by SWJ Editors
When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino
by Brigadier Justin Kelly and Ben Fitzgerald
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War marked a point of departure for military analysis. Until then, strategic problems, although complex and thorny, were necessarily dealt with in the context of the greater competition between the East and West. From then, each new strategic problem outwardly enjoyed a degree of singularity and, accordingly, required a greater amount of a priori examination. The profusion and novelty of these emerging strategic problems stimulated an equally profuse and disparate amount of analysis and prescription.
The new wave of military theory began a little earlier, in the late-1980s, when Soviet theorists began to discuss the implications of emerging weapons, and sensing and communications technologies -- conventional means that replicated the power of, and provided a useable alternative to, tactical nuclear weapons. They anticipated that the impact of these weapons was a Revolution in Military Affairs that would require a fundamental re-ordering of the tactical battlespace in the same way that the introduction of smokeless powder in the 1890s and tactical nuclear weapons in the 1950s did. The 1991 Gulf War offered a practical demonstration that hinted at what might be achievable through the thoughtful combination of these technologies and triggered a flood of seemingly new ideas, including proselytizing the proposition that there was an RMA underway. The idea of an RMA triggered a veritable flood of books describing the long waves of military innovation and identifying earlier periods of discontinuous or extremely rapid change. Depending on semantic arguments about what constituted a revolution, and historical arguments around the causality of victory and defeat, this resulted in lists of from none to 10 historical RMAs.
Academics, enthusiasts, think-tanks and contractors piled on. In the revolutionary fervor of the time, everything that had existed before was a suspect legacy and being up-to-date required coining new terms that seemed to capture the most recent sensation. As a result the militaries of the world found themselves rushing from enthusiasm to enthusiasm like spoiled adolescents. The RMA morphed into Network Centric Warfare, Effects Based Operations and a general desire for 'transformation'.
At the peak of this triumphant cascade of gleaming new concepts and technology came the strategic shock of 9/11 followed by Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As has been variously documented elsewhere, the early stages of these operations provided validation for the supporters of transformation but were followed quickly by costly insurgencies for which the military was unprepared. This in turn has seen a proliferation of new theories for counterinsurgency, population-centric operations and so called 'irregular' warfare. The net effect of these events is an increasingly diffuse array of ideas about the nature of current and future war, often described in dichotomies or mutually exclusive terms. While it is important to debate these issues, at present we are inadvertently adding to, rather than reducing, our strategic uncertainty.