sustaining military campaigns, it follows that democracies themselves are open to a constant threat to national morale - with our enemies seeking to portray every isolated blemish as a general picture - while they themselves systematically and deliberately commit the most heinous of crimes.


The answer to the problem is simple: What adds to symmetry - changing law practice In other words, adapt the laws of warfare to fit conditions of the 21st century. Don't fall back on the Geneva Convention that were written for wars of other centuries that are constraining us in such a manner that we can only lose battles and upcoming wars.

Conclusion

Now those of us with even a passing familiarity with Clausewitz should not be surprised at this, since, contrary to assumptions, he never argued that political discourse is suspended when war breaks out, but that it continues to shape and constrain the conduct of warfare.

However, when he described war as "simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means" he did draw a divide between politics and policy on the one hand and matters military on the other by saying: "Policy of course will not extend its influence to operational details. Political considerations do not determine the posting of guards or the employment of patrols". He was right in his time. But I don't believe he could have imagined an era when technology had gone so far in breaking down this division, and these very issues would have been beamed into living rooms across the globe live on television within seconds and analysed within minutes.
One observer, with one videophone, or today even one mobile phone, standing in one square metre of a vast and hugely complex theatre of operations can convey an oversimplified and sometimes misleading picture with an impact that is incalculable.

And unlike the changes I have already outlined - civilian culture, an unconstrained enemy and their will to use our freedoms against us - I contend this is something we are going to have to live with. This technological genie cannot be returned to its bottle.

The actions of our armed forces, at home and abroad, have never been under greater scrutiny than they are today. Our forces are operating - in this hazardous new environment - under a microscope and that microscope is here to stay.
And this is why I believe British troops are now forced to operate on what I call "an uneven playing field of scrutiny". Real time analysis of our forces' actions down to the level of a single private soldier, whilst the enemy which refuses any scrutiny at all and endeavours to exploit our highly prized free media against us.

There is now asymmetric - uneven - scrutiny of warfare. And it is unlikely to go away so long as we fight terrorists who oppose our democratic way of life.

This is a matter of crucial importance. Given the importance of morale in sustaining military campaigns, it follows that democracies themselves are open to a constant threat to national morale - with our enemies seeking to portray every isolated blemish as a general picture - while they themselves systematically and deliberately commit the most heinous of crimes.


Reid's pep talk to the British military and civilians is also applicable to the United States. We are fighting the same enemy, an enemy that uses our rules against us. This is not a game of tennis. We can't be worried whether or not we are viewed as fighting on a "level playing field" as did warriors of other generations. (Or as did the IDEALIZED warriors.)

War is always hell; war is always dirty and has become more so that the enemy is fearless, dedicated to martyrdom, and smart enough to have studied our rules of warfare, our Constitutions, our culture, and have adapted their tactics to fit the same business as usual strategy: learn about the enemy, utilize what they have that is useful to overcome, overrun, absorb and annihilate.
They are not and have never been constrained as Allah has promised victory for those that obey. Allah demands victory; thus victory must be achieved. The use of any means necessary is permitted, or O.K. with him.

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