The Changing Nature of Warfare and Security | CIC

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The Changing Nature of Warfare and Security

A live conversation with Brown University's James Der Derian and author Noah Richler. Moderated by the University of Ottawa's Philippe Lagassé.

  • This I would like to put directly to James, as I do not pretend to be more than a thoughtful witness. (Hopefully some of the thoughts are productive). Many deride the whole humanitarian enterprise, especially in Canada, though I am one who believes that the only trenchant criticism is that we have not, as nation or as whatever is that thing called "the international community" put enough resources to make the decent (UN) idea practicable. We have patted ourselves on the back for an easy war in Libya, fought from the air and without a mess of casualties - against the sort of army experts have been telling us we would rarely be fighting again; i.e. in uniform, not mixed in with the general population - though it is now that the case for some sort of interventionary conflict resolution force could be made (I don;t like the word "peacekeeping," it is now so caricatured it plays too easily into the hands of its detractors), a force to keep a peace in a situation in which there is some sort of prospect of it lasting - and of a degree of local appreciation as a result. Syria is nowhere near that place, yet.
  • Lots of good questions. First, on R2P and the lingering issue of humanitarian intervention. In the 80s was trained as a realist, while engaged in peace activism. That dichotomy (bipolarity?) sticks with me, albeit I try to dress it up as a Gramsician strategy ('pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will'). I think the bar for intervention should be very high, with crimes against humanity being the touchstone, not only because of a long and sorry history of great power interventions dressed us as doing good, but because of an equally long history of unintended consequences that go hand in hand with every intervention....
  • The very question that Antoine is posing, and the thought which James has put into the phenomenon and effect of "virtual war" show that humanitarian efforts towards conflict resolution - peace "keeping," peace "building" and peace "making," one could say - are part and parcel of a profound, evolving science. This is why I resent the caricature of all such work (as blue-helmeted peacekeeping of the problematic and sometimes failed 1990s variety) as if it has not and cannot evolve. But I would say that a first principle rests upon decisions actors make about the viability and inevitability of a mounting need for international co-operation on an ever-larger scale. Narrow nationalists hate this prospect and revile it, for the sovereignty they imagine it costs them. But surely we must keep an open mind if we are to responsibly imagine how we are to contend in that world, already upon us.
  • Noah, would you support higher military budgets to give the Canadian armed forces an independent peace operations capacity?
  • Noah and James, question relating to intervention and humanitarianism, would "first world" countries do better focusing on other issues than war, (military operations other than war) was the framework in the late 90s - but to focus on things like climate change, refugee flows, pandemics and first response? Could there ever be a type of response that was not dominated by a military or kinetic perspective?
  • Phillip has a question: would "first world" countries do better focusing on other issues than war, (military operations other than war) was the framework in the late 90s - but to focus on things like climate change, refugee flows, pandemics and first response? Could there ever be a type of response that was not dominated by a military or kinetic perspective?
  • I agree pretty much with Noah. The only supra-national body with relative legitimacy (if not moral superiority) to make it happen has no power to make it so. The US military is getting tired, philosophically, politically, physically, of being the 'global cop' (ask a Marine or soldier on 5th, 6th rotation). Defense budgets are on the decrease. Who you gonna' call is going to be an increasingly important issue when the next Syria emerges....
  • I'm with James - and Antonio G. (though would rather not his prison days) - "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will," thank you, that perfectly describes me between reading the papers grumpily in the morning and then setting down to write and putting out of my head the idea of being a ridiculous fantasist. But we need to have driving visions! Syria presents the problems of 1990s PK work instantly: no one in their right mind believes it possible to enter that cauldron as it is at the moment, its players unknown and undefined, and yet we are building the knowledge base and accumulating the experience to gauge that situation better. There may well be ways of solving it, in other words.
  • We're heading into the last ten minutes. Are there issues that we haven't addressed that either of you would like us to discuss?
  • Absolutely. As I said, the only truly legitimate criticism of the now problematic "Pearsonian" idea of Canadian PK work is that, especially over time, we were insufficiently committed to it. My case for a new, dedicated 'Peace Operations' regiment (and a university in civil society to back up this institutional idea of PK work as an evolving science) is meant to suggest two things: (1) that it is not a one (war) or the other (PK work) option, but that if we believe my interpretation of the history of Canadian Forces work, and that it represents the will of the people - their sense that the chance of Canadian good fortune should be shared - we should commit to making it happen; and (2) that we do so in a way that ups the ante and is a challenge to other states to do the same thing. Then we would have more resources, more forces to do more humanitarian work - when it is practical and believed to be likely to have a good outcome.
  • Phil's question shows up at many of the 'Future of War' gatherings. On one side, the argument goes that as the most effective/efficient bureaucracy the military must get involved in these 'non-kinetic' operations; on the other side, the military worries about losing its esprit de corps, raison d'etre, whatever, which is be 'the tip of the spear.' In between, you have a bunch of academics asking what happens when you 'securitize' climate change (as did the highly influential Andrew Marshall, Director of Net Assessment in the Pentagon)? Or worse, 'militarize' immigration issues, as we see on the 'other' border.
  • I would like to ask you, James, if you believe that the maintenance of war as "virtual" is actually possible, and of so for how long? Surely at some point, the very shock of war is that it might transcend that barrier (as it did for a moment on 9/11) and become actual?
  • General David Richards, Chief of British Land Forces in Afghanistan for a while, and who directed peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, I think it was - my description of his title may not be quite right - was the first player I met (in about 2006) to "securitize" climate change. he made a good case for it.
  • I'll throw out one last one in these last minutes: what comes after virtual war? Any thoughts?
  • Tough to give a a short answer to that one - maybe it's the nature of the medium, but Noah's questions keep prompting more questions! Right now I see a very big struggle going on behind the scenes, that will have a ripple effect in other militaries, including the Canadians. I see it as between the 'neotraditionalists' (COIN-istas, boots-on-the ground guys) and the 'transformationalists' (RMA, network-centric warfare guys). Two things to keep in mind about the outcome: the defeated learn better than the victorious on how best to fight (or not fight) the 'next war' (think Germany applying/naming an idea that the British actually developed on the Salisbury Plain - 'Blitzkrieg'); and that 'virtual' war like nuclear war works better as a deterrent than as an actual form of warfare.
  • After virtual war? Quantum war. I can explain what that is (or you can buy the book!).
  • I'll definitely buy the book, but how about a hint before we log off!
  • Thanks you both for joining us today and to those who asked questions.
  • Thanks as well to the editors of the CIC who set up this excellent series of web chats on the Future of Fighting.
  • Short version: 'war' phase-shifts with increasing rapidity, from individual, to group to state levels of interaction, and the power of observation (be it overhead from a drone or by social meida) directly effects the behavior of participants/belligerents. Because of the networked nature of global media and war, disparate actors become entangled in non-causal, non-linear fashion, and then....
  • Great! Thank you, Professor!
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