The drone as a fetish and paradigm shift or a new integrated military strategy for the 21st Century?
Recently there has been talk of a paradigm shift and the age of drones has been proclaimed. The war in the Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Armenia is proclaimed as the Pearl Harbor moment of a paradigm shift in which the drone is the central war weapon of the future and the associated strategy development. One could also speak of a drone fetish. An eloquent example of this is the contribution by Glen Rocess: “The World Has Just Witnessed A“ Pearl Harbor Moment ”In Armenia How warfare has just changed forever. Again. “Firstly, the drone attack on the Saudiarabian oil field has already shown the new meaning of this weapon, but in the future there will not be THE decisive weapon, but rather how intelligent you can use conventional weapons, drones, ‚mininukes, EMPs, cyber-und spacewweapons including Airseabattle or Airlandbattle weapons. This eternal media hype about drones leads in the wrong direction of the actual paradigm shift. The Chinese Global Times has also written many times that the age of aircraft carriers was over and that China is in a position to sink US aircraft carriers with a drone or anti-ship missile. Strangely enough, Beijing is now buying and producing exactly these aircraft carriers. They no longer have the same meaning as they used to have, but the paradigm shift is not to fetishize a weapons system as a decisive factor in the war and a new paradigm, but rather to see the entirety of the disruptive new weapon systems that after the end of the Cold War emerged, including the drone. The paradigm shift is more about the extent to which there is a new military strategy that integrates all these weapon systems and can use them flexibly in the event of war. The age of the linear, one-dimensional and bipolar escalation ladders of Hermann Kahn is finally over.
The anti-militarist left has long promoted this weapon fetish and now drone fetish. If you look at the criticism of many anti-militarists, it is noticeable that a significant part of their criticism focuses on the use of drones. The drone represents a “dehumanization of war”, said Omid Nouripour of the Greens. Now I don’t know what a humanization of war should look like or what to think of human wars, but the use of drones is seen as a qualitatively new era of war. In any case, for brave anti-militarists and pacifists, the drone is the epitome and embodiment of evil, yes, it has meanwhile the status of an anti-militarist fetish. Mass slaughter with other conventional means of war may result in mass misery and death, but no, what is really bad and the product of the devil is and remains the drone.
Especially since it has become very fashionable to criticize weapons, i.e. instruments of war and politics, and not so much the politicians and politics who wage or lead to wars, in which these weapons are then used. This distracts from the fact that it is people who decide the war, who wage it because of certain interests or ideologies that need to be investigated and criticized. A weapon doesn’t wage war. One could therefore speak of a reification and fetishization of criticism of war. It is also a tradition to always choose certain weapon systems that are viewed as particularly perverse. At the time of the peace movement in the 1980s, this was the neutron bomb, which Erhard Eppler (SPD) described as a “perversion of thinking”, just as if this could not be said of other weapons of mass destruction. Today, the drone in particular is viewed as perverse and deeply inhuman, although one can also ask the question why no other weapon systems are popular with anti-militarist criticism, which have a much greater destructive power and are not used so selectively and precisely. So why the drone is critizised in all places?
On the one hand, it is criticized that there is no longer an honest fight man against man, but that drone soldiers far away, safely and anonymously in the operations centers remote-control the drones and the killing of people is automated, yes, one has no empathy for the victims and the killing inhibition will be eliminated. The question arises whether this was ever different with the use of long-range weapons such as rockets, bomb carpets from airplanes or the dropping of atomic bombs, and whether the inhibition threshold is not greater with a machine gun either.
Furthermore, the civilian victims, the collateral damage caused by drone operations are complained about and Obama is declared a “drone killer”. Admittedly, not nice, but one should ask oneself what the alternative would be. By definition, drones have the task of eliminating the leadership cadres of Islamism precisely and purposefully. So military operations are attempted with as limited a number of victims as possible, i.e. a minimal intervention. Alternatively, one would have to use ground troops or special forces to liquidate terrorist leaders or eliminate them with fighter planes, which of course would produce even more casualties, both in civilian populations and in soldiers. Targeted special forces operations, such as against Osama bin Laden, are very complex and difficult to carry out in bulk, and especially very risky, so the strong criticism of the drone operations is somewhat surprising.
