Monday, March 28, 2016

Warriors and soldiers both kill the enemy; and they both use weapons to do it.

A response to F.S. Naiden's Do drones contradict lessons from centuries of war?

I read with much dismay Professor F.S. Naiden's essay on the value of a "dishonorable" weapon - drones - and his entreaty that while impressive they were failing the very mission of the war. His basic thesis is: if we employ dishonorable weapons in war, does the nation's purpose get served?

I have to say that at first, I find that non-military people - those that never picked up a rifle nor dug a trench, nor spat blood, tend to seem the most strident and confident in their pronunciations on warfare. Like the preacher caught with a farmer's daughter it seemed far easier from the pulpit than in the barnhouse. It IS galling in the greatest to those that have been there because that grandiose sense of the obvious is the least available when you - personally - are in the thick of it. Deciding what to do when your people are in danger is not academic.

In comparison, Carl von Clausewitz was a general and even he questioned his ideas' value, having never completed his own work,  and questioned any information in war (he created the meme "fog of war") as inevitably suspect. How reassuring a professor may be more confident!

Pontification - by those that assure you they are personally worthy - never ends. So from the outset my bias is to raise my eyes to the heavens. My resolve is to rip apart the logic using what he assumes to demonstrate, his argument's weaknesses.  Just like what happens in the field and unlike what he enjoys behind the lectern.

For a start, let me present his argument. And then summarily demolish it.

In his article, Do drones contradict lessons from centuries of war? Professor Fred Naiden opines that by forgetting the value of valour and the honorable  combat we reduce the chances that brings two sides to the bargaining table; outside total war or the extermination of one side this is the essence of what needs to be done so that peace is achieved. He meanders through history to point at weapons defined as honorable weapon as shorter range weapon and less honorable weapon are longer-ranged weapon. From arrows and Paris to muskets and Indian wars that increased range and lethality, he elucidates, marks a departure from the original close nature of combat. He ends with drones - seemingly forgetting nuclear ICBM's and non-nuclear cruise missiles in particular - as the penultimate dishonorable weapon. Drones cause one to kill without justification, without meeting an enemy in the field and make war a dishonorable business. He writes:

He was thinking of the personal risk taken in combat, but also of the responsibility felt for taking life. An ancient soldier might accept this responsibility without qualm. A contemporary soldier is more likely to ponder this duty, and ask whether a goal worth killing for is also a goal worth dying for. The operator of a drone need not ask this question.
Centurions fought for their leaders, to call ancient soldiers "soldiers" is to demean the difference that current soldiers operate under. Caesar's legions fought for him, so they were really warriors. Otherwise, why did Caesars need the Praetorian guard? Centurions and legionnaires fought for THEIR Rome.

Most current soldiers do not know their leaders other than professionally and most would not choose a fellow citizen over the law nor their duty. Not even Trump. They are sent by their nation and fight for national interests.

This soldier/warrior definition is a distinction with an important difference.
Warriors care about personal glory, soldiers do their duty, more or less.

Warriors fight for themselves. If you can't conjure an approachable warrior ideal, consider an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter. They fight to be the recognized best and also for a reward. Including a bonus if their contest is particularly memorable.  A warrior wants to increase his legend, to gain personally from conquest, and serve his current allegiance in that order. A warrior would want to vanquish worthy foes in the most sporting way to demonstrate his supremacy in combat arms. At the same time, warriors like knights wouldn't care about decimating foot soldiers without personal combat because their is no glory in facing them. They are beneath contempt. So warriors would be indifferent to inglorious weapons dispatching unremarkable opponents. Therein lies the first fatal flaw in Naiden's argument. A weapon's honor status is not causally linked to those that wield them. Warriors and soldiers both kill the enemy; and they both use weapons to do it. Why they do it and when are the important considerations that determine if combat was honorable. The weapons are means to an end.

When it comes to close combat, decision time is the shortest of all possible scenarios. If opponents meet there is no time to question the resolve of an enemy.  If a warrior had to decide between dishonorable killing or death would they choose any differently than a soldier? Logically, they both would kill just as they might both fake their own death to live and fight another day.

On the other hand, drones can loiter for hours, even days. If there are too many people around a target, drones can wait for a better shot. Or not shoot at all.  Can you really take that chance in personal combat? Therein lies another flaw in his reasoning. Long range gives you more time to decide, not less. I cannot claim that will always lead to better outcomes, but can one make the counter argument that it will always lead to worse ones? That seems improbable.

He provides no instances that demonstrate dishonourable use of drones; although to be clear we will assume those instances exist. The point is that while he might attribute some drone actions as cowardly, he cannot demonstrate they are ALL cowardly so that is itself the another flaw in his arguments. Can one link all future actions to a pre-determined outcome?

Let's assess some of the examples Professor Naiden gave. On one hand, he points to atomic weapons used on Japan as long range weapons that were acceptable options as well as invasion:

Overreliance on drones is not only impractical; it is harmful to the combat ethos of the U.S. military. This ethos has always allowed for the use of long-range weapons, but it also gives an honored place to the use of short-range arms. A weapon such as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, dropped by airmen who never beheld their victims, is acceptable, but the alternative, invading Japan with a large landing force, is acceptable, too.
A soldier wants to achieve the ends dictated by leadership and will chose means amongst those available that make survival more likely and as well as success.  Sacrificing soldiers when they can be saved is not following orders and is counterproductive. And glory is not a contributing factor.

