“Like the rest of Washington, the CIA had fallen in love with technology. The theory was that satellites, the internet, electronic intercepts, even academic publications would tell us all we needed to know about what went on beyond our borders” (Robert Baer). I first read this quote in Robert Baer’s memoir, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism. The book chronicles the former case officer’s career in the Middle East when the area was not yet a priority in US politics. Ultimately, Baer goes on to critique the changes he noticed in the CIA’s infrastructure. He noticed increased federal and military involvement in the civilian organization’s infrastructure, and thus an increase in bureaucracy and a shift from HUMINT (human intelligence) to SIGINT (signal intelligence).
Baer’s critiques are ones that I have taken to heart when I think about how the US organizes its wars. We have developed a love for bureaucratic systems and technological intelligence. The reality is that wars no longer resemble Clausewitz’s “Trinitarian” model and battles are no longer a matter of who holds the superior technology. These are lessons learned broadly from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to more detailed outlines provided by Roger Trinquier. In order to adapt to the post-Trinitarian model, there must be a return to HUMINT and strategic flexibility that is not provided in bureaucratic systems. Essentially, the United States is stuck in a bureaucratic system that promotes the use of technology, which is what prevents the military from developing creative solutions and thoroughly understanding the enemy.
First, to explain the problem with the modern military, I’d like to explain how the military and the subsequent branches working for it are bureaucratic. Sociologist Wolf Heydebrand defines bureaucracy as “a formally rational system of administrative control based on technical knowledge [with] a fixed hierarchical structure with long-term career paths and closely guarded borders.” Considering that a top-down hierarchy is the basic structure of militaries with decisions made by a “chain of command,” I would think it’s fair to say that are elements of a bureaucratic system. Rank and promotion dictates everything within the military, top positions given to those with the most experience.
During the 1970s, the United States underwent a renaissance of liberal thought dubbed neoliberalism. This represented a shift in public desires from organized bureaucracy and stability to dynamic expressionism and individualism. While businesses were taking advantage of this dynamic shift in thought, the government proved slow to change. Michel Foucault noticed that the shift did not completely dismantle bureaucratic systems but brought in a new illusionary liberalism: “Neoliberal governmentality.” As Heydebrand notes: “Neoliberal supply-side policies and practices either transformed the remnants of formal-legal bureaucracy or gave rise to new, imaginative and experimental ways of organizational governance, including subcontracting, outsourcing, project teams, the use of casual, contingent, freelance and temporary labor, and the incipient decline of organized labor.”
The problem here is that the illusion of absolute freedom and innovation is given, but there still exists bureaucratic systems in place that control many aspects of how work is produced. In the case of the military, innovative thinkers tend to have some say in how warfare is organized, but there still exists remnants of bureaucracy and social rules in place in this hierarchical system that cannot give full freedom of expression. As we enter a “post-Trinitarian” model of warfare, our military thinkers and strategists must be flexible, as Sun Tzu wrote, we must be able to shift through unknown terrain like “water.”
Tradition and bureaucracy stifles development of thought. Humans have a history of relying upon technology and technological developments to act for us, and to an extent, I think it has been a great motivator for innovation and social progress. However, “Over the past 300 years, people have long since become accustomed to blindly falling in love with the new and discarding the old in the realm of technology, and the endless pursuit of new technology has become a panacea to resolve all the difficult questions of existence” (Unrestricted Warfare).
Although originating in China, where the communist social structure and different history has created a very different system of thought that my Western-centric thought has difficulty grasping, the question of the limits of technology has stirred my mind. When I look at each new predator drone being built, a new missile system, or a new plane developed for military use, I often think to myself “what’s the point?” If I think about these tools of war being developed from a pragmatic standpoint, I can’t think of any good reason. After entering the “post-Trinitarian” model, the use of planes and tanks are hardly practical. They are extremely inefficient in fighting guerilla adversaries, which as Trinquier proposes, are the future enemies of warfare. An ostentatious presence prevents the homogenized military from winning over the population that terrorist cells embed themselves within.
However, the development of these technologies makes sense when I think about them in terms of the bureaucracy that the US military is stuck in. There was a time when Keynesian investment in military technology stimulated the economy, providing jobs and endorsing companies. The United States fights asymmetrically because it is still beneficial to these companies. Aside from this economic standpoint, the reliance on technology reinforces the idea of a hierarchical military, legitimizing the bureaucracy of warfare.
Planes and tanks that will never be put to practical use are very expensive and require a complex system to ensure that they are protected. These are complex technologies that need to be monitored by a chain of command in order to ensure their safety. Training exercises require that they be taken care of by a variety of people, properly shipped to different base locations around the world, and put into training exercises under strict supervision. The maintenance of these tools requires a complex bureaucracy, and thus the military is put into a cycle. Tradition and bureaucracy ensures the manufacturing of these weapons, and the complex nature of the weapons enforces the bureaucratic nature of the system that created them in the first place.
So now that I’ve explained the traditional hierarchy of bureaucracy in the military, how this bureaucracy develops useless technology, and how this developmental process legitimizes itself, I would like to conclude this essay with how this all prevents what I think is the key to evolving into van Creveld’s “post-Trinitarian” warfare: the acquisition of HUMINT. I began this essay with a quote from Robert Baer, who explains that the primary intelligence gathering arm of the US, the CIA, has been stifled in developing due to a reliance on technology and limitations in innovative thought. In short, what Baer is trying to explain is that the US has rendered itself incapable of truly knowing its enemies. Baer’s critique comes from the fact that it’s easy to justify full-scale military action when a satellite image is placed into the hands of a policy-maker. Either data gathered from the depths of the internet or from a satellite image can provoke aggression. Depending on the scale of the threat, either the military is deployed, as it had been in Afghanistan and Iraq, or we rely further on technology and send drones to “surgically remove” key targets in the war against an idea.
These tactics are ineffective because we are not opening our ears, we are not listening to others, we are not learning what others want, and we do not attempt to understand a different society. The US seems to operate under the assumption that human beings can easily adapt from a dictatorial social structure to a democratic model with ease. However, when we attempt to make that shift, we forget to listen to the needs and desires of others. For instance, the main source of income for Afghani farmers would be heroin produced from poppy fields, a direct conflict of interest with the US. How would the US ensure the relative economic stability provided by the Taliban without forfeiting American societal mores?
As professor Corradi explains in The Dream of Sun Tzu or How to Lose a War, “it did not cross their minds to consult sociologists and anthropologists, who could have explained to them that in Iraq, the primary loyalty is to the clan rather than to the nation.” There is no preemptive attempt to understand whom we plan to fight; policy-makers did not listen to sociologists or anthropologists and continue to make this mistake. Eventually, the situation in Iraq became so dire that the US military employed something that I believe to be conceptually brilliant, but too little too late: Human Terrain Teams. Groups of anthropologists go to the battlefield and interact with local populations, attempting to understand their wants and needs. Why did we wait so long to try this? If we are engaged in a nation-building policy, why not attempt to build a nation based on the social structures of the people and not our own standards? If the United States wishes to move forward in the way we think about war, we have to start trying to understand the people. This will require diplomacy, HUMINT gathering by actually deploying personnel on the fields, and academic understanding of who we plan to help or fight, and why.
I fear that war with Pakistan or Iran could be looming around the corner, always hinted at, and yet again, we have not asked ourselves why Iran pursues a nuclear program or why Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban. In order to fight properly, the US needs to abandon asymmetrical warfare, its reliance on technology, and traditional methods.