The demilitarization of war

„One never knows how to win without being capable to do it“ - Sun Tsu

Holger Alisch/Stephan Maninger

For the observers of the late Middle Ages, the end of the feudal monopoly on violence was surprising, and it was decisively determined by the introduction of gunpowder. Long lasting investments in training, a wide spectre of weapons, education, armaments and horses, now could be extinguished by one single lead ball fired by an illiterate with only a short briefing on a much cheaper wick breech musket in a fraction of a second. This was a revolutionary “democratization” of power, and the national mass armies developing later on, as well as the renaissance of the “Athensic Democracy” in the sense of the “citizen in uniform” were based on it. The exponential development of technology of the 21st century represents a similar challenge for modern armed forces – the increasing “demilitarization” of war in an era of strategic incertitude. The classical strategic dimensions of the 20th century – Sea, Land, and Air – have been supplemented by the dimensions “Space” and “Cyber”. Hence follows a higher complexity consisting of the synergies of simultaneous application of multiple methods of war. Consequently, thereof, we detect “civilization” of the armed forces in the sense of legal and moral limitations, and their liability is determined – among other things – by the effects of reporting, public opinion, and social media. As a consequence of all these changes, security authorities are in a permanent adjustment process, driven by globalisation and by the revolutionary effect of information technologies. In the meantime, the military under the „primacy of politics“ is confronted with a spectre of tasks alternating between police, stabilization and rescue tasks, traditionally termed „operations other than war“. Although pacifists committed to the principle of Utopia intuitively might welcome this development, observers committed to the principle of reality, on the other hand, here perceive a historical upheaval of security-political principles. Complexes such as national sovereignty, international law, and institutional responsibilities, which are influenced by this new spectre of tasks, change rapidly and deeply, so that capabilities and decision-making processes can hardly keep up with the changing threats and vulnerabilities. This essay is supposed to throw light on the changes the digital era yields for the classical military effecting means and action alternatives. Thus, increased mobility and the enhanced possibilities of action of information technology have generated an individualization of war and conflict. Thereby this results in the urgent need of improved capabilities to detect key players operating in highly adaptive networks. Their role as a threats as well as the necessary interception mechanisms are referred to as “I-War” (Individualism, Identity, Information). Identifying them in good time is the challenge of future, as they neither wear uniform, nor are they compulsively confined to a spatial or geographical operational area, a “front” or a “battlefield”. One can find them everywhere, both in the area of operation and at home. The cooperation of civil and security authorities thus require higher efforts, because – due to the increasing threat potential of single or few persons - the expenses for acquiring and processing information increase massively as well. In order to differentiate between endangering and uninvolved persons, we are in need of plentiful inquiries, categorizations and alignments of large quantities of biographic, biometric and forensic data. At the same time vast digital infrastructures are to be established, which in turn represent vulnerability. Thus, the world has performed the mutation from an environment with few data and high predictability to an environment with vast multitudes of data with low predictability. The future conflicts will decreasingly take place or be determined in the kinetic spectrum. Therefore, the availability of dual technologies, and the partial shift of “war” into the Cyber dimension, have the effect that neither attacks nor reactions will be