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What is "New War?" We have many ready monikers irregular war, asymmetrical war, unconventional war, guerilla war, 4th generation war, anti-terrorism, and counter-insurgency.

All of them miss the mark. They describe what is new as new fighting features the new tactics and techniques of battle. And there are so many "not" (ir-, a-, un-, anti-, counter-) words! It is as though New War was somehow underhanded and disrespectful -- so deeply not us. Our labels tell us more about ourselves than what we are actually facing.

New War is not really new at all -- what is new is that it is new to us, and our so-far-unsuccessful attempts to deal with it. Unsuccessful, that is, in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. We have been unsuccessful in part because we cannot even see New War for what it is.

New War is simply one of the three sub-sets of war that all states have faced since, say, the Romans. There is war with states, there is war with unrecognized armed communities, and there is war against lawless elements, which the Romans called bagaudae (bandits) and which we call terrorists. The first is usually well-established and rule-based, while the third is not usually even given the courtesy of being called "war." It is a sort of background tasking, an ongoing gendarmerie effort.

Our New War is the second of these three war against unrecognized, armed communities.

Yet we might even look back at the Roman experience and see a few reflective shards of ourselves. Rome was after all the world's first successful enterprise in multi-cultural globalization, bringing both the Mediterranean world and its wild periphery into a well-heeled, smooth-functioning international order.

Moreover the Romans, not so unlike us, had both threatening states and myriad non-state threats to deal with. The longstanding state threat was Persia (Iran), which should bring a smile to Americans mired in neighboring Mesopotamia. The non-state actors, however, were constantly threatening and difficult to handle.

They were literally everywhere around the Roman "globe" Berbers, Arabs, Picts, Massagetae, Goths, Huns, Herulians, Suevi, Alans, Alemanni, Burgundians, Dacians, Sarmatians ... it is a long list.

But no longer than the American non-state list today.

Furthermore, these unrecognized armed communities constantly affronted Roman interests or worse yet, actually threatened Roman order. How did the Romans deal with their non-state actors? What was their track record?

What the Romans always tried to do was simple and straightforward, and well within the accepted standards of Greco-Roman civilization. They would try to negotiate with these groups, but if they became a problem, a Roman army would march off to wipe them out.

The track record for this approach spanned at least five centuries. For example, in 102 BC a big Germanic community entered Italy -- the Ambrones and the Teutones -- and was essentially wiped off the face of the earth by the legions of the Consul Marius. In 405 AD, an equally large nation of Germans under Radagaisus entered Italy and was similarly exterminated by the Magister Militum, Aetius.

This was a no-prisoners approach. If the victory was complete, then presumably thousands would be slaughtered. Those remaining fighters would be taken prisoner, and ritualistically crucified -- also often, in the thousands. Women and children would be profitably sold into slavery.

The community that survived these events would have them literally seared into their collective memory. So Aetius dealt with the Burgundians in 436 AD, bringing savage Hunnic cohorts into Southern France to flay the offending nation. From the horror of that experience, where two-third of their people were slaughtered, comes the Nibelungenlied. Yet forever after, as long as there were Romans, the Burgundians remained good Roman allies. There are plenty of voices today -- just look around the Internet -- who would celebrate this as a model win by the good guys against the terrorists.

But sometimes things did not go as planned for the Romans. The Goths, desperate for sanctuary from savage Huns, were accepted into the Empire almost as despised refugees, treated like indentured guest workers-to-be, a new Roman underclass. But soon they rebelled and actually destroyed the legionary army sent against them slaying even the emperor himself.

Likewise the Romans barely contained fractious Jewish communities. In 79 AD Jewish insurgents triggered a strategic crisis of empire, which was concluded only by the punitive sack of Jerusalem itself. Yet even here a Roman scorched-earth policy only led, three generations later, to an even greater Jewish revolt whose outcome was the utter destruction of the Jewish Nation.

