CSS Lunch | Dr. Sean McFate on The New Rules of War

CSS Lunch | Dr. Sean McFate on The New Rules of War


(overlapping chatter) – Hello, everybody, we’re gonna go ahead and get started, so it’s
my distinct pleasure today to introduce you to Sean McFate. We were colleagues at NDU together, and now, still colleagues
here at Georgetown, where he is an adjunct
faculty member for us. So thrilled to have him open
up his first public event after, you know, being
in the news about it, but first event here at Georgetown, talking about his new book,
which is quite controversial, I’m sure you guys will
have lots of questions, and I’ll go ahead and
turn it over to Sean. – Thanks, thank you very much, it’s great to be here, and thanks for coming out on a January
day, especially a cold one. Can you hear me back here, do I, okay. Do I need to stand in front
of this camera or not? – [Hostess] Yes. – I do, okay, all right, all right, okay. At least somebody knows,
I’ll try to stand, well, let’s see, I don’t want
to stand in your way, either. Is this okay, why don’t
you tell me, so I know how, before you even begin, I’m so sorry, I should have done this earlier. But it’s my pleasure to
be here with you today. Is everybody here, like,
an SSP student, great. So today, this book is released, The New Rules of War, and–
(person applauds) Thank you very much,
thank you, one person, thank you, thank you.
(audience applauds) Oh, okay, great.
(audience applauds) Authors love their egos
stroked, of course. This book will be controversial, it’ll make some heads
explode in the Pentagon, but that’s an okay thing. It is written for a mass audience, it’s not an academic
book, it’s undergirded by academic rigorous
theory, but it’s also a lot of history, and also a lot
of personal experience. I have a background in this
that’s not purely scholastic. But it was written so that my
mother could understand it, okay, and it’s written to be read, it’s, you could read it both
seriously at the library, but also, waiting for
an airport, you know, at a gated airport. The first question you’re gonna, you’re gonna probably ask me, since you’re all astute SSP
students, it’s, like, whoa, but Dr. McFate, there are no rules of war, right, there are no rules of war. And I find this personally
to be not correct. So when we think of, like, Clausewitz, and he says that war is, you know, policy by other means, call that an idea, call that a maxim, call that a rule. Same with Sun Tzu, when he says, “All war is deception,” it,
too, is a sort of a rule. So I’m using rules loosely,
it’s not like laws of war, it’s not like sort of a
(mumbles) principles of war, it’s just, we’ve been studying war for over 2,500 years,
and we have some ideas as to what works and what doesn’t work, and this is part of that canon. So I start off by rejecting the idea that there’s no rules of war,
which has become fashionable to say, we can discuss why
that perception exists today, but I don’t want to waste time
right now on this, all right? So the reason I wrote this book is, I was curious to know about this question. Why don’t we win more wars? Now, it’s a question that’s very unpopular to ask in the Pentagon,
as you can imagine, it’s something that’s
unpopular to ask among vets, but I think we have to
be honest with ourselves, we have to ask this question,
why don’t we win more wars? The last time we won a war decisively, the world ran on vacuum tubes. The day before D-Day,
General Patton stands up in a makeshift wooden stage,
and talked to soldiers about to launch on the
biggest, the biggest invasion I think the world had seen
at that point, and said, you know, “Losing is hateful to Americans, “Americans don’t lose wars.” Americans do not lose
wars, but since then, all we’ve done is stalemate, or lose wars. Korea was a stalemate,
Vietnam turned communist. Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t think anybody
could reasonably argue now that we won Iraq or Afghanistan, even, there are Pew Research polls
from last year that show, pretty significantly, that most Americans, as well as most Brits, say that we, quote, “mostly failed” in these wars. Even John McCain, last
year, on his deathbed, said the Iraq war, which
he had worked so hard to launch and escalate, was a failure. This is not a Democrat
versus Republican thing. Republicans got us into wars
they couldn’t get us out of, Democrats promised to get us
out of wars that they didn’t. This is not, oops, sorry, this is not a White House
versus Congress thing. Does anybody know the
last time we declared war? The last time Congress declared war? (audience member mumbles) World War II, World War II. You know, as a troop
leader, as a vet myself, we have, we fought wars in Korea, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Balkans,
Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, I want to know what
people died for, right? So it’s, where has
Congress been, but AWOL? Also, it’s not just an American thing, and this is what’s frightening. The French lost in Algeria and Indochina. The British lost in Palestine and Cypress, as well as other places, arguably Ireland. The Soviets, of course, in Afghanistan, their Afghanistan
moment, and the Israelis, against Hezbollah in Lebanon. In all these cases, you had
very high-end, high tech, advanced militaries losing
to vastly inferior foes, and the big question is, has the West forgotten how to win wars? It’s an obvious question,
but nobody wants to ask it because the implications
are too terrifying. If you think about the
implications of that, it’s too terrifying. So we have the best troops,
we have the best technology, we have the best training,
we have the biggest budget, so what’s the problem, why are we losing? It’s a reasonable question to ask. There’s many different answers out there. Many, some solutions are,
we have to double down on our core strength, for
example, we need more money, we need more technology. This thing, what is this, does
anybody know what this is? (audience member mumbles) The F-35, the most
expensive weapon in history. This program cost 1.5 trillion dollars, that is more than Russia’s GDP, all right? We fought two long wars, how many common missions did
this fly, does anybody know? – [Audience Member] Zero. – Zero combat missions in two long wars. (audience member mumbles) When you look at a weapon system, its worth is measured by its utility. We’re buying more of
these, too, a lot more. The last time we had a
strategic dog fight was probably the Korean War, so why
do we need more of these? I don’t know, you could argue, we don’t, we might need more of these, but why is there a pilot involved? So this is the definition of insanity, doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result. Another solution or answer is denial, oh, we didn’t, we didn’t
win in Afghanistan, but we didn’t lose, either. As attractive as that is,
and as much as I have friends and vets and, you know, family members, not in my family, people
who’ve lost people there, that is not honest, we have
to be honest with ourselves, we have to be honest with ourselves. When you measure victory and loss, the only thing that really matters is, did you achieve your war objectives that you went into the war with? Now, sometimes those war
objectives can change, but sometimes you see
politicians artificially moving the goalpost to
rationalize failure, and history is never fooled. So initially, when the US went into Iraq, or Afghanistan, said we’re gonna
make this into a democracy, and there will be peace,
love, and unicorns, and all these things, we can’t be, we have to be honest with ourselves, and say, did we achieve
what we wanted to achieve? And if you didn’t, you really
can’t say you won the war. You really can’t say you won the war. Nor is this idea of bifurcated victory, that you can win all the military (background noise drowns out speaker) but yet lose the war,
there’s no such thing. Victory and loss in war
at the strategic level only makes sense in a political context, ’cause wars are in politics. All right, so another answer is faith in international law,
international organizations. I think that the United Nations, for all the great things
it does in the world, peace management may
arguably not be one of them, that’s what I would argue. If you look at the Middle East, you look at Africa, South Asia, the United Nations has a
spotty record, a spotty record. And those who think, and as a vet myself, you know, the idea of laws of
war is a magnificent fiction, purely marvelous, but it doesn’t, that’s not how warfare works, you know, today, I think it’s hubris
to try to regulate it, it’s hubris to try to legislate it. Often, kind hearted solution end up with most people getting more killed. This is not just me, and
this is Clausewitz, book one. Lastly, and this is
what astonishes me most, is that some people say
war is just unknowable, so they throw up their hands and give up. What’s interesting about this is that people who say this now are a lot of foreign policy experts in this town, national security experts in this town. They are the people who
said, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, trust us. And they said, oh, the wars
will be short and easy, and will pay for themselves. Rumsfeld said the Iraq
war would take days, weeks at the most,
certainly not months, right? Then, also, it continues, well, things are not going on well, but counterinsurgency will
surely save Iraq and Afghanistan, and when that failed, they’re like, well, a surge, we need a surge,
and then that didn’t work. And then they’re like,
oh, war’s unknowable, and this is, this is not true. So it’s only unknowable to some, it’s only unknowable to some,
which is why you’re here, so you become masters of
war, and masters of peace. So there’s a saying that maybe you heard, generals always fight the last war, or generals always fight
the last successful war. This truism happens to be true. Our strategic paradigm for today, in this country, remains
our last successful war, which is World War II. It is the conventional war paradigm. Now, being savvy SSP students, we don’t have to have a
big discussion as exactly what that means, we generally think of interstate warfare fought by industrial strength
