Colonel David Gurney (USMC Ret.), Editor of Joint Force Quarterly and Director of National Defense University Press, when not closely following the debate between John Nagl and Gian Gentile, seeks out the best and brightest for their views on the potential threats we may face in the not so distant future -- and of course any such search leads to Frank Hoffman.
Colonel Gurney has, again, kindly -- and we, again, greatly appreciate this -- granted SWJ permission to post Frank's Hybrid Warfare and Challenges that will appear in the January 2009 issue of JFQ.
The U.S. military faces an era of enormous complexity. This complexity has been extended by globalization, the proliferation of advanced technology, violent transnational extremists, and resurgent powers. America's vaunted military might stand atop all others but is tested in many ways. Trying to understand the possible perturbations the future poses to our interests is a daunting challenge. But, as usual, a familiarity with history is our best aid to interpretation. In particular, that great and timeless illuminator of conflict, chance, and human nature Thucydides—is as relevant and revealing as ever.
In his classic history, Thucydides detailed the savage 27-year conflict between Sparta and Athens. Sparta was the overwhelming land power of its day, and its hoplites were drilled to perfection. The Athenians, led by Pericles, were the supreme maritime power, supported by a walled capital, a fleet of powerful triremes, and tributary allies. The Spartan leader, Archidamius, warned his kinsmen about Athens' relative power, but the Spartans and their supporters would not heed their king. In 431 BCE, the Spartans marched through Attica and ravaged the Athenian country estates and surrounding farms. They encamped and awaited the Athenian heralds and army for what they hoped would be a decisive battle and a short war.
The scarlet-clad Spartans learned the first lesson of military history—the enemy gets a vote. The Athenians elected to remain behind their walls and fight a protracted campaign that played to their strengths and worked against their enemies. Thucydides' ponderous tome on the carnage of the Peloponnesian War is an extended history of the operational adaptation of each side as they strove to gain a sustainable advantage over their enemy. These key lessons are, as he intended, a valuable "possession for all time."
In the midst of an ongoing inter-Service roles and missions review, and an upcoming defense review, these lessons need to be underlined. As we begin to debate the scale and shape of the Armed Forces, an acute appreciation of history's hard-earned lessons will remain useful. Tomorrow's enemies will still get a vote, and they will remain as cunning and elusive as today's foes. They may be more lethal and more implacable. We should plan accordingly.
One should normally eschew simplistic metanarratives, especially in dynamic and nonlinear times. However, the evolving character of conflict that we currently face is best characterized by convergence. This includes the convergence of the physical and psychological, the kinetic and nonkinetic, and combatants and noncombatants. So, too, we see the convergence of military force and the interagency community, of states and nonstate actors, and of the capabilities they are armed with. Of greatest relevance are the converging modes of war. What once might have been distinct operational types or categorizations among terrorism and conventional, criminal, and irregular warfare have less utility today.
Lieutenant Colonel Frank G. Hoffman, USMCR (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantryman who serves as a research fellow in the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.. He is also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Phila, PA.