In hindsight, scholars have assessed that not dropping the atomic bombs would have resulted in 400,000 to 800,000 Allied casualties and five to ten million Japanese deaths before the inevitable defeat of Japan. So to my purpose the use of one horrific weapon achieved the ends desired (shortening the bloody fifth year of  world war and 6 to 10 million more deaths) even though it was a dishonorable long range attack. In fact, Henry Miller argued that tactical nuclear bombing of Japan was a strategic and moral imperative.  Not attacking Japan by nuclear weapons would have been worse for humanity despite the archaic notions of chivalry and war. If von Clausewitz was forced to decide on the alternatives to attack Japan in World War II, does Professor Naiden believe he would have chosen the "sporting" option?

One can extrapolate further, the nuclear weapon by itself as a mutually- assured deterrent almost assuredly prevented the third world war in the 20th century. 

Professor Naiden asks, do we lose our way by losing our understanding of the need to do battle and end with negotiation? Are we making things worse not meeting the enemy, defeating him, and then suing for peace?

For one, drones used by the CIA are not operated for or by soldiers. This is an easy observation that negates some of his point. Drones used in non-military operations are not fighting a conventional war. They are used by state actors of the government but not necessarily warfighters. If they aren't used by soldier's then their effectiveness does not reflect on soldiers in any way. The CIA's weapons reflect on US foreign policy and not the US army, for example.

He also writes:
“Drones give our own combat soldiers no responsibility, and they give our technicians too much.
If a bomb is dropped by a drone or a manned aircraft, where does the responsibility lie if not with the men "in the command loop"?  Where do technicians command anything? Is a dropped bomb any different from a thrown grenade?  He misunderstands how things really happen. It is a soldier's profession to maintain positive control on weapons.

Someone asking for air support does not care which system delivers the munition or fires the weapon. They, those that request it, understand the expected outcome and are responsible for what they request. In both cases, manned and unmanned "delivery" systems, all operations are monitored and recorded to which others can analyze ad nauseum post event. Therein lies the real consideration of accountability, not the means itself. Those professionals understand that they will be held accountable for mistakes or unlawful actions and there is a way to assess it.

Professor Naiden's next claim is that by closing with to destroy the enemy, our troops gain the ability to communicate with the enemy for the purpose of ending conflict. He posits:

"Centuries of warfare combining short- and long-range weapons teach us that belligerents can fight and communicate with the enemy at the same time. Innovations such as the drone have their place, but it is a smaller place than technologically infatuated officials suppose."
I can be assured that Professor Naiden has a rich and encyclopedic knowledge of historical weapons, but he seems to be missing the very recent and very pervasive technological revolution in mass media that even our enemies have adopted. ISIS is on Twitter. So is ETA and FARC. The Taliban is so immersed in cellular communications they ordered their commanders to not use phones so they would not be targeted so easily by counter insurgent operations.  So for Professor Naiden to claim that we need to be close to parlay is by itself an unrealistic and unevaluated position. We are closer than ever before. If journalists can contact the enemy, then so can our forces in a detached and manageable way.

What Professor Naiden is talking about is something like what von Clausewitz experienced in Mainz in 1793. In that engagement, the siege was ended when French troops agreed to retreat on their word to not fight allies (Prussians etc.) for one year. Unfortunately, in that situation the differences between Free French and royal/loyal Europe was about the same as a war between Coke and Pepsi. The distinctions weren't very distinctive. In general they were all Europeans with a common philosophy - apart from choice of government.  In today's conflict, modern Western armies are fighting weaponized Islam.  Islam does not consider it's enemies - apostates and non believers - as human. No quarter will be given and no end is in sight until Islamic radicals are dead.  Professor Naiden should perhaps review his romantic notions pertaining to old warfare versus the very real depravity of modern foes.

We address Professor Naden's penultimate argument:

Drones should serve the familiar purpose of inflicting casualties in tandem with inducing surrender. They should not serve the novel purpose of replacing troops, casualties, negotiations, and heroism — the whole business of war — with gadgetry.

To blame the soldiers, as Professor Naiden suggests in his article by pointing at the weapons used, is in fact a pathetic misplacing of responsibility. For one, soldiers use the weapons they are given so how is that realistic?  Is he claiming that ancient warriors would not find a way to use superior weapons if they had the opportunity? To say that is a stretch would be an underestimation.

Secondly, soldiers do what they are ordered, even when they know it makes their personal survival chances worse. Unlike academics. Soldiers follow political leadership direction and are accountable to political leadership, so where do the questions really deserve to be answered?

The real question isn't whether current soldiers have lost their way for using drones and is this why we lose; the pressing question is whether or not politicians understand what soldiers should be doing? Do politicians accept they must allow forces to do unpopular and uncivilized action to win?   Why aren't NATO forces carpet-bombing the cities of  sympathetic Taliban populations? If they house enemies why wouldn't we treat them exactly as the Japanese in WWII? Or the French in Napoleonic Wars?

The question is why didn't the NATO forces in Afghanistan close the Pakistan border and annihilate any one crossing into the Kandahar region? That is what ideal war strategy would dictate. Back to von Clausewitz, I argue he would have commanded Western leaders use all means, including nuclear weapons, to eliminate the enemy. And if he understood the Islam threat, he would probably authorize the destruction of Saudi Arabia as much as Iran. At the same time.

Military failure in recent conflicts is tied more to political decisions surrounding non-existential conflicts and the willingness of politicians to limit action to "civilized warfare" more than the relative effects of gadgets - or weapons - that are used.