militaries, fueled by ideologies of patriotism, nationalism, et cetera. It is, but conventional war, I argue, has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning was Napoleon,
the middle could be Crimea, or the US Civil War, the
end was World War II, and World War I, I look at
those, actually, as two, as the same war, like the, sort of like the Peloponnesian
War was 30 years, World War I and World
War II, in some ways, are the same war with a 20
year, you know, (mumbles). But conventional war is dead,
and that’s the first rule of the 10 new rules of war, is we, we struggle, because we’re
trying to fight a type of warfare that doesn’t exist, and this comes from, you know, it comes from
things like World War II, but also it’s reinforced
by our ideas factories, like in Hollywood, and novels. So Tom Clancy, some think of him as a god. I remember, when I was
a cadet in the army, people, like, junior
officers would run around with a copy of this
book, Red Storm Rising, under their little chicken wing, thinking that this was the future of war. Has anybody read Red Storm Rising? This depicts World War III,
between the Soviet Union and NATO, it was written in 1986, it was an instant bestseller,
everybody was reading it, and, you know, the way it worked is that this was basically World War II, that the Soviets would attack using, you know, sneaky, dishonorable
tactics, a sneak attack, and then NATO had to rush
in, and beat them back, led by the heroic United States military, and curiously, no nukes went off in this. It was just pure World War II again, and it became a bestseller, in part because it spoonfed our
military’s confirmation bias back to itself, and this, does anybody know what was really going on in
the Soviet Union in 1986? – [Audience Member] Chernobyl. – It was busy imploding, is
what it was doing, all right? It was busy imploding, you know, 30 months after this got published, the Berlin Wall fell down,
but curiously enough, that’s not what the CIA here was peddling. They were reading this book, and not reading their own cables, and they went around this town, saying, oh, the Soviet Union’s
never been stronger, or more aggressive than before. They are going to, they could, they could, you know, there could be
World War III tomorrow, and we will die. Which, of course was totally wrong, they had just one job, one job, you know? They got it, they blew
it, does anybody know who was leading the CIA’s
charge on this at this time, the Director of Intelligence
was on this issue? – [Audience Member] Gates. – Gates, Gates, right,
not Bill Gates, right? (audience laughs) Bob Gates, it did not hurt his career. He became the DCI after
this, which is incredible to think about, the Head of Intelligence, and then he became
SECDEF many years later. And we, we laud him, but I think this is interesting question that we have to ask
ourselves about, his legacy. And, of course, we see this today, we see Call of Duty, I mean, we see, like, Star Wars is basically conventional
war in space, all right? I mean, conventional war is everywhere, it’s how we, as a people, conceive of war, and when you ask people
about the future of war, it’s usually World War II
with better technology, robots, and, you know, AI,
whatever AI even means, we don’t know.
(audience laughs) You know, cyber war, it’s
like ones and zeros in space. So this is the problem,
is that this is wrong, ’cause it misleads us, right?
(audience laughs) It is wrong. So the first rule of war is
that conventional war is dead, this will make some heads
explode in the Pentagon, particularly in the Departments
of Navy and Air Force, who have been kind of sidelined
in the last 20 years of war, and this is even more
astounding, that there’s nothing more unconventional today
than conventional war. Blue, or red here is conventional war, state, instate conflicts,
blue is everything else. This is the (mumbles), Correlates of War, which you all know about, it’s pretty, it’s pretty clear,
right, what’s the point? But how much of our
budget goes to preparing for war down in the
red, how many trillions, well, billions of
dollars, it’s astounding. So no wonder Afghanistan
is the longest war in US history, no wonder. So I ask you, today, what
are today’s biggest threats, what are they, yelp out a few. – [Audience Member] Climate change. – Climate change. – [Audience Member] Russia. – Russia. – [Audience Member] China. – China. – [Audience Member] Overextension? – Overextension is a good one,
what’s, give me another one. – [Audience Member] Nuclear weapons. – Nuclear weapons, is that a, okay, nuclear is a big weapon, yeah, sure. Well, ’cause, like, who’s gonna, who’s gonna use it, right, I mean, France has nuclear weapons, so, yeah. So these are some great
examples, you know, we could spend all day
listing what the threats are, and you could say things like deficit, you could say things, other things, too, like, what happens if there’s
a run on the US dollar? We can get really imaginative about this. But while these threats are bad, they are not the worst, the worst, at least, this is my
interpretation, is systemic. There’s a systemic threat
that’s emerging in 25 years that I call durable disorder,
what is durable disorder? It is an emerging global system that can contain but not solve problems, this is antithetical
to the Fukuyama thesis, that after the Berlin Wall fell down, that we’d have political
utopia from here on out, for, what’s that book, of article called? – [Audience Member] End of History. – End of History, right, very
famous, you know, contrary, you know, history has
not ended, and, you know, the American political ideology
has not reined supreme, instead, it’s kind of
come, gone the other way. This is a systemic threat. It is not new, so think
of the Middle Ages, when you had overlapping authorities, you know, if you were a
peasant in a piece of land, you could have different authorities, telling you you owe them your allegiance. Authority was not terrestrially based, like we do with nation states today, and if you go to places
that have durable disorder, whether it be Africa, or Afghanistan, people say, well, you know, yeah, I’m Congolese, but I’m actually from the (mumbles) first, and
I’m from this family second, you know, they, people have a list, a hardened list of
identity, it’s not just, I’m an America, and the, it was the case in this country, too,
before the Civil War. Does anybody know, who, any here who is an officer in
the army, or a military? So you take an oath right now to who? – [Audience Member] The Constitution. – To the Constitution,
to the United States. Does anybody know what it
would be before the Civil War? – [Audience Member] Governors. – Not governor, as you, well, close, you would say you took a
constitution to defend not the United States, but a
United States, a United States. And you look at people like General Lee, and he felt, he was
loyal first to Virginia, and then to the federal system. That all changed in our country, too, but this is in our own history,
is my point, all right? But this doesn’t mean that
the world’s gonna collapse in anarchy, you know, the fact that we don’t have a strong state system, as international relations explains to us, governing the world, governing security, doesn’t mean that we’re gonna have sort of the Knights of Ni and the Holy Grail. (audience laughs) It just means that we’re
in a perpetual conflict and entropy, right, forever
wars, things like that. Here are some disturbing facts. 50% of all peace deals fail in five years. The majority of countries
today are deemed fragile or failed, no matter what index you use. The number of armed conflicts have doubled since World War II,
there’s actually literature that shows that the Cold
War was substantially safer than it is today, we could debate that, because the threat of nuclear
Armageddon was always, you know, you were under
the shadow of that. Conflicts today do not end, they persist in these forever wars,
these never ending wars, and that the rules based order that we all love and
cherish, it’s sort of, it’s limited now, it’s limited. It’s being replaced by
something more organic and wild. So in, this book takes a position that those who, you know, grasp this, who grasp durable disorder can win, and those who do not will lose, all right? Meanwhile, we have a foreign
policy of Humpty Dumpty. We’re trying to get around the world, and recreate the liberal world order, as we like to perceive it,
from the last 70 years, whether that’s true or
not is a different story, but my point is, is that,
this is not possible. We’re not gonna go back in
time and recreate something, we have to learn how to live and deal with durable disorder
today, rather than trying to recreate a past, real
or fictitious, glory time. So we have a new type of global system, and we need, it also has
its own new type of warfare, and we need to get savvy on it. Some people think that now, as
a national defense strategy, that our future war will
be with Russia or China. That might be true, but then, why does everybody assume
it’s gonna be conventional? I don’t know, why would
people assume that Russia and China will fight conventionally
(mumbles) World War II, our preferred style of fighting. It won’t, conventional war is dead. The bigger question is,
are we already at war with Russia and China, and don’t know it. And this is not new for us, we
did this during the Cold War. Was the Cold War a real
war, was it a metaphor, what was it, it could be the same today. I’m not saying, it’s a,
it’s a new type of warfare. But the future of war is not China using some big air sea doctrine
battle in the South China Sea, war is getting sneakier,
it’s getting more Sun Tzu. Crimea was taken, Russia
could have blitzkrieged through Eastern Ukraine,
they had the military to do that, but they did
not, they used covert and clandestine means, like
specs, not special forces. Like little green men, like mercenaries, like proxy militias group, so by the time the frigates
showed up in Sevastopol, it was already a fait accompli. And it was a brilliant strategy, on Putin’s part, in some ways, because how can the US rally the world to defend the Ukraine when the
basic facts were in question? In an information age, plausible deniability is more
