Via e-mail from Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC (Ret.) on the recent SWJ discussion concerning Hybrid War and Threats:
Contrary to what my good friend and fellow Marine, Frank Hoffman, argues, I believe that this continual adding of adjectives in front of "war" is counterproductive. As Clausewitz wrote, "In war more than in any other subject we must begin by looking at the nature of the whole, for here more than elsewhere the part and the whole must always be thought of together." Every modification of the word "war" serves mainly as fodder for un-needed conferences, workshops, and meetings where the new definitions as well as the merits of these terms are debated with, in my estimation, little value added. These new terms also help confuse our officer corps and undermine a solid professional lexicon. I remain in Professor Colin Gray's corner who maintains that "warfare is warfare"---plain and simple. At most we need only think of it in two forms, wars of fire and maneuver and wars of insurgency.
Clausewitz allowed for this with two observations:
(1) "War is more than a chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case."
(2) "We can thus only say that the aims a belligerent adopts, and the resources he employs . . . will also conform to the spirit of the age and to its general character."
Our current enemies have adopted wars of insurgency as the form they use to challenge us.
Paul Van Riper
Frank Hoffman responds:
I have always been informed by the tremendous scholarship of Dr. Gray and of course have benefited over the years from my interaction with General Van Riper. But they are both wrong here (I think Dr. Gray is being misquoted out of context and not wrong). We've been arguing this particular point for some time since the Army 2003 Arm War College strategy conference where I was critical of The American Way of War, and at NDU in 2008 where General Van Riper first articulated his views.
I agree with Dr. Gray's true point that War is War. War defined as a state of violent interaction between two groups, a clash of wills AND cultures, between groups (not necessarily just States) to obtain political ends is War. As he states in his great book, my Loop choice Fighting Talk, war is a relationship. Furthermore, the nature of war is immutable (violence, chance, human dimension, etc) But Warfare, Dr Gray makes pains to distinguish as a subset of War and I agree, warfare describes the military component of War, the warmaking. I recommend his chapter "There is More to War than Warfare" for those seeking more distinction.
Warfare is not immutable, quite the opposite. Dr. Gray points out that some cultures (he means ours) have a dominant military culture that precludes understanding the distinction between war and warfare (p. 32), which often leads to tactical success but strategic failure. I think Dr. Gray is right about us, for we conflate our preferences about warfare and then mirror image our enemies with our culturally induced idea about what warfare is and isnt. We focus on the warfare, and ignore the strategic context. Regrettably, General Van Riper's comments continue that misunderstanding--undoubtedly unintentionally.
I think the bromide that Warfare is Warfare is a dangerous over-simplification and residue from the poor professional conceptualization of warfare that has marked U.S. military since Vietnam. I recall the late Harry Summer's as the first in the "War is War is War" school, in his essay by that title in the post-Vietnam era. This was central to his argument that Vietnam was a conventional fight, which remains a dubious argument that has fallen aside. This has led us to the problems in our doctrine and profession reflected in operations and the poor transition to a better peace in Panama, Desert Storm and OIF. It has truncated our thinking to a narrow professional sphere in the conflict spectrum, the most irrelevant today and for the mid-range future.
There ARE forms of warfare, and different societies and cultures have they own forms or modes of warfare. There is fighting and dying in each of them, but the rule sets or principles or what Clausewitz suggested by Grammar are different. One doesn't succeed in COIN by applying conventional warfighting capabilities and one doesn't succeed in major combat operations with t he six Logical Lines of Operation of FM 3-24. Moreover, ignoring the distinction simply continues the tragedy.
Moreover, as General Van Riper points out, and as Dr. Tony Echevarria has discussed in some length in his book on Clausewitz and Contemporary Conflict, our Prussian friend was very much aware that war (more accurately warfare) has an ever evolving character. Each age he said has its own conception and preconceptions, and that war is MORE than a chameleon, that is it changes more than just color, it changes its character and characteristics. I think General Van Riper, given his profound historical founding and study, appreciates this more than most of us and actually means this in his statement, but by trying to bin everything into Warfare is Warfare, he perpetuates our misunderstanding of what has changed and what has not. This will continue to leave us poorly prepared for tomorrow's fights.
