A new study, The Shrinking Costs of War, produced by the Human Security Report Project at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University and funded by the governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, reveals that nationwide death rates actually fall during the course of most of today’s armed conflicts.

Most significant developments from study:

  • The average war today is fought by smaller armies and impacts less territory than conflicts of the Cold War era. Smaller wars mean fewer war deaths and less impact on nationwide mortality rates.
  • Dramatic long-term improvements in public health in the developing world have steadily reduced mortality rates in peacetime—and saved countless lives in wartime.
  • Major increases in the level, scope, and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance to war-affected populations in countries in conflict since the end of the Cold War have reduced wartime death tolls still further.

Capt. Tim Hsia, a U.S. Army active duty infantry captain, writes in The New York Times‘ At War blog:

The limits of a counterinsurgency strategy without adequate troop numbers are evident after events such as Kamdesh and Wanat. United States Army counterinsurgency doctrine stresses living close to the populace, but this proximity can also be extremely dangerous where soldiers are living in combat outposts, which cannot quickly be reinforced with additional troops.

The weekend’s events also highlight the conundrum faced by military leaders when placing soldiers in dangerous areas. In the military, a common mantra is “mission first, men always.” At first glance this remark seems blindingly obvious, but upon closer scrutiny one begins to realize that there are situations in which force protection and mission accomplishment can run counter to each other.

Soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fire a TOW missile at a building suspected of harboring Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday in Mosul, Iraq, on July 22, 2003.

101st Airborne Division Soldiers fire missile at building in Mosul, Iraq, in which Uday and Qusay Hussein barricaded themselves, July 2003

Earlier this month, the National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Studies held a two day symposium which identified eight global trends driving tomorrow’s complex security environment.

The findings have been published in a seminal volume titled America’s Security Role in a Changing World: A Global Strategic Assessment, detailing ” driving trends, assessing them in regional context, and offering a number of pathways for American policymakers to deal with them.”

These eight trends are:

  1. A global redistribution of economic power from the West to the “Rest”
  2. The partial emergence of a multipolar world
  3. An information revolution that leaves modern societies vulnerable
  4. The acceleration of an energy and environmental security tipping point
  5. The mounting challenges emanating from many fragile states and ungoverned spaces
  6. The increasingly transnational dimensions of terrorism
  7. The changing character of conflict from conventional to irregular and hybrid warfare
  8. The potential further spread of nuclear and biological weapons.

The volume is not complete, however, a preview edition which includes the first few chapters, is available to peruse.

sraeli soldiers cover their ears as an artillery unit fires shells towards southern Lebanon. Image: AP

Israeli soldiers cover their ears as an artillery unit fires shells towards southern Lebanon. Image: AP

Today’s Washington Post reports on the effect the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah having generated a heated debate within the Pentagon on how the United States should fight its future wars.

An excerpt from the article:

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

“The Lebanon war has become a bellwether,” said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. “If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It’s discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on.”

U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.

The article cites a study on the war published by the Combat Studies Institute of the United States Combined Arms Center.

That 2007 study is titled  We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War which was written by CSI historian Matt Matthews.

Matthews’s historical analysis of the war includes an examination of IDF [Israeli Defense Force] and Hezbollah doctrine prior to the war, as well as an overview of the operational and tactical problems encountered by the IDF during the war.

The study found “after years of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories, IDF ground forces were tactically unprepared and untrained to fight against a determined Hezbollah force that conducted what was, in many ways, a conventional, fixed-position defense.”

On the relevance of conventional warfare, Matthews states:

For six years, the IDF conducted a counterinsurgency campaign against the Palestinians and developed a doctrine rooted in EBO and high-tech wizardry. However, in the summer of 2006, when confronted by a conventional war with Hezbollah, the Israeli military proved incapable of defeating a minor adversary. Although research and analysis of this recent conflict are still ongoing, the emerging details of ill-conceived doctrine and an army marred by long years of counterinsurgency operations still yield valid and important lessons for today’s US Army officers.

This debate will surely intensify as combat operations shift to the Afghanistan campaign and how that war will develop with inevitable future conflicts on the horizon.

Endoskeleton robot from the film The Terminator.

Endoskeleton robot from The Terminator.

P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War, spoke about the use of robotics and war in February, 2009 at the TED Talks series.

Singer discusses the future of war, human psychology that is driving the use of more and more machines, war porn, and asks the question is it our machines or is it us that’s wired for war.

The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College is hosting an online debate on the future strategic role for the U.S. Army.

An overall debate has developed within the strategic community amongst one camp advocating counterinsurgency operations while the other for conventional warfighting.

SSI’s own Dr. Steven Metz begins the discussion with:

But there are signs that the future U.S. Army may not be committed to either large scale, protracted counterinsurgency/stabilization operations or large scale conventional warfighting. It may instead drop to a subsidiary role American strategy.

Nathan Freier, also from SSI, follows-up:

I do believe that strong U.S. land forces remain centerpiece capabilities in a world increasingly defined by complex, unconventional threats that are land- and people-centric.

The current debate within the community is taking place at the precise moment as future missions for the U.S. Army will eventually continue to expand and strain force capabilities.

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