important than firepower, same with the South China
Sea, same with, you know, these are American mercenaries in Yemen, ex-SEALs, ex-Green Berets,
acting as a hit squad for a Middle Eastern monarchy. Warfare has changed, and we can talk about this during Q&A,
like the South China Sea, what’s going on there, if you wish. In the future, victory will belong to the cunning, and not the strong. We’re the strong, but I argue in this book that we’re being outplayed strategically, not operationally, not tactically. Nobody can stand up to the US
operationally or tactically, it’s at the strategic level that we fail, and this is what I mean
by strategic atrophy, it’s low strategic IQ, we
suffer from a low strategic IQ. And we need things like
SSP to help boost that. So, for example, you know, the idea of conventional war, that, you know, victory occurs on a battlefield, battlefield victory is
almost irrelevant today. So where does victory occur? Well, it’s in a realm of
influence, or other ways, these are, so one of the
rules, the new rules of war, is that some of the best
weapons don’t fire bullets. So obviously, there’s a
whole Mueller probe going on, you know, did Russia try to
manipulate our election, right? Who cares about the sword when
you can manipulate the arm that wields it, that’s the
logic of that strategy. How about this, when
Russia, in the old days, old rules versus new
rules, in the old days, when the USSR wanted to send a message to the West, it tried to
use, you know, munitions, what it would often do is stage, like, these huge military exercises, right on the border of
East and West Germany. For example, Zapad-81 had
150,000 Soviet soldiers massing on the border, and NATO freaked out, they’re like, well, they say
it’s a military exercise, but what if it’s not, what if
it’s a surprise attack, right? Well, now, what Russia does, when it wants to send a message, or break
up Europe, to some extent, they don’t use military means like that, they bomb civilians in Syria. They target civilian centers,
help creating an avalanche of refugees that crashes into Europe, and creates the Brexit. Or the rise of right wing
parties across Europe that disfavor European Union, et cetera. So they’re weaponizing
refugees, the some extent. Others are like China, do you know China has bought Hollywood? Think about that soft power play, and how powerful it really is. You cannot make a bad movie about China, they cannot be villains, they can only be heroes, or superheroes. Think about that. So war has moved on. And we have to move on, too, and that’s why I wrote this book, because even an undefeated
military can lose a war. This is in 410, a depiction of 410, when the barbarians first sacked Rome, Rome thought itself pretty secure, the eternal city, until 410. So we have to learn how to win in an age of durable disorder, and
for this, for this reason, I come up with, these are
10 rules, 10 principles, 10 maxims, I don’t care
what language you use to describe it, about how
to win, about how to win. And I explain, for each one of these, how to use them in some
combination, or all. But to a standard,
traditional warrior’s mind, this will create cognitive dissonance, but this is why we struggle, this is why we spend the
most money of any military in the world, yet we get arguably
the least results for it. That’s not the fault of our troops, or our technology, et
cetera, we have the best. It’s because of strategic decrepitude. With that, I’ll take your questions. Yes? – [Audience Member] How would
you reorganize the military to fit your vision–
– Oh, dear. – [Audience Member] What needs to happen? (audience laughs) – Yeah, I think, somebody
give me a softball question. (audience laughs) So, like, I had this recently, like, if you were SECDEF, what would you do? Well, first of all, if you are SECDEF, like, so my advisor at
Harvard was Ash Carter, way back before he became SECDEF, and I would sometimes
ask him these questions, and he would have a very
bureaucratic answer, I suppose. Look, there, I actually
talk, in this book, I talk about potential solutions, there’s a lot of things I would do. So, first of all, I would strip away all, all these traditional war
weapons are the most expensive, and least useful, I would do away with. Now, that becomes a problem,
because whether you believe in a military industrial complex or not, there is that complication,
and it’s curious now, because we have an interim
Secretary of Defense, who’s Mr. Boeing, that
Eisenhower would be rolling in his grave at high RPM right now, and probably McCain, as well. So I, the other thing I would do is this, and some of these are bold, I would flip who’s in our reserves, and
who’s in our active duty. So right now, like, for the US Army, most of our combat units
are in active duty, and most of our reservists are, like, combat support type things. Not with National Guard,
but I would flip that. We don’t, you know, tanks
are not needed anymore, right, I don’t think so, they play a very, and tanks were not needed
even during the Gulf War I, some, I mean, some argued this. I, but meanwhile, our
combat service support, our combat support units are
always deployed all the time. We need more of them,
so maybe they should be on active duty all the time, and we’ll take the big red one
infantry division, and put it into the reserves, which
would shock a lot of people. Also, why is it that the only people who can be four star generals in the Navy are either submariners or
fighter aircraft pilots? Why are the only people who
can be four star generals, in charge of the Army Infantry are armor? I would break that up,
how about a four star who’s intelligence, or something else? We have the, you know, the other
thing, I would create more, I mean, the military does a
pretty good job of education, but it often reinforces the wrong lessons. So I would, I would think we
need more programs like this, to help create strategists,
but an earlier age. Does anybody know how old you are in the military before
you go to war college, and get your strategic education? – [Audience Member] 45. (overlapping chatter) – Like, 45, usually it’s 40s, you know, 40. (background noise drowns out speaker) Maybe early, maybe late
30s, if you’re a fast mover. I would argue that, why
do we wait that long, right, let’s do it, do
it when you’re doing it. Now, they don’t have to be, like, four star generals at age
22, but let’s incorporate that into the academies, and to ROTC. So I would do a lot of things that would, but these things fundamentally
challenge the identity of the institution and the military. And this is not just a military problem, it’s a whole of nation issue, as well. So, you know, why, can we make it so the State Department has
more educational opportunities, or other, you know, other things in the intelligence
community, they really don’t, they, I’m sure, I’m
sure they would like it. Other questions, back
here, and then we’ll go to the side of the room. – [Audience Member] Do
you believe this period of durable disorder is inevitable, that the US doesn’t have the ability to reshape the international system, not so much in the Humpty Dumpty, we’re gonna get the liberal
order back together style, but creating something that
is not this durable disorder– – I agree, no– – [Audience Member] Is
that just inevitable? – That’s inevitable,
and I’ll tell you why, in my opinion, it’s because we all learn political
science, that the birthday of the nation state system of
governance was 1648, right? That’s actually wrong,
if you actually read, has anybody here read the
Treaties of Münster or Westphalia, from 1648, in Germany, it’s a ceasefire. Nowhere does it articulate
a system of states. We’ve created this idea, the
19th century scholarship, we, a reification of
this system of states, which is really reading into a situation that didn’t exist, and it became ossified in the 20th century scholarship. Most of world history is
disorderly, all right? This idea of states, as well,
states are not universal and ancient, they’re
only about 400 years old. Does anybody know the biggest form of political organization or entity in the history of humanity? – [Audience Member] Monarchy? – Well, empire, empire, and tribes, you can say, argue tribes,
the empire, that’s states, states are, like,
they’re a momentary blip. And so if you look at the
history of world order, you’ll see it’s mostly
messy, mostly disordered. But again, it didn’t come apart, it didn’t, at its seams, the
way that people assume that, well, what will the
world look like without, without the governance of states, without the governance
of Westphalian states? It’ll be just fine, you know, Somalia, for all his horrendous-ness, it has, it does have some sort
of governance there, same with the, I used to live in Africa, in these places, they have
their own local governance. I’m not saying we should strive for that, or that’s good, but this idea that world’s gonna, you
know, the sky is falling, we have to invest in more sky, I think that’s the wrong
approach, this, yes, yes, sir? – [Audience Member] Yeah, so first off, you know, if you’re,
from what you mentioned about Westphalian
sovereignty being a kind of, (background noise drowns out speaker) I’ve also thought, for a really long time, calling it Westphalian
sovereignty is a really kind of dumb idea, and I don’t care
if I’m on record saying that. – You’re on record, saying that. – [Audience Member] Yeah. (audience laughs) Whatever, you guys, I just don’t like the term
Westphalian sovereignty. Anyway, so, yeah, when you’re
looking at especially parts of the world where there is kind of, like, conventional, or like in Yemen now, I mean, like, is this kind
of just the aberration, or is there, like, what
would you say about, like, since you mentioned before, like, peace treaties don’t
tend to survive, like, I mean, what’s, what’s
next for places like that, where there is gonna be some
kind of conventional war? I mean, is it all gonna be resolved through non-conventional means? – Well, I don’t, I kind of disagree that Yemen’s a conventional war. Having conventional war aspects to a larger war doesn’t
make it a conventional war. So look at the US Civil War, for example, when did the US Civil War start and end? (overlapping chatter) ’61 to ’60?