We should remember these long-ago events because unrecognized armed communities -- "non-state actors" -- are not easy military propositions. Quite to the contrary, a great nation state that has for generations focused its military efforts against brother nation states is sure to be less prepared for military operations against non-state threats.

Non-state threats -- or unrecognized armed communities -- do war differently. The difference, it turns out, is not necessarily in tactics or technique. Thus Bill Lind, a 4th Generation War seer, will talk about Hezbollah as employing "light infantry" tactics against the Israel Defense Forces. His characterization is absolutely correct.

But this is not the light infantry of a state. The unrecognized armed community is, unlike the uniformed military of a nation state, a community-in-arms. The entire community is at war. Like what the Romans faced, if we want to defeat such a community, we must engage and destroy it utterly.

Our national administration and its military mistakenly seek to engage fighters only. By killing just fighters, they reason, they can destroy the threat. But Hezbollah for example is really 1.4 million totally committed people. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq is 5 million committed people. The Shi'a militias there represent perhaps three times that many.

Surely the Russians know this. They knew the Chechen rebels represented 1.3 million people, so they set about to brutalize and kill several hundred thousand to bring them to heel. It looks now -- like Titus' Romans surveying a burned-out Palestine -- as though Russia's unrelenting torture and killing campaign has worked. Bravo. Russia may not have Chechnya to worry about for maybe a generation. Maybe even more.

Are we Roman enough? Evidently the Israelis are not. They boasted about destroying Hezbollah, and they showed how well they understood the nature of the problem as they ruthlessly set about to turn all of Hezbollahstan (aka, Lebanon) into rubble. But evidently they lack the Roman Way. They kill a thousand or so Lebanese, and maybe a few hundred actual fighters, and then they stop.

Likewise, America has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, only a portion of whom were actual fighters, and so have achieved, what? A couple years ago the US Proconsul in Baghdad boasted about bringing Muqtada al-Sadr to justice. Now Sadr is the Shi'a kingmaker. This too was not the Roman Way.

Clausewitz had it right. He said that strategy at its most existential "is the use of the engagement for the purposes of the war."

The unrecognized armed community seeks to use "the engagement" for its desperate purposes survival, first and foremost, and then if possible, realization to be free, to be independent.

This makes "the engagement" with unrecognized armed community fundamentally different from any sort of battle with another nation state. Fighting another nation state -- at whatever level -- is all about negotiating relative advantage within the context of an already well-established relationship.

An unrecognized armed community is above all, unrecognized this is the final and the most oppressive "not" word that we impose on them. Thus this community is also fighting for the formal recognition -- as in legitimacy -- and it is fighting with every fiber of its being. In contrast, to win, the offended nation state must be Roman in its ruthless vision and razor execution it must destroy the whole of the offending people. Certainly Israel could have destroyed Hezbollah it should have been easy. Do like the Russians did in Chechnya kill a couple hundred thousand Shi'a -- or more. Eventually you will "win."

But what if you (Thank God) cannot?

Again the Romans have some instructive alternative examples for us. Remember, even for Romans there were some unrecognized armed communities that they could not be defeated. Indeed, sometimes non-state actors instead defeated entire Roman armies. What exactly did Rome do then?

With the Visigoths, the Romans entered into negotiation. But here negotiation meant much more than "talks." The Romans, however reluctantly, were forced to develop a serious relationship with their enemy. Yet miraculously, soon they ceased being the enemy. They were not yet exactly foederati, or "allied" yet, but they were on the way there. The Romans from time to time even had to fight them, and use strong force to reestablish the terms of relationship.

But they gave the Goths what they most wanted, which was to be Roman. Once they were really and truly Roman, moreover, they were Rome's most steadfast friends. A Gothic king, Theoderic, even fell in battle alongside Romans in that celebrated place where Attila's Huns were stopped forever.

