George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan
October 11 (Video Transcript):
George Friedman: My name's George Friedman. I'm here with my colleague Robert Kaplan. And we want to talk about one of the most ubiquitous things in the human condition: war. War is not a subject people like to think of as insoluble, they don't like to think of it as natural. But the fact of the matter is there's very few things -- family, economics -- as commonplace as war. We don't want to talk so much about why there's war -- that is a long and endless discussion -- we want to talk about what's happening to war. Where we're going today. Everybody's talking about revolutions in warfare, the end of peer-to-peer conflict, a whole range of things. So what we'd like to do today is talk about what's happening to war, and what the future of war looks like. Robert?
Robert D. Kaplan: Yes, I think one of the noticeable changes over the last few decades -- its gradual, it shifts back and forth but it's certainly a change -- is like, whereas in the past you had a relatively confined space with a lot of troops and equipment inside it, which is conventional, industrial war like tank battles in the Sinai in 1973, or in North Africa during World War II. We're going from a small space with a lot of combatants inside it to vast spaces that include immense Third World cities and deserts with small numbers of combatants hidden inside them. So whereas killing the enemy is easy, finding him is what's difficult. It's locating him that constitutes the real weapon of war, whereas in industrial war it was just a matter of killing the enemy at his chief point of concentration. This new century, we may still have major interstate industrial wars or naval battles, we don't know that yet. But at least for the past few decades, what most people define as unconventional war or guerrilla war or irregular war means a vast battle space with small numbers of combatants hiding inside that space.
George: I think one of the things that led to that transformation, is the transformation of mathematics in war, which was the introduction of precision-guided munitions, which actually was introduced in the 1970s -- first by the United States when they destroyed a critical bridge in Vietnam that they hadn’t been able to destroy for years, and then by the Egyptians and the Soviets, who sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat with a single precision-guided munition. It used to take thousands of bombs to knock out a target. That meant hundreds of planes at least, that meant large numbers of crews, steel factories, aluminum factories and so on and so forth. The industrial nature of war that you refer to really had a great deal to do with the imprecision of the rifle. It's said -- and I'm not sure it's true -- it's said that in the First World War it took 10,000 rounds of ammunition to kill one man. Perhaps. But it certainly was true that you had to have large numbers of weapons. With the introduction of precision-guided munitions, you began with 50 percent hit/kill ratios and it rose and rose until one plane with one piece of munition would be able to destroy the enemy. And therefore, you had the same lethality with one aircraft and with hundreds.
Robert: And we are seeing this especially in air war, because one of the things they say in the Air Force is "The less obtrusive we are, the less number of planes we have overhead, the more lethal we can actually be." Because with precision-guided munitions, guided by satellites or whatever they're guided by, you don't have to drop a lot of ordnance to do damage. A single drone firing a medium or small-sized projectile can do the same amount of damage as decades ago would take a whole wing of an air force to drop. But we haven’t seen it yet in naval war only because we haven’t had a real naval war. But if we do, we're going to see that repeat itself, perhaps.
George: Well, I think the next step is infantry war. But you know, it's interesting to me that during World War II, we had a thousand bomb raids over Germany, and it was morally complex but nobody objected to bombing Germany, or very few people -- of course, the Germans did. We now have this idea of the drone as somehow a singularly unique moral weapon, particularly evil. It strikes me as an ambiguous argument: Is it better to have World War II-style, thousand-bomber raids killing tens of thousands of people in order to destroy one factory, or to have an unmanned aircraft striking it? Precision has on the one hand offended people with an apparent callousness, which certainly is in the nature of war, but at the same time has the virtue that collateral damage -- which will always be part of war, you will always make massive mistakes -- have been reduced.