(overlapping chatter) ’65, right, you could
make the argument it went from 1850 to 1878. Right, bleeding Kansas, Missouri, that was a regular war going on, before the conventional staging occurred, and then the Reconstruction,
with the KKK insurgency, you know, you could argue
that’s also warfare, that’s also warfare. So, you know, just so, you know, I think that we will see
elements of conventional war in the future, but, like,
just ’cause one tenth of it might be conventional doesn’t
make it a conventional war. I’m not sure if that’s
what your question was, but I don’t see conventional war, like World War II, occurring again. I don’t see, like, China,
occurring, doing that right now. I mean, it’s amazing, you ask, you know, now, this town has a habit of, like, auto-populating expertise, so, like, you know, 10 years ago, you couldn’t find a Russian expert, and now there’s Russian
experts everywhere, right?
(audience laughs) Same with Chinese, and the
thing that really irritates me, like, China, especially, is, like, you have the experts and think tanks who don’t speak any
Chinese, you know, and they, like, before two years ago,
they were an Al Qaeda expert, or ISIS expert, you know, it’s just, nobody can really take them,
or nobody should take them that seriously, there, a
lot of them are theory, in search of fact, where
I’m going with this is this. Where am I going with this,
do you know, help remind me. – [Audience Member] So, as far as, like, how do we resolve, like, sort of, like, conventional war–
– Right. – [Audience Member] I mean,
that has conventional aspects, and I guess if you’re getting at, from, like, the solution base– – What I’m getting at is that
all these Chinese experts, China has a very clear strategy
with the South China Sea, they have a very clear strategy to get the US out of their region, it’s called a three warfare strategy. How come nobody’s heard
about it in Washington, DC? I don’t know, but the
three warfare strategy, it’s media influence, it’s law-fare, and it’s, like, cyber
stuff, something like, the third, I forget, but
it’s not carrier groups. They’re not investing in
carriers, yet they’re winning, ’cause they’re fighting
with the new rules of war, we’re fighting with the old rules of war, and that’s why I’m pessimistic that we’ll see conventional
war happen again. Yes, back here. – [Audience Member] So assuming
you could convince those inside the Pentagon (mumbles).
– Yeah? – [Audience Member] How
do you convince them, or more so, how do you have them, talented policy makers, who are elected by a constituency, that
glorifies the military, doesn’t hold it accountable for anything that it really does because
there’s no ramifications, do you think that the way
we conducted wars has been successful because we’re
quote-unquote a winning streak, or we could discount the
fact that we have lost, do we need to actually
lose before we can sell to the American public that, essentially generate the political will to do something, in order to have change? – So you ask a very important question, and what we really need is we need to have a national discourse on the forever war situation, right? Now, you know, am I optimistic that in today’s political environment, that’s gonna happen anytime soon? No, I’m with you on this, but that’s probably why I wrote this book, and also why I wrote
it for a mass audience, and it’s deliberately
a little provocative, because if you write,
you know, well-mannered, academic prose, nobody’s going to read it, who is the constituency you’ve outlined. And so, when I present
this, when I wrote it, when I present it, I’m a
little piquant about it because we need to have people
stop and think about this. One of the, you know, I think that we do over-glorify the
military a little too much, and that’s, that can be dangerous, just like we vilified them too much in the Vietnam era,
which is also dangerous. But I do think that one of the lessons that comes out of this book,
especially if you look at, you know, number five, rule five, is that the military may
not be the best weapon for modern warfare. And if you look at our own budget, now, budgets are moral documents, because they do not lie, our
budget, if you look at it, if you take out entirely
the programs like, you know, social security, and Medicare,
and Medicaid, if you look at what we spend on our interagency,
it’s like a fiddler crab. And the fiddler crab has, like, a, one huge claw, the tiny,
little micro claw next to it. That one claw is DOD, and
everybody else is that tiny claw, and I think the first thing I would do, if I could, if I was, into your question, if I was like god, not SECDEF, but god, I would slash the DOD budget, you know? I would slash it, and
give taxpayers a break, and spend more money elsewhere, because I think this, this harbors and encourages this
conventional war mentality. You’ve heard the maxim of, you know, if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a
nail, that’s what we do now, is that we have, like,
there’s a problem some place in the world, can we do airstrikes? We do means driven strategy, and we wonder why it doesn’t
yield political results. All right, go here, and
then I’ll go back here. – [Audience Member] I was
wondering if you could, to go back to the Yemen example, you were talking about
how, in the problem, in Western states, and losing these wars, by trying to use conventional
means, but in Yemen, you’re having the UE and
Saudi more increasingly using unconventional
means, like mercenaries, for example, and yet,
they’re still losing. Do you think that this is something that they are going to
be able to turn around, do you think it’s just a matter of time? – No, I think that
they’re trying to adapt it to the new rules of war,
like using mercenaries, for example, but they’re
just sucking at it. (audience laughs) So there’s a difference,
right, it’s a difference. I mean, the Saudi, you know,
this is the Saudi’s first war of choice since, since what, ’62 or so, I don’t even recall, it’s, I
think most people would agree, it’s not gone well, it’s
not going well for MBS. But I don’t think it, I don’t think that, I think the only thing
we could see at Yemen is that it’s an example of,
of strategic adaptation, or the attempt to do so. But we have a culture, and so do they, where we don’t, we don’t
have leaders reckon strategy with adaptability very well. Question over here, yes, ma’am? – [Audience Member] Thank you for coming to talk with us today, I
wanted to ask a question about drivers, you
mentioned that, you know, right off the bat, in the next 25 years, the nature of war, and
perhaps also the nature of the international system
will markedly change, and you also mention sort
of this past tendency of the US military to
use, choose conventional, you know, large scale conventional warfare to engage in the international
system in this way. But I’m assuming that’s
not the only driver, in your mind’s eye–
– Sure. – [Audience Member] Can, can
you talk a little bit more about the drivers (background
noise drowns out speaker)? – Well, the drivers are many and complex. So there’s a whole literature in the 1990s and 2000 about state
failure, the why of state, and globalization, and those
are all drivers of this. In this book, I don’t
get into too much detail about this, ’cause the
audience I’m writing for does not need to know this. So in my first non-fiction book, an Oxford University Press book
called The Modern Mercenary, I discuss the idea of durable disorder, I discuss some of the primary drivers, but I’ll say that my discussion of that was most a synthesis,
rather than original ideas, ’cause there is a vast
literature out there on the sources of conflict, the sources of fractured sovereignty,
all these things. I think one area that’s not been looked at very carefully is the rise
of private military force. Private military force mercenaries, I think is one of the
single biggest threats to international relations today, but it’s emblematic of durable disorder, it’s not a cause of it, and
the reason it’s so important is because we’re totally unprepared for this. Mercenaries are the
second oldest profession, most of the military
history is privatized, mercenaries have been around forever, it’s only 1850, that
they really disappear, and were driven underground. So most, but we’re forgetting this, we’ve excised it from
our collective memory. But what happens when you privatize war? Warfare changes, suddenly, think of, like, Clausewitz meets Adam Smith. Our generals are completely
unprepared for waging a war where market strategies are
more effective than warfare, so CEOs in Wall Street
might be better equipped to wage such a war, than our current breed of four star, that’s
why it’s so dangerous. Yeah, let’s go up, (mumbles), back here, way back there, yeah. – [Audience Member] So
your rule number six, you were just talking about
mercenaries will return, it seems to feed directly into
rules seven, eight, and nine. – It does. – [Audience Member] Because
they’re good at those rules. – Yes. – [Audience Member] Do you
think that there is a way in which even in a durable disorder, in order to protect their interests, sovereign states might try and, again, push mercenaries out of
the equation in some way, and how do you (mumbles)
successful at doing so? – Yeah, so I think that
world peace would be easier than that, so, like, the question of why, how did, how did the world get rid of mercenaries the first time? And I’ve talked to different
historians about this, and nobody really knows, I mean, people have theories about 1648, and, but, like, what exactly, and how,
and nobody really knows. And could Russia and China and America and the United Nations, and everybody, could they all agree to
monopolize the market for force, the way that powers did
in the 17th century, or 18th century, I don’t
know, I don’t think that’s, I don’t think it’s likely. We’re not even sure how that