I think its patently illogical to ignore language and its influence on our professional thinking. We already have numerous adjectives about warfare: Unconventional, Irregular and "Conventional" or Traditional. I think all of these are flawed or outdated in our thinking right now. UW is related to the SOF community and needs serious updating. Irregular has become synonymous with COIN, which is a very clear case of what Colin calls "presentism." I don't agree that our enemies have picked something called Wars of Insurgency, t hat is OUR term and its a label or adjective after the noun instead of in front of it. There are many forms of Irregular Warfare for which the Joint concept leave us utterly unprepared for. What I think most folks think of as Regular or Conventional or Traditional warfare is vague but is very Western or ethno-centric. I think we need a serious professional discourse about warfare and what assumptions and illusions we hide behind when we use the terms we have.
This is a valuable debate because we are entering an era in which our conceptualization of future conflict will influence our strategy, and the allocation of scarce resources is upon us. I trust that the debate will continue.
LtGen Van Riper responds:
Ah, it is a sad task to debate a good friend in a public forum, but in this case a necessary task. Let me say at the outset, however, that for several reasons I am surprised by Frank Hoffman's focus on a term many view as simply trendy, for in the past we have both lamented the steady degrading of the military's professional lexicon in numerous conversations over dinner. (Pity our poor wives who have to listen to such professional talks for hours on end.) Moreover, from 1995 to 1997 Frank was the very best writer at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and many of his words appeared in my formal congressional testimony and speeches. Those words were simple and elegant, unburdened by use of stylish terms.
Also, let me second Frank's words that Dr. Gray's, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare and Dr. Antulio (Tony) Echevarria's Clausewitz: Contemporary War are exceptional books that serious scholars of war, strategy, and operational art need to read and study! I might also tout Dr. Gray's latest book, National Security Dilemmas: Challenges & Opportunities, one for which I was honored to write a forward.
I took the words "warfare is warfare" from the Conclusion (page 370) of Another Bloody Century. The lead sentence to that chapter reads, "Warfare is warfare, period." Later in that chapter Dr. Gray notes that "War, and warfare, has an enduring, unchanging nature, but a highly variable character." He also observes that "The American defense community is especially prone to capture by the latest catchphrase, the new-sounding spin on an ancient idea which as jargon separates those who are truly expert from the lesser breeds without the jargon." Though Dr. Gray's words, I believe, support my case, please read the entire chapter—better the entire book—to judge for yourself. Again, I am surprised by Frank's insistence that the word "hybrid" adds to our understanding of war, for he is "truly expert" in things military, and certainly not "from the lesser breeds."
I am fairly certain that I understand Dr. Gray's distinction between war and warfare. In fact, I would have preferred to use words I believe he spoke in 2005 at the opening of an address at the Army War College, "War is war," but not having a transcript of that address I hesitated. As a nation we are too single-minded and center our attention on warfare rather than war. Dr. Echevarria has pointed this out in numerous places, noting that it is the reason we have an "American way of battle," not war. I agree! Too few Americans understand the full impact of Clausewitz's admonition: ". . . war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase 'with the addition of other means' because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs." As a Marine I am deeply interested in the "grammar" of war, but I know that it is the "logic" that is most important.
The one thing Frank and I certainly agree on is that "we already have numerous adjectives about warfare." He is also correct that my "wars of fire and maneuver" and "wars of insurgency" place the adjectives after the noun. However, my words have the distinct advantage in that they spell out a meaning; the reader does not have to guess as he or she might with words like "irregular," "unconventional," "nontraditional," forth generation," and yes, "hybrid."
Let the debate continue.
May the winner enjoy a Sam Adams and a steak at the expense of the other!