)Date: Sun, 11 Jan 1998 21:36:53 -0500 (EST)
Wars of the Near Future
By K. Sundarji, Asiaweek, 9 January 1998
To fight a new-style enemy, ‘information’ weapons
K. Sundarji, the author of this article, is a former chief of staff in the Indian Army
STRATEGIC THINKERS ARE PLAYING around with theories of "information warfare" as the information technology revolution sweeps the world. Will these theories stay relevant for long, or are they just attempts to fight the last war better by using the latest technology? Thus far, only nation- states have had the wherewithal to cause significant damage in war and therefore the world order was structured around them. But this situation is changing profoundly in the knowledge-based world. At the root of this change is the empowerment of the individual. What does this mean in practice?
At the end of World War II, only a handful of countries could produce highly lethal nerve gases. Three years ago the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan produced gas with impunity and demonstrated its use; similarly, a small group could put together a nuclear device for terrorist purposes. I would not be surprised if, within a decade or so, such groups acquire the capability to emplace weapons of mass destruction in space and hold nations to ransom. New actors are entering the world stage who do not "belong" to any nation- state. Examples are religious fundamentalists, the international drug mafia and related transnational megafirms, terrorists, subversives and anarchists. These would be shadowy and may present targets that are unsuitable for being dealt with by armies, navies and air forces. Such security threats could only be addressed by specially trained, sophisticated police forces with high-tech intelligence support.
At the international level, organizations such as Interpol will have to be strengthened and given greater powers. They likely will be split into specialized branches for dealing with specific threats such as narcotics, religious fundamentalism, anarchism and cybercrime. At the national level, the prime moral and ethical question would be safeguarding citizens' right of privacy while maintaining access to intelligence to ensure their security. The prime question internationally would be erosion of sovereignty. Nations facing the new threats would be more willing to cooperate with each other and shed some sovereignty. In the process, conventional armies, navies and air forces would slowly lose relevance and gradually become the ceremonial adjuncts of states.
It is against this background that one has to evaluate "information warfare" theories. Such theories, as spawned by thinkers in the West, can be divided into two broad streams. The somewhat narrow view stresses digitization of the battlefield and incremental improvements to smart weapons of the Gulf War era leading to "brilliant" weapons that can strike more deeply with increasing accuracy. The next war, this school expects, will be somewhat similar to the Gulf War but fought with more effective weapons. The second stream appears more daring, speculating that "information warfare" will emerge as an alternative that will supplant the traditional methods of yesteryear.
There are variations in the second stream. At the lower end it is restricted to using computers, satellites and the Internet to interfere with the vital ability of the adversary to employ electronic means of getting the intelligence needed for sound and timely operational decisions. The objective is to paralyze the enemy's "observation-orientation-decision-action" loop. The enemy's observation is either flooded with too much information, which his system cannot digest, or is subtly misled by planted false information. Concurrently, there would be an attempt to safeguard one's own freedom to use electronic intelligence-gathering.
At the upper end, the theories suggest attempts that not only interfere with the observation function and rely on this leading to downstream distortion of "orientation-decision-action," but actively distort these functions as well. The idea is to carry psychological warfare to the ultimate heights of assaulting the enemy's ability to reason objectively by replacing his "known universe" with a "virtual universe" of our making. This would increasingly make him respond to the virtual universe, leading to a dysfunction in decision-making by destroying a rational relationship between means and ends.
This is very difficult to achieve, but even if partially successful it may enable a world power to achieve national security goals without the need for forward military forces in every corner of the planet. The rich, industrially advanced countries are increasingly loathe to accept human casualties, even to uphold just causes. They would prefer aseptic technological means or stand-off weapons or air forces instead of the messy use of ground forces. The ultimate sweetener is that these goals could perhaps be achieved by information warfare alone.
None of these theories caters for the emergence of new non-nation-state actors on the world stage. Hence they might be of relevance only during the period of transition into a knowledge-based world -- up to 2015 but not beyond. The need today is for research into the type of threat scenarios that might present themselves well into the next century, to come up with tentative solutions and look into how the information-technology revolution can be applied to make them more effective.