happened the first time around, but I do think that what’s gonna happen with six, seven, eight, and nine is that mercenaries will
return, number seven is, new types of world powers will emerge. This is like supply and
demand, think of, you know, the Fortune 500 is more
powerful than most of the 190 or so states in the world, right, especially the extractive industry. And they are tired of being shut down by corrupt governments, so they’re, now that mercenaries are available, and de facto legitimized by
the United States of America, who used them for 10 years heavily, I think they’re gonna start
using these more and more. Also, random billionaires,
oligarchs, did you know that 62 individuals in this
world possess the equivalent of half the world’s wealth? Will they defend it with
violence, if necessary? You bet you they will, you bet they will. So we’re gonna see private wars, and private wars is this
dangerous combination of Clausewitz meets Adam Smith,
that we’re not ready for. We used to know how to do that, we, like in the Middle, Machiavelli existed in a world of private warfare, and he wrote The Prince and bewailed it, like, private warfare, he said, cause, you know, turns soldiers into beasts, and people into victims,
and that’s, you know, and mercenaries, and, you know, they don’t work themselves
out of a job very well. So I think these are all
part of the durable disorder, part of the persistent conflict that we’ll see in the future, yes? – [Audience Member] So
we’ve talked a little bit about the future of our
ideas of sovereignty, and, like, what a state is, and, well, number eight is, there will
be wars without states, and I was wondering if, you know, outside of the durable disorder, because, traditionally,
wars ended by either, like, you know, calling it a country, or signing a peace deal, is it possible to have peace deals, is it
possible to find a semblance of peace between two
organizations that a lot of the world politically may
not see as legitimate, like, even the United States,
dealing with the Taliban, and how do we overcome
that under these new rules? Do we even look for peaceable solutions, or is it more of a existing inside of a permanent war-like state? – Well, I think we have to be humble about how much of a peace deal
we can strike in Afghanistan. And if we want a peace
deal of Afghanistan, it’s gotta include all Afghans, to include the Taliban, right? Otherwise, it might end up
like the end of Vietnam, where we made a peace deal,
and then, three months later, North Vietnamese swept into South Vietnam, and, you know, it’s just
like, sucks to be you, right? And we do that to the Kurds quite often. So, and that’s sort of realpolitik, and I’m not saying it’s
bad, but it’s the way it is. My point is, is that we already
have wars without states. If you look at Central America, if you look at, you know, you, rather than states
becoming movers of warfare, they become booty in
warfare, they become loot. They get, you know, they
call ’em narco states. And can cartels make peace
deals with each other? Yes, they do, why do we not privilege that as a peace treaty, right? Well, ’cause we’re stuck in
a state-centric paradigm, a (mumbles) paradigm, so
that’s what I’m trying to break in this rules, too, yes? – [Audience Member] Is the only impetus for foreign affairs, under this framework, essentially, the propagation (mumbles) of extractive industries,
or domestic industries that need to secure international markets for sales or purchases, ’cause it seems to not have a, like a morality, or a, like, theoretical drive for
engagement with other nations. – No, I don’t think so,
I mean, I think Russia and China are fighting
with these rules right now, and they both imagine a greater
Russia, a greater China, I think terrorist groups are
fighting these rules right now, and they imagine a greater caliphate. I mean, there’s a lot of
moral components to the, I mean, I’m not advocating for morality, and I think that morality
has done more harm than good for US grand strategy, right? So, like, the Truman Doctrine, promoting democracy
everywhere, I think has been, has yielded more harm than
good in the Middle East, and other parts of the world. I think that the idea that we are all about promoting democracy,
but we make allies with Saudi Arabia, equally problematic. It might be cleaner just
to be more realpolitik about our grand strategy, and say, we do what’s necessary to
achieve these national interests, and we’ll take ideology off that table. Not everybody would agree with that, but that’s, you know, that
would be my perspective. Does it make it nihilist,
does it make it survivalist, does it make it, that’s a,
that’s a different question, question here, and then in the back, yeah? No, you, and then we’ll go behind you. – [Audience Member] So
yeah, going off of that, you mentioned, according
to these rules here, autocracies seem to
have a lot of advantages when it comes to this
next, or perhaps return to normal. (background
noise drowns out speaker) Do democracies have any advantages, perhaps in the private sector, and how can democratic states
better use these advantages? – So this is a great question, ’cause I, part of, war is going underground, I had rule number nine, is what
somebody called shadow war. This is when you fight wars that are disguised as something else, or using covert and clandestine means, and we know from the
Church Commission era here that secrets and democracy
are not compatible. We also know that from (mumbles) that democracies are not
particularly good at fighting wars. They tend to become more
autocratic over time, and they can lose their soul,
so this does concern me, and I raise this in the book. I do suggest that we can do shadow wars, we did it during the Cold
War, but not always with good, we win the shadow war, but then we, like, mess up what happens
afterwards, excuse me. So a good example of this, I’m
leaving ethics out of this, ’cause we’re discussing war,
is Guatemala, ’53, right? When the CIA, kind of fusing a shadow war, basically convinced the
dually elected president, Arbenz, of Guatemala, to flee the country, they faked him out, you know,
that’s new rules of war. But the CIA, for all its many
sins during this timeframe, got basically neutered into
the ’70s, and justly so. So this, this, the question
of, what kind of regime thrives and does well in this is a good question, and one that should
concern us, but that’s, that’s beyond the scope of this book. But I think that’s an important
question to ask ourselves. Back here, yes, there’s
two back, yeah, yes? – [Audience Member] How’s it going? – Yeah, it’s good, it’s good to see you. – [Audience Member] You too,
so, rules one and rules two, imagine that the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Navy– – Yeah, they’re not gonna like that. – [Audience Member] To reading those– – Yeah, yeah, but. – [Audience Member] For the
capital intensive services, like the Air Force and the Navy, (mumbles) and fighter
pilots, they advocate for bigger ships and fighters, right? – Yep. – [Audience Member] What
do you think this does, like, how do we manufacture
cunning, one, and then, two, does this mean that
there’s incredible emphasis on the role of the SECDEF in the future? – Well, the question of the SECDEF, I mean, the SECDEF, is, like, you know, he or she, like the president, can really change maybe one or two things, and they have to pick
what those things are, and then that’s, in reality,
so they’re kind of in a box, more than we give them credit for. But I think, yeah, one and two, when we really push back
on the traditionalists, which are the Navy and the Air Force, who, for the last 20 years, have felt like they’ve been
left out in the cold, right? But I’m okay with that because
the Department of State needs some more love and attention. I think VIC, we need, you know, and information is critical
in this way of warfare, I think, you know, IC reform is, like, another only god can make that happen, but that we need to do
more of that, as well. But I do think, like the
Air Force and the Navy, I would ask them honestly, like, you want more carriers
in the South China Sea, but that’s not deterring anybody, so what’s the, what’s the logic here? And they’ve got to ask tough questions, and them saying that we,
(mumbles) more submarines, right, why, why are we buying
the F-35, why, right? Because it’s a needed weapon, well, beyond that general, tell me why. I think, also, there’s a lot of conflict of interest across Washington, DC that, we should expose it, it’s not just, it is not just Eisenhower,
it is also Teddy Roosevelt who talks about this, that
you can look at the history of our country, that the double helix of our country’s DNA is
business and politics, from the very beginning. And this particularly ramped
up after World War II, where we never
de-industrialized the military from World War II, we kept it going, and that’s what Eisenhower
was talking about. And the fact that we
have a Boeing guy again, you know, who could fire
(mumbles) Shanahan tomorrow, I suppose, but the point is, is that, you know, he is pure Boeing,
he’s never done anything else. He’s now in charge of the primary client, what does that tell us? So, yeah, I think, you
know, the Air Force, and then, you know, I, but
I do think there’s a role for them, but it’s not as
they perceive it themselves. And, okay, behind you,
somebody had their hand up. Did you have your hand up, okay, yes? – [Audience Member] Yeah,
so if, in some ways, if, like, nothing is conventional war, than what is conventional war, in a way? So, like, ’cause, like, Six-Day War, or Desert Storm, or Iran or Iraq war, if those aren’t conventional,
and then, yeah– – Okay, well, first of all, what time does this end, one o’clock? – [Audience Member] 1:30. (overlapping chatter) – 1:30, okay, good, I
want to make sure you’re– – [Audience Member] Don’t worry about it. – Okay.