This is not to say that America, or especially Israel, can repeat anything like this with the armed communities that task them. But the point is that they have not really tried. Both Americans and Israelis talk a big line about not negotiating with "terrorists" -- when they really mean armed communities like Hezbollah and Hamas. But calling such communities "terrorist" is not just trash talk, it is tantamount to a kind of unilateral disarmament. It is like taking half the tools in your kit and throwing them away.

Mind you, this is about approaching resistant, armed communities that represent actual, emerging societies. As long as your enemy is a real society, a relationship with them is possible. It is with wild-eyed fighter bands that things get dicey. A relationship with Takfiris sworn to seek your death? Unlikely. But in contrast, if fighters truly represent a community cause, as a civic-minded militia, then "relationship" is an entirely different proposition (see, for example, http//jhuapl.edu/POW/library/Vlahos_Two_Enemies.pdf). We urgently need to understand the difference between the two, and then, with resistant communities, take on the relationship-proposition.

Moreover the relationship-proposition is an argument for the future. It should not be seen as advocating negotiation as it were, under fire. It is not being proposed as a solution to the current contretemps with Hezbollah. But later, when the fighting ends and tensions have eased, it will be an avenue that should be explored. What about the Iranian connection, you ask? The United States has some rather longstanding relationships with resistant, armed Shi'a communities in Iraq. Their leaders (think, SCIRI, think Abdel Aziz Hakim) are not only the kingmakers of the current government there, but their Iranian connection is deeper and more intimate even that Hezbollah's.

In a place not so far away, with not so different armed Islamist communities, America has been playing the relationship game. Perhaps not so well as we would like, and perhaps, in Iraq, even heading for a poor outcome. Yet perhaps this should tell us that, rather than rhetorically rejecting the relationship-proposition, we should figure out how to pursue it more effectively.

Because relationship, for all its pitfalls, offers the opportunity for seductions far more effective than enforced submission at the point of a gun especially if you cannot bring yourself to pull the trigger. If we, Americans and Israelis, are unwilling to slaughter millions, then our surest way to defuse the threat they pose is to somehow develop a fruitful relationship with them.

Yet in the twisted worldview of American thinking today the very word "relationship" is a codeword for weakness and cowardly softness "relationship" itself is seen as tantamount to defeat. "You are either with us or against us" is in contrast a ringing declaration. But it allows no room for relationships in-between.

Yet we must make room. If we are unwilling to exterminate, and yet allow ourselves no other alternative, we are simply yielding to our foes by default acquiescing to their vision of New War, entering "the engagement" on their terms. Furthermore we perversely ratify them -- backhandedly to be sure -- while denying ourselves the leverage that comes from being a part, or perhaps even the source of, their ratification.

Our strategic opportunity is now in the in-between. It may be all we have left, but it is not inconsiderable. If we cannot exterminate whole communities, then we must persuade their people to come over to us by going over to them and developing relationships. But we should also be mindful that, as long as they command New War, these will never be relationships on our terms.

Thus, we should reinterpret "success" within a new framework of approaching them on their terms. This means, specifically, coming to terms with the Muslim world's emerging Islamist communities -- in Iraq, Somalia, Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere -- if we hope to keep any sort of positive stake in their world. If we do not do this we will, gradually perhaps and yet inevitably, be defeated.

Michael Vlahos is part of the National Security Assessment team of the National Security Analysis Department (NSAD) at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Hey! We do engage them in relationship. We trade them air-conditioners for oil. lol
They certainly can't build and maintain their infrastructure without air-conditioners...at least for their computers.
Ken
I don't think war is going to change much despite new techonology. War has pretty much always been the same throughout human history.

"Technology does not change human nature", as OSC put it.
The point that caught my attention was,he opines that in order to win a war with people like Muslims,you have to kill those who support the fighters,not just the guerillas,though I am loathe to assign these guys the nom de guere of "guerillas" as they are much more likely to snipe at a woman going to worship than fight like a man.

Either we return to the harshness of the WWII era or we are going to become slaves eventually to the Muslims. Food for thought.