War has multiple contextual meanings and impacts. Religion, political, social, technological. We must conceptualize; recognize the change that has occurred over the period which, in this case, is ten to fifteen years. Warfare is shaped by all. When forced to reflect, present conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and Yemen are soon asymmetrical, more so than the past fifteen years. The current interstate wars are moving towards inter-communal and transnational ethnic and religious strife, battles of clans and, in the case of Ukraine (Transneister as well), political merging with quasi-criminal clan/group warfare underpinned by corrupt governments. These are wars about identity, as well as historic wrongs, myths, and legends; they are not for reasons of state.
Emerging technology has led to asymmetric warfare or new generation warfare strategies that emphasize non-traditional domains of war, like cyberwarfare, where US dominance is less concentrated or adaptable and nimble, or potentially more vulnerable, or both. Are the interference in email systems of major corporations, our banking system and the presidential election, even the release of financial and legal data from WikiLeaks (The Panama Papers for example) acts of war? Under the old or current paradigm, no. Under the new model of ongoing conflict, however, yes. Strategic and technological imperatives are changing how war and conflict are framed, resulting in a shift from overt military confrontation to a broader conflict waged across all domains of civilization, to include the economic, cultural, and ideological systems in which we live.
The rapidly evolving environment in which old and new combine to destabilize geopolitical, financial and technological systems, make the traditional understanding obsolete. While conflict is inevitable, violent conflict may not be. A broader and more sophisticated framework is being developed which results in a complex, fast-moving, information-intensive environment. In such, the contemporary battlespace is one which focuses on the social, financial, political and informational aspects of war, which are far more important than the use of weapons.
The Russian invasion of Crimea and Donetsk is an example of contemporary conflict. The Chinese and their development of Unrestricted Warfare which emphasizes financial and economic impacts is utilized as part of the battlefield. All are significant advancements from the traditional battlefield. The Russian use of New Generation Warfare in Ukraine utilized politics, finance, psychological warfare, and political subversion, and took foul advantage of a conflicted and corrupted Ukrainian government. Intimidation, bribery, the internet, and corrupted use of the media allowed for minimal fighting, and the use of Ukrainian “freedom fighters” as proxies was actually integrated, as Russia’s goal was not traditional conflict but rather destabilization of traditional social and governmental institutions and the subversion of any viable opposition.
The Chinese use of Unrestricted Warfare based on financial and economic war has become a ‘hyper strategic’ weapon. The belief that an economic attack and the use of the internet is as destructive as violent conflict represents quasi-warfare. Unrestricted warfare contemplates the inclusion of all dimensions of civilization in a deliberate, strategic process of long-term, intentional, coordinated conflict.
With the United States being the predominant world power, our guardianship role over the past 15 years has comprised and dictated principally a post-war, or interwar, period. The political and strategic behavior of those years reflects intervention around the world in wars of discretion, rather than necessity. So, actual war is unlikely due to the United States’ complete imbalance of power. I’m intrigued by the theory that there is nothing to be gained by armed conflict, with the Chinese theorists opining that war is primarily social, economic and political. War then, and a generational association with war, is a nebulous concept. As a country we are at war, and likely will continue to be so.