Traditional war, Rupert Smith argues in The Utility of Force, is obsolete. In its place arise two distinct and yet related phenomena: the extended police action and state-building project known as the War on Terror, and perpetual peacekeeping and conflict management. These phenomena, which Smith calls "War amongst the people," demand new strategies, in which the ends are obscure or distant. As Smith writes,
The ends for which we fight are changing from the hard objectives that decide a political outcome to those of establishing conditions in which the outcome may be decided.... We fight so as to preserve the force rather than risking all to gain the objective.
This idea of force-preservation is central to every development in the postmodern military landscape.
1. The military must evolve.
As Defense Secretary, following in the footsteps of Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates has pushed the U.S. military toward greater flexibility and mobility. Fred Kaplan summarizes:
The Army needs to shift from a garrison peacetime force that's preparing for a possible head-on armored clash against a foe of comparable strength to a mobile force that's fighting actual "asymmetric" wars against rogue states and insurgents. The Air Force needs to pull back from its traditional obsession with high-tech air-to-air combat and focus more on joint operations—surveillance, precise air strikes, cargo transport, and rapid rescue—that help the troops on the ground. The Navy needs to focus less on aircraft carriers and more on vessels that can maneuver in coastal waters.Now that Gates' tenure is ending, it'll be interesting to see whether this momentum keeps building. Necessity would seem to demand it.
2. So long, Social Contract.
In the absence of industrial war, and with Gates' quick-strike model of military supremacy, notions of a draft are no longer with us. The U.S. military is a professional force, and with that, it's only natural that Americans let the professionals handle it. To put it in other words, when security is the project, we're happy to subcontract.
3. Objectives subject to change.
A year ago, would anyone have predicted that the U.S. would consider military involvement in a Libyan civil war? Of course not. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea would have been the "obvious" concerns, with a rising China and perpetually dysfunctional Russia seen as long-term threats. The situation on the ground changes far too rapidly in a postmodern world.
4. Speed is power, and power corrupts.
Eric Wilson's "Speed / pure war / power crime," found in Crime, Law, and Social Change, 2009, is an interesting read for anyone considering a critical perspective. Following Paul Virilio's analysis in Pure War, Wilson argues that the increasing speed of conflict isn't a side effect, but a desired outcome of the postmodern corporation.
Speed reduces transparency by means of an 'optical disappearance,' which so hinders detection that the crime is effectively re-constituted a 'non-event;' that is, invisible....Corruption doesn't just threaten the function of the State; when the virtual supersedes the actual, the State vanishes.
By favouring the high-velocity corporations that respond with near-instantaneity to fast moving 'market forces,' 'private' structures displace traditional public institutions that are temporally encumbered by low-velocity traditional political deliberation and public accountability; nowhere is this more transparent than with the military procurement process. Pure War is identical with the systemic criminogenic environment, or 'corruption,' the covert privatization of government functions,' that is the conflation of the domestic political economy with speed. Power Crime is an emergent property of the political hegemony of speed. The question now becomes whether pure war can, in itself, affect a fundamental reconfiguration of national and trans-national juridical space.