Jürgen Todenhöfer, for example, is of the opinion that the drone operations and also the air strikes by the Americans would only produce more civilian casualties, thus creating feelings of revenge and, as a consequence, would produce even more terrorists. Terrorism is like a hydra — if you hit it Head off, several grow back. This review is built on sand. Because the hydra comparison means that one should actually not be allowed to wage war at all, that Islamism should be handled in a pacifist way and watch and hope that it will vanish by itself. Perhaps there would be peace prayers and pacifist sit-ins as well as dialogue rounds and coffee parties with Islamists and with Margot Käßmann the alternative, but none of the pacifists has explained this to me so precisely.
The fact is that the killing of leadership cadres already has an impact on the terrorist organizations, on the one hand on morale, on the other hand such beheading strikes can lead to succession battles within the terrorist organizations and disputes that weaken them, especially since it is also symbolically important to show that even their best-protected top leaders are not safe from attacks – so it has an important psychological warfare aspect as well.
Furthermore, Todenhöfer hides the fact that through the combination of the drone attacks, the American and Russian air strikes, the Islamic State has now lost its territory and the measures of the anti-IS coalition were not limited to military means, but also on political means such as the establishment of political alliances or economic sanctions, which have already contained the oil smuggling of the IS to such an extent that it gets into financial difficulties and has had to cut the wages of its fighters in the meantime.
The current use of drones is still very limited. However, US military strategist TX Hammes, who is also the father of Offshore Controll, wrote a programmatic article: “The Future of Warfare: Small, Many, Smart vs. Few and exquisite ”, which sparked a fundamental discussion among experts. TX Hammes advocates the replacement of existing large weapon systems, submarines and aircraft with mass fleets of drone swarms equipped with weapons and explosive systems – in the air, at sea and under water. It is quite possible that the drone, as a weapon system of the future, will also be used widely and not just selectively.
However he sees concrete political and economic obstacles for the replacement of big weapon platforms and systems for the mass use of drone swarms:
„It is critical that we examine the few exquisite systems we are planning to buy – aircraft, ships, armor — and see if their missions could be accomplished by many, smart, cheap platforms. Given the inherent political advantages of large, complex systems, this will be a difficult step. The F-35 is a poster child for the difficultly of reconsidering a program of record. Built in 45 states at a cost of $399 B for 2,443 aircraft and with expected lifetime operating cost of $1 trillion, the F-35 has powerful Congressional support. Further, U.S. doctrine and powerful service constituencies heavily favor these exquisite systems. This is natural since doctrine and preferences are usually based on experience and current U.S. experience is based on exquisite systems. These two powerful factors will make it difficult to dispassionately examine other options. However, we must do so soon. Our experience with the F-35 shows that the decision to pursue a different path needs to be taken before the new system gains a powerful constituency that insists it be built regardless of its capability.“
Let’s see: If Pokemon Go were combined with drones, the drone could perhaps also win over civil enthusiasts en masse. At the moment it has a bad reputation and has become a pacifist fetish, but also a new fetish of conservative military thinkers and media people .
US strategists speak of an new Second or even Third Nuclear Age which is different from the First Nuclear Age of the bipolar Cold War. As a pioneer of this new thinking the Centre for Strategic Budget Assessment (CSBA) wrote a new study called „Rethinking Armageddon“:
March 1, 2016 • By Andrew F. Krepinevich and Jacob Cohn • Studies
The First Nuclear Age was characterized by the Cold War era bipolar international system and a corresponding bipolar nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. While a few other states, such as Great Britain and France, also possessed nuclear arms, their arsenals were very small compared to those of the two superpowers.
The world is far different today. On the one hand, both the United States and Russia have far smaller nuclear arsenals than they did at the Cold War’s end. At the same time, new nuclear powers have emerged in pace with advanced conventional precision warfare capabilities. The rise of cyber warfare has also led to concerns over the security and reliability of early warning and command-and-control systems, and weapon systems as well. Advances in the cognitive sciences and research on Cold War crisis decision-making have challenged some of our thinking as to how strategies based on deterrence work, or risk failing. Together, these and other recent developments have combined to form what some are calling a Second Nuclear Age.
