The Tribal Way of War

Robert D. Kaplan writes:

While the U.S. spends billions of dollars on sophisticated defense systems, the dime-a-dozen kidnapper and suicide bomber have emerged as the most strategic weapons of war. While we tie ourselves in legal knots over war’s acceptable parameters, international law has increasingly less bearing on those whom we fight. And while our commanders declare “force protection” as their highest priority, enemy commanders declare the need for more martyrs. It seems that the more advanced we become, the more at a disadvantage we are in the 21st-century battlefield.…

Our progressive global culture–with its emphasis on convenience and instant gratification–finds it difficult to cope with such warriors, for whom war is a first resort rather than a last one. And what if a warrior takes command of a large and modernizing nation-state, as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has done? We are accustomed to adversarial states with rational goals, like China. In the long run, China may constitute a greater threat to American world leadership than Iran. Yet China is a traditional and, therefore, legitimate power. We will have a serious military competition with the Chinese, but only through miscalculation would we ever fight them. Yet the darkest cloud on the 21st-century horizon is big states whose leaders may simply like to fight. Their reasons are tied up with pride, vengeance and martial religiosity and cannot be gratified through negotiations.

What then should we do? The authors quote Sun Tzu, the fourth-century B.C. Chinese theorist of war: “Know your enemy.” This book is a good place to start.


1 Comment

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One response to “The Tribal Way of War

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    I am a big fan of Robert Kaplan. As usual, I think he’s spot on. Secularists think that wars are ultimately fought only for rational economic interests. This is true for both liberal and conservative secularists. They cannot fathom that people are motivated by other than quasi-Marxist considerations. Another good article can be found on the Asia Times online:

    “Spengler,” a columnist, reviews a book by Nicholas Wade. He turns the review into an essay on the lure of primitive “authenticity” and ties in into pre-modern ideas of warfare that are making a comeback. I highly recommend it to the FM community.

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