The Likely War
by Judah Grunstein
Articulated by Army Field Manual 3-24 and incarnated by Gen. David Petraeus' implementation of the Baghdad Surge, the U.S. Army's freshly minted counterinsurgency tactics are a direct response to the needs of the moment in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With their increasing ascendancy in American military doctrine still the subject of debate, a recent book by General Vincent Desportes, commander of the French Army's Force Employment Doctrine Center, provides a strategic context for the discussion that is all the more interesting for the author's unique perspective as a French strategic thinker well-versed in American strategic culture. Gen. Desportes served for two years at the U.S. Army War College as part of an officer exchange program, as well as for two years as Army Liaison Officer at Fort Monroe in Virginia. That was followed by three years as the military attache at the French Embassy in Washington. His analysis of the evolutions in contemporary warfare and the tactical and strategic adaptations on the part of Western militaries that they necessitate is not yet translated into English. So we've prepared the following extended synopsis, as well as an accompanying interview Gen. Desportes generously accorded us, to make it available to the American COIN community.
In The Likely War (La Guerre Probable, Economica, 49 rue Héricart, 75015 Paris), Desportes argues that the wars for which Western militaries need to prepare will not be symmetric or disymmetric conflicts between state actors. Among the factors making such wars improbable, he lists regional integration, which renders conflict less profitable and more costly, as well as globalization, which he astutely describes as the "inheritor" of Cold War deterrence. What's more, he argues that even conventional war is unlikely to be symmetric, as military logic recommends attacking the weak links (ie. networks and satellites) of an adversary's technical advantages, rather than confronting its strengths head on. (He doesn't mention it, but Chinese military doctrine comes to mind.) More significantly, though, Desportes points to recent campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon to argue that far from being a lesser order of warfare, asymmetric (or irregular) war is nothing other than the inevitable application of war's eternal law: that of bypassing the enemy's strength. "The use of the term asymmetric. . ." he writes, "reflects the refusal to imagine that an adversary worthy of the name might want to fight according to a logic other than our own." (pp. 45-46).