Dr. Andrew Krepinevich and Jacob Cohn have authored a scenario-based assessment of the competitive dynamics of the Second Nuclear Age. The assessment explores, among other things, the implications for extended deterrence, crisis stability, missile defense, prompt conventional global strike, growing multipolar or “n-player competitions, and planning assumptions as they have been influenced by advances in the cognitive sciences, to include prospect theory. Their paper also includes an analysis of the implications for U.S. interests, with an emphasis on preserving the seventy-one-year tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons (since their only use in 1945), also known as the “nuclear taboo.” The existing and prospective challenges posed by the Second Nuclear Age, as reflected in these scenarios, are sobering. If the United States seeks to preserve the nuclear taboo, it ignores them at its peril.“
“Rethinking Armaggedon“ is an appeal to rethink and modify the framework of Hermann Kahn´s escalation ladder in a Second/Third Nuclear Age and to make appropriate and thought-through decicions in an era of new weapon systems and multipolar competition.It´s a very complex thinking and simple ideas like Donald Trump´s „We have nuclear weapons, so why don´t we use them?“ might be not the right approach, even produce the Armaggedon.
The Second Nuclear Age is much more unstable, dynamic and unpredictable for a deterrence and has no “one-fits-all”-approach, but has to include new factors and drivers as global strike potentials, mininukes, precision strike weapons, cyberwar, space weapons,missile defense, haystack attacks , stealth weapons, nano weapons, automized masses of drones, hypersonic weapons, Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP/ an EMP weapon without a nuclear blast and fallout), multipolar and not bipolar nuclear competition and the tendency towards much more trigger-alert constellations as well as new analyses about the rationality of decision-makers.Till now no strategy integrates all these new parameters as a new framework for a Second Nuclear Age, its escalation ladder and future wars. The study even thinks about the idea if the term Second Nuclear Age is sufficent or if there is already the dawn of a Third Nuclear Age due to the appearance of new weapon systems.
The question is how to deal with this new constellation and what should be the conclusions to get to an appropriate new strategic school which could understand the new complex situation?
Many former strategic thinkers were educated by a very simple bipolar, binary and simple structure of thinking as the Cold war was not so complex as is the Second or Third Nuclear Age. Hermann Kahn´s escalation ladder and Kissinger´s brinkmanship were based on a very simple biploar and binary structure between two adversaries with a limited arsenal. In the 90s the game theory became very fashionable to reduce the complexity of conflict situations and to predict their outcome. A given conflict structure was corresponding with a certain game, mostly card games and based on the theory of utilitarism and rationality of the homo economicus.Mostly you had two adversaries who make their decisions according to the corresponding game. We played several crisis situation as the Cuba Crisis, the Suez Crisis, the Berlin Crisis and other crisis with several card games as poker, Bavarian „Schafkopf“, Black Jack and so on.From this you could get probabilities of the reactions of the two adversaries and how the conflict situation would develop and how it could be solved.
However the weak point of the game theory was: You had to know the confilct structure and its pattern, to know which game you choose. Wrong analysis of the conflict structure and/or wrong adaption of the game would cause fatal decisions in the future as our professors knew the results of the past from the perspective of an allknowing future.Therefore it was easy to know the conflict structure and the game in the past, but not automatically in the future.The second weak point was what the neorealistic school of Gottfried Kindermann ist about:The possibility of misperceptions and the existence of actors who don´t act according to the homo economicus and scientific rationality. This was not elaborated too much in the theory of neorealism, but the CSBA study „Rethinking Armageddon“is questioning the paradigma of two rationale actors due to new studies about cognitive thinking. The danger is even more that one actor is mirroring himself into another actor and doesn´t understand his own „rationality“or that of his counterpart.
During the Cold War chess players were seen as the avantgard of logical thinking. Not only the players as rationale, analytical, scientific creatures,but also the game in itself. It was the era when the bipolar superpower competition was symbolized in chess contests Bobby Fischer against Spasky or later Kasparov, when all knew you had two rationbale thinkers on both sides and everytthing was caluable. Therefore I want to claim that chess was the appropriate kind of thinking in the First Nuclear Age of the Cold War. You had a bipolar structure (black and white–US versus the Sovjetunion) , an limited amount of chess pieces with limited mobility and also limited skills, escalation potential and capacities while a chess game in the Second or Third Nuclear Age would have more players (multipolarity) with much more chess pieces (weapons) which also would have more skills, mobility and escalation potential and also not on one play ground, but on different levels of playgrounds as the old and familiar chess. The old chess would correspond with the First Nuclear Age , Hermann Kahn´s escalation ladder or Kissinger´s brinkmanship, the new chess would be played in Star Trek with many players, on different playgrounds (theater of wars) and with much more chess pieces which have much more interaction, mobility and skills. And the other new parameter the CSBA points out is that you might have not two rationale thinkers on both sides as a result of new studies about cognitive thinking and the fact that the new world is multiploar and there are not only two actors anymore. This is the new situation.
How to deal with this situation? What is needed is the promotion of military think tanks which think through this new situation. As computers are prevailing over human beings not only in chess, a new strategy academy has to be equipped with the most advanced technology of artificial intelligence and programmers which interact with strategic thinkers and can work out a network centric strategy and flexible escalation ladder , maybe with algorithms based on the game theory or other models.However, to rely on the old strategic thinking and the old theories and strategies and inflexible bipolar, binary, incomplexe escalation ladders is the recipe for a new Armaggedon and for a disastser.
The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the Gulf War surprised China and Russia, who did not think that the US would win this war so quickly and easily.The book “The Commanders” by Bob Woodward also exemplifies the RMA , the new reconaissance-strike ability and focus on attacks of the C4I systems of the opponent. That was the wake-up call for the two military powers China and Russia, catalyzed by the Jugoslavia war. Since then, their reconnaissance-strike ability has rapidly improved, while the USA conditioned by the War on Terror focused on minor opponents, especially on wars with adverseries like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein than technologically savvy major powers like China or Russia.
For China so far there is only a concept Airseabattle and a strategy Offshore Controll. For a Sino-American war there seem not that much other strategic options for the USA. The CSBA study Rethinking Armaggedon points to this archilles heel. Thus, strategically, there is no such thing as a real strategy for such a war or deterrence against Russia or China. In addition, no comprehensive stratety has yet been developed that would have modernized Hermann Kahn’s escalation ladder into the context of a military technologically more complex multipolar world Whether the USA today has the ingenious strategic thinkers who are intellectually flexible enough is the question or if US strategists think more like the French military before WW II and holds on to old strategies such as a mental Maginot line. Michael O Hannon`s book The Senaku Paradox, CSBA´s studies Airseabattle, Rethinking Armageddon and TX Hammes Offshore Controll are indicators that the USA just started to rethink and modernize its military strategies.To make the point: I get more and more the impression that strategic thinkers, politicians and societies can´t keep pace with all the new technologies, RMAs and whatever, which makes the situation more instable and dangerous. Equilibriums are harder to achieve as we are in a revcolutionary transistion period to a new world order with a lot of new disruptive technologies.
The disturbing fact is that neither the USA, the EU or NATO, Russia. India or China have such a new integrated military strategy at the moment, but only some vague drafts. The nation which has it first, would have an advantage, but on the other side this could destabilize the constellation as the other side was responding in a way that deterrence would not be applied. Only if the main great powers have a new integrated military strategy, deterrence would become real. Otherwise, any misperception or the lack of deterrence at multiple layers could cause a war. However, the better choice would be if all the military powers have such a new integrated military strategy as this would mean that they have an integrated military response to the possible attacks of their enemies and could deter them at all fronts and as an integrated response. By this way, mutual or multilateral deterrence could be guaranteed, The danger is that one side has an integrated approach while the other side has not and therefore create an incentive to attack or use the flaw as the Germans did with France´s Maginot line.