(audience laughs) So, okay, so here’s my, I disagree with some of my colleagues,
Frank Hoffman is a dear friend of mine, and a good colleague, I don’t believe in hybrid war, I don’t believe unconventional
war is unconventional. I think war is war, it’s a broad spectrum, and it’s, it’s not a linear progression from one side to the other, so, and I think attempts to do that, all it does is create
endless academic debates around taxonomy, which
yield very little results on the ground, I think we’re just better to think of wars are in politics, and then move forward, so I don’t, I don’t spend time thinking about where does unconventional war end, and conventional war begin. – [Audience Member] But if we’re saying that conventional war is dead, then does it just mean
naming types of wars– – Yeah, so in the book,
in that first rule, I explain what I told you, like, conventional war is
really a type of warfare, it’s, you know the difference between war and warfare, right, it is
the West’s favorite way to fight, it’s a type of warfare, it’s actually not conventional war. It’s dead, we don’t
fight that way anymore, and oh, by the way, the whole tradition of conventional versus unconventional, symmetrical versus,
you know, asymmetrical, regular versus irregular,
it’s all, it’s all hokum, and it’s confusing to us,
because what happens is that once we know it’s one bin
versus the other, we perceive with certain strategic
assumptions, which are wrong. Same with, like, narco
wars in Latin America. We view that as criminality,
and not as armed conflict, and so we think our law
enforcement lens goes on, and then that’s, you know,
we have problems with that. So I look at that as, like,
that’s a type of warfare. It doesn’t, it doesn’t
register on our scale, and many of these types of
wars don’t even look like wars to a traditional thinker,
which is why it’s so dangerous. – [Audience Member] If we
want to do these things in a codified system,
like, pursue war legally, (background noise drowns out speaker) these definitions to a
point, to say that this is, this type of warfare is different than this type of warfare?
– Yeah. Well, how many times have we declared war in the last 70 years, I mean, how, I mean, this is gonna be
controversial, but, you know, when we try to wrap war
around legal systems, I think that’s, that’s hubris, and I think that there’s very little, you know, lawyers do not run
our strategy in this country. Now, there are some who think
that that should be the case, and they’re usually in the Hague, but look at the Hague,
I mean, Africans think that the Hague is a racist
organization, you know? Why is Putin not a criminal
for taking the Crimea, but Kenyatta is, it’s, you know? So, like, all these questions arise, but, I mean, if you’re,
if you’re a legalist, then you need bins and
categories, but I’m, that’s not where I’m thinking. (audience member) Okay, yes, sir? – [Audience Member] All right, so, again, we appreciate you speaking to us today. When you classify that as your 10 rules, it’s typically, I think,
doctrine right now that army interpret it as regular warfare, and conventional war is kind of what they describe as
decisive action, as it were. And I think you’re right,
the most likely course of action in the recent
past, and going forward, is that irregular warfare–
– Yeah. – [Audience Member] Would you agree, though, that, and I think we’ve seen SOCOM and the inter-agency really evolve to be massive participants in that realm, at least the most–
– Yeah. – [Audience Member] I think
the DOD and DOS can offer. But would you agree
that, potentially, this, the creation of durable
disorder is a function of a deterrent, which is
that the air land battle, if it were, the ’80s and 90s were, the US military got so
good at decisive action, with the investment in all
these capital enterprises in this fourth, fifth
generation capabilities, did the world kind of,
again, as a deterrent, moved away from that (mumbles)
symmetric capabilities, which has caused the rise of so many of these other conflicts,
and if we give up on investing in those conventional means, and dominance in that
decisive action realm, that the world would be
more likely to compete with us in that phase of joint (mumbles)? – I hear what you’re saying,
I don’t agree with it, and I’ll tell you why,
is that, yeah, yeah, so certainly, our
decisiveness in one aspect of warfare, like air land battle, push weaker adversaries
to adapt to it, right, but irregular war,
sticking to this phrase, which I do not like, to
your earlier question, but sticking to that phrase, it existed, it was not invented in 1980s,
it’s been around forever. One of the examples I look at, victory, rule number 10 is, victory is fungible, is an important one, it means
there’s many ways to win wars, and there are strategies that exist where you don’t, you can
win, a weak opponent can win against a strong one with a weak military, and sometimes it’s not
even military at all. Now, strategies exist, we don’t teach them in our war colleges,
why not, I do not know. We do at the war college I’m at, we teach Mao, who teaches
you how to do this. That’s not even an original idea, for him, he’s taking the Fabian Strategy from, you know, the Second Punic War. There are strategies that the weak can use that don’t involve decisive
battlefield victory, and even if we achieve decisive
battlefield victory today, it doesn’t decide much,
if anything at all. I mean, think of George W.
Bush on that aircraft carrier in the spring of 2003, saying,
mission’s accomplished. Right, so, this is
where I depart with some of the more operational aren’t thinking of the military, and think about, when you win, how do you
win, where is victory found, if it’s not on the battlefield, you know? It depends on your opponent, so, I mean, anyway, there’s lots of examples. So, like, in World War
I, Germany was caught between two fronts, that
was their nightmare, East and West, and the way they got rid of the Eastern Front, finally, was not through three million men marching in the Soviet Union, they
did it through a clever ruse. They took Vladimir Putin, Vladimir. (audience laughs) Who’s the other guy?
(overlapping chatter) Lenin, Vladimir, I
always get ’em mixed up. (audience laughs) They took Lenin from, and
his coterie from Switzerland on a sealed train, and
they shot him like a virus into the Soviet Union, and
that’s kind of what did it. I mean, there was a, there was a couple of revolutions before that, in
1917, but the final sort of, like, that was done by the
Minister of Foreign Affairs, (mumbles) it’s in the book. But, you know, that’s
their, that’s an example of victory is fungible, you don’t have to, like, kill more enemies,
take more territory, and fly your flag over the capital to win. But we’re stuck in that
paradigm, and we’re not alone, some other Western
countries are, too, yes? – [Audience Member] So
you were kind of talking about how the covert
armies, CIA got neutered in the ’70s with (mumbles),
are there any examples that you point to, and
you’re saying, ethics aside. And if war is strategically successful, and the CIA, right what they did before, they had oversight in the
’50s and ’60s, I guess– – Well, it’s a Faustian bargain, right? I don’t want to sit up here and say that we should be more, like, you know, Iran, Guatemala, but
we have done it before, if you do a better job of it, maybe. You know, I don’t, I don’t know, I mean, like, you’re talking
about modern examples, and if we had, like, less
governing on the agency, they could, it could yield results for us? – [Audience Member] Well,
I’m saying, for example, by, would you consider Guatemala,
or Congo, in the early ’60s, as having been strategic
successes, and something that we’re gonna have it,
figure out a way to get back to fighting in that way,
or do you kind of look back on that, and say they weren’t successful– – No, I do, they, Guatemala was a success, but with caveats, heavy caveats. And what really was,
really, the problem is, like, what happened afterwards. What the US did afterwards
was pretty awful, and also, getting to the question of
ideology and grand strategy, that, you asked this question,
or, like, what does it mean to be a Truman Doctrine, you know, person, but we’re overthrowing
legitimately elected leaders for the sake of United Fruit Corporation? Well, we’d also talked
military industrial complex, and the DNA of business and politics. I mean, so Guatemala has a lot
of significant flaws to it. It really shows an operational win, and that type of operation
will yield more results for us in the future than,
say, more aircraft carriers, but also managing the perils of that, I’m trying to be open
eyed about that, as well, and transparent about that, and certainly, if you talk about, like, you know, there’s a lot of Guatemalan
refugees in this town, for example, that came out
of the multiple civil wars from that era, (mumbles) era. But, yeah, so the book, and shadow war, rule nine, goes into
some of these questions, so I, you know, without
getting to it right now. Yes, back here, and then you two. – [Audience Member] So in this
kind of alluding to the age of hyper competition,
where we’re headed towards, and (mumbles), the letters
seem to be blurring more and more together, what sorts of institutions does the US
possess, I guess, economically, or any other purviews outside
of military, specifically, the military support of intelligence, outside of those purviews,
where are we strong, and how can we strengthen those? – Well, this is a great question, and I don’t address this in the book, because it’s more of a, that’s,
like, the next tier, right? I think we have a
bureaucracy that’s structured after the, after World War II to deal with interstate Westphalian threats. And that’s a cultural thing, too, not just a wire diagram, that’s a problem. Like, who do we call when we, you know, how do we, can we do negotiations with non-state actors easily, not really. So I think that’s a
problem, I think, also, the public private
partnerships in our country, that’s, how do we get around that? You know, that’s more and more important, but we’re dealing with adversaries, we don’t have to deal with
this, like Beijing, right? And they’re, and the
thing about Beijing is that scholars were wrong about China, really wrong for 25 years,
they kept on assuring us all that you can’t be a
global economic powerhouse with a state-controlled economy. And lo and behold, we have Beijing. Now, you know, which is scheduled to surpass the US some time in the next 15 years as the
biggest economic powerhouse. You know, who knows what
the future will hold, it could all implode
tomorrow, it could all not, I don’t know, but I think
that scholarship was tinged with confirmation bias about
this, and that’s part of, I don’t discuss it directly in here, but it’s the same pathology, yeah? – [Audience Member] So
I had a second part, that’s kind of connecting to
almost everything you’ve said in your core idea, I mean, is there a way that we can succeed without
changing our culture? – I do think so, but I
think we’re gonna have to change around the margins, I mean, like, the idea of glorified, I mean, one of the biggest reasons that we fail is because of Hollywood,
Hollywood puts visions in our head about what
the, what war looks like, and the future of war,
and it impacts us here. So Iron Man creates
the Iron Man suit here, you know, like, and, you know, and we, we love technology, we have a, you know, there’s this thing, there’s, like, this mechanical robotic
ass, it’s a robot ass, okay, a mule, right, you
know what I’m saying. (audience laughs) All right.
(overlapping chatter) So, like, Boston Dynamics, somebody, has spent, like, 45 million dollars for, like, 10 years, creating a prototype, that’s kind of a waste of money, and this thing, like, stands
up, and it starts marching, and it’s supposed to carry
special forces’ luggage around the battlefield,
that’s its main purpose. (audience laughs) (background noise drowns out speaker) What’s that? – [Audience Member] It
can do back flips, though. – Yeah, and, and, but the
thing, the problem is, has anybody seen this thing,
it sounds like a lawn mower, it can’t go everywhere Special
Forces troops can walk, and if it breaks down in the field, good luck getting parts, right? The truth is, an old-fashioned
mule would be much better and cheaper.
(audience laughs) That is the perversion of our culture, and I’m okay about
changing that, you know? But we have to, you know, we
have this thing called DIUX, right, anybody know
this thing, it’s, like, it’s basically a slush fund,
and I think it’s a slush fund in Silicone Valley, where it’s just, like, hundred billion dollars,
just come on over, you don’t have to even be profitable, just help us do better with technology. This idea the technology
will save us is wrong. We’ve been constantly
defeated by Luddites, the only, the last,
(audience laughs) you know, the 70 years of war, 70 years, the last 70 years, all the
big powers have been defeated by Luddites, if there’s one rule that is, that is absolutely decisive,
the last 70 years of war, is that technology makes no difference. We are humbled, to this day,
by the humble roadside bomb. We’ve spent millions trying
to defeat the roadside bombs of Iraq, millions, and
it, like, doesn’t work. So I think that we have some strategic, cultural baggage that we
have to get rid of (mumbles). Let’s go over here, and
then back here, yeah? – [Audience Member] Okay,
this is maybe (mumbles). It seems, and I could be misreading this, ’cause it’s just, you know, (mumbles), but it seems like a lot
of these rules need sort of revisionist powers,
for lack of a better word. Is the US and our other status quo powers, who would rather just avoid war, at a systematic disadvantage
in this kind of world, and can we reverse that, can we without, just either waiting for the next war, and then intervening decisively, or just getting a lot
more activists trying to revise the status
quo, to be more stable? – So I wrote this book
because I don’t want to have to wait for a Verdun moment before we strategically adapt, which is generally how it
happens, it takes a lot of blood to, for militaries
to change the way they fight. And even then, it doesn’t often happen. But yeah, the West has not won wars, it stopped winning wars 70 years ago, and we should really be
concerned about this. Yet, the revisionist powers,
as you’ve described it, are doing all these
things, they are doing, China and Russia are winning, not ’cause they’re
fighting conventionally, ’cause they’re not fighting
conventionally, and we have a self-inflicted strategic wound that we are, we don’t have
to deal with it right now, ’cause it’s not as
essential for us right now, but at some point, it might be, and I want to get ahead of that curve. And you don’t have to
agree with all these rules, but a, my point is, as
Machiavelli says to the (mumbles), an archer aims high, pulling back the bow, knowing that the arrow
will arc, and lower. So if I can get some people in our national security
establishment to start thinking about this, they may not
agree, but the only way to pull them across the
line a little bit is to be provocative, not in
a sort of a circus act way. But asking hard questions,
like why has the West not won, and what’s keeping us
back, and I think that’s, those are tough questions to ask. – [Audience Member] I was
gonna ask that, it’s like– – Yeah, then I’ll, yeah, mm-hmm. – [Audience Member] What does a, like, a case study of, like, a victory for the US look like
with these kind of rules? If you could apply, or take
any issue there is now, or– – Well, I think the first thing we have to do is stop invading
countries, right, I mean, how many thousands of
American troops have we lost, how many trillions of
dollars have we spent? Our national image is tarnished
against low level enemies, and we resolve nothing
politically on the ground. So, you know, it’s like medicine, the first rule is do no harm, right? Or the rule of ditch
digging, or hole digging, the first rule is stop,
so we need to stop, we need to see, have a pause. It doesn’t mean we’re
gonna be isolationist, we can have a discussion about, what would a grand strategy
around this look like, and I have a section in
the book on grand strategy. But the problem is, we
also have, in this town, confusion about what
grand strategy even is. You have preeminent scholars here talking about grand strategy is for
different administrations, that, they don’t get it, what makes a grand strategy grand is that it lasts throughout
multiple administrations, regardless of political
party, or type of government. So we just, in some ways, our strategic IQ in this town is very, very low, but we have the power to improve it, and it’s actually much
cheaper than another F-35. So that’s why I’m optimistic,
this is a good news story and a bad news story, the
fixer of this is doable, easy, and immediate, we
don’t have to wait 50 years, we don’t have to spend a zillion dollars, you know, something we can’t fix, like a geography, it’s
doable right now, go. – [Audience Member] So earlier on, you said you don’t think
another aircraft carrier, for instance, would improve deterrents. So could you elaborate on that? Why wouldn’t aircraft
carriers, or aircraft, or troops, or well-equipped
allies in the Pacific or Europe improve deterrents, and also, under the new rules, what role
does nuclear deterrents play? – So, good question, so right
now, the Pentagon is obsessed with deterrents, I submit, my opinion is that deterrents doesn’t
really work anymore, ’cause we live in an
age of non-attribution. Shadow war, it’s like cyber war, right? Shadow war is, you don’t know exactly where the attack came from, so
do you go to war against it, and one of the things of shadow war, too, is that you can frame your enemies, you can do black flag operations, and do mimicry operations,
which makes it so dangerous. And if that’s the case, in
that type of strategic logic, what good is deterrents, right, I mean, also, our deterrents is not working, it’s not stopping Russia,
it’s not stopping China, and aircraft carriers, we have
the best aircraft carriers, but who cares, we have
to look at the data. The data shows us that it’s not
curbing belligerent behavior of terrorists, revisionist
powers, rogue states, whatever, so why do we
cling to this Cold War, old rules of war notion in deterrents? So the new rules of war,
there is no deterrents, at least not that looks like that. And nuclear weapons is,
always been a debate about how effective nuclear
weapons were as a deterrent in the Cold War, that’s an ongoing debate
historians have had. I think most people say, yeah, mutually assured destruction
had a deterrent effect, but where is the line, and you see this when we go from Eisenhower to
Kennedy’s reflexive response. There’s this great show
that you should all watch, called Yes, Minister, have
you, or, Yes, Prime Minister. It’s an old BBC show from the early ’80s, it’s like a, it’s a satire,
it’s cleverly written, and it’s all about, it’s like watching, it’s (mumbles) electoral politics. And there’s this great
episode on deterrents, how good or how bad, and
this is during the ’80s. So I have always been a
little bit dubious on, but I do think what might happen in the future is limited nuclear warfare, why do we assume that nuclear
taboo will last forever? And I think it’s very dangerous, and I don’t really know where that leads. So nuke weapons are still
very, very relevant, but not as a deterrent
against great power (mumbles). Back here, and then. – [Audience Member] For,
assuming that we don’t experience an immediate and drastic
shift in the strategic culture of our country, what advice
would you have for those of us who are gonna be stuck operating at the tactical or operational level? (background noise drowns out speaker) Seeing that we understand and agree with. (background noise drowns out speaker) – So are you a military officer, or not? – [Audience Member] Yeah, I’m a– – Oh, okay, so you are probably stuck, for awhile, now, that said, you have opportunities (mumbles) camp, or to work at a strategic
level, or (mumbles), you can talk to people, and I think that socializing these ideas,
asking hard questions is good. I wished that we had strategy at USMA, right, I wish we had that. – [Audience Member] So
they actually started a, I was gonna bring this
up to you afterward, but they started a defense
institution studies program– – Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. – [Audience Member]
It’s one major of many– – But it’s, that’s good, we
need more stuff like that, we need more of that, and I think that, in other areas that, if you are in a, see, unfortunately, I think,
some of the areas that, like, we, like, (mumbles), or working on the Hill are kind of career enders, but you have the most opportunity
to shape these things. And it’s unfortunate, like, if you want to be the Chief of Staff for the Army, there’s a very linear path
you kind of have to take, with some luck, but I do think that, and SAMS is supposed to do
some of this stuff, right? They’re still, like, high operational art, but I think there’s, there are, look for opportunities,
there will be opportunities. I think that you’re not alone, my students at National Defense University
are lieutenant colonels and colonels, and there’s
a lot of sympathy for this. And it’s, you know, these
are not all original ideas, I hope you know, the, some
of these rules are ancient, some are new, and I’m not the first person to say some of these things, either. There’s a lot of interest out there, at the ground level and
the mid-grade level. So do not be despondent that it’s, like, you and this crowd with
brilliant young thinkers. There are people out there, just, do you know what your next assignment is? (audience member mumbles) Okay, so you’ll have a,
but there is, so the. (audience laughs) We call it the blob, it’s like the, like the national security establishment, that exists out there, and it
exists in this town, as well, and they like to push
back against anything that doesn’t look traditional. So I, I just, I would say,
go in and ask hard questions, be a critical thinker, and
look for opportunities, and we’re getting more and more like that. So when I was an officer
in the early ’90s, and I was a cadet in the late ’80s, it was still, like,
Tom Clancy all the way, but look how far we’ve
come, so it’s not, it’s, but the Army is hard to reform. Who is, who else had, yes, right there. – [Audience Member]
Something you mentioned now and in the class was that CEOs may be the new
best war strategists– – Or parts of it, or
some combination, yeah. – [Audience Member] But I
think it’s clear, very clear, particularly with Silicone
Valley, that other than the traditional defense
contracting companies, there is a lot of distrust
and dislike between CEOs and the military. So how, what would you say is
a solution to bring (mumbles) in from the non-traditional
defense side of– – It’s a great question,
so the military culture does not reward entrepreneurial thinking, and the private sector does, right? So the cultures are very different, and I would love to, like,
part of rule nine or 10, I talk about, what should
the strategic curriculum of the military be, or the whole, across the national
security establishment, it needs to be more of a mix,
of entrepreneurial thinking and, you know, so we
have things like this. That’s not gonna happen tomorrow, but I think that strategy
courses should teach, you know, has anybody
seen, like, Ender’s Game, you know, or read the
book by Orson Scott Card? I mean, they had, I mean, if
there’s any model in that, they’re, like, it’s conventional war, I get that, but, like,
can was create, like, an interesting system that can spot, identify, and develop natural strategists from an early age, you
know, West Point kind of does that for tactical genius, how do you do that for strategic genius? That’s what we need to think about, how do you create that program? And in some ways, SSP and
public policy schools try to do that, and I think working in sort of the business ideas,
and entrepreneurship, and what that looks like, that
would be the place to do it, but it’s a good question, yes? – [Audience Member] Sean, I’m curious as to how you can have a rule that says there is no
such thing as war, I mean, in the title of your book,
The New Rules of War– – That’s a great question, actually, just ’cause this is– – [Audience Member] I
think you’ve defined, you’ve stretched war to the
point where it has no meaning– – Where do you say, where
do you see this rule? I see, there’s no such
thing as war and peace, no, it’s great, so there’s no
such thing as war and peace, there’s no, what this
means is that, what, the, what you can’t see on this, it says, both coexist always, all right? So, for example, we, in the West, our strategic paradigm is
that war is like pregnancy, you either are or you aren’t.
(audience laughs) War is the failure of peace,
war is the failure of peace, so you’re at peace until the
Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, then you go to war, you fight the war, and then you go back to peace. You have a USS Missouri, and a ceasefire, and then we’re looking
around, and we’re like, why can’t we get a USS
Missouri moment with Al Qaeda? But that’s not how war is fought anymore. And you look at the South China Sea, this is how, in part, China wins, is they get in that space,
our self-identified space of, there’s war or peace,
they get in the middle of that space of war and
peace, and exploit it, they do actions that go
right up to the brink of war, and they stop, so that they
don’t provoke a reaction on our part, but they keep what they take. So that’s their strategy of how they’re gonna
get the South China Sea, one island and one ally at a
time, it’s incremental warfare that exploits our, in my opinion, false notion of war versus peace. It’s actually an and equation,
there’s war and peace. Again, the Cold War is actually something we were pretty adept at, in this. Yes, sir, and then back here. – [Audience Member] So kind of alluding to gray zone strategies used
by the Russians and Chinese, do you think that that’s something that we should incorporate into our PME? – I do, I hate the term gray zone– – [Audience Member] Whatever
you want to call it. – I just, ’cause gray zone’s
a big, amorphous mess, it’s like a bumper sticker to me. You ask people what gray zone is, and they’re like, it’s like cyber war, they’re everywhere, you
know, but yeah, I do, I think we need to, we need to have a PME that stresses these things, right? I mean, why do we look
at just kinetic force as the primary driver of
international politics? So yeah, I would like
to liberalize it, yes? – [Audience Member] So in this kind of pseudo medieval structure that you say that we’re returning to, what
role does the internet play, and what role does civil society play? – Well, okay, so I think
the internet, what, what time is it, okay, sorry, okay. No, one more question
(mumbles), so quickly, so I think cyber’s really important, but not in the ways people think it is. People think of cyber,
its job is sabotage, like Stuxnet, but in truth,
Stuxnet was ineffective. It didn’t stop or even retard
the Iranian nuclear program, it’s a lot of hype, and, but
its power is propaganda, right? And what the internet does is it allows us to do old things in new ways, it allows us to do propaganda, theft,
sabotage, and criminality. There’s nothing new about
that, it’s not a new way of war, or even warfare, you know? So that, that’s, but civil society is, that’s a different
question, I don’t have time, I don’t have time for that, last question, then we’ll go, yeah? – [Audience Member] So
the, so back to rule three, the latest national military
strategy discusses war and peace on this conflict continuum, and kind of acknowledges, I think, a little bit of (background
noise drowns out speaker) in saying that war, the, a state of war and peace isn’t binary, and our relations with other countries, other
entities fall somewhere on this spectrum all the time. So I’m wondering, I’m just wondering to what extent you’re encouraged by that, or you view that as basic acknowledgement of that rule, or maybe we
haven’t gone far enough in our understanding of–
– No. I’m encouraged by it, we
haven’t gone far enough. So, like, Nadia Schadlow, who helped pen the
national security strategy, Frank Hoffman, who helped pen
the national defense strategy, they get it. But they also have, also,
internal constituents in Department of Defense, who is like, no, there’s only either war or peace, and they have a very
traditional view of war, ’cause they learned about the, you know, their models for war are, like, are the, World War II and the Civil War, that’s all they’ve studied, right? But yeah, there’s recognition, I think, amongst a lot of strategic
thinkers and leaders, that this binary war peace
thing is not serving us well. And again, all we’ve gotta do is go back to the Cold War, we’ve been here before in our lifetimes, in our living
memory in this, you know. So we need to think, how
did we do with, back then, and I think that’s gonna
look like the future. I’m not saying we’re
gonna have a new Cold War with Russia against the US,
I’m not getting that literal, that’s the danger of the Cold War analogy, people immediately put on
their Cold Warrior hat, and that’s just not correct. But I’m optimistic that people
are coming around to this. And again, I’m not the first
to say some of these things, right, but (mumbles)
starts the imagination. So I think things are
moving in this direction, the question is, how can
we make it more rapid so we don’t get caught in some sort of Verdun moment 10 years from
now, ’cause never say never. Okay, with that, thank you
very much for your day, I know this is a–
(audience applauds) January cold day.
(audience applauds) (background noise drowns out speaker) See you around campus.
(audience applauds)

One thought on “CSS Lunch | Dr. Sean McFate on The New Rules of War

  1. A long and over due needed awakening to our failings such as huberous, ignorance, incompetence and lack of introspection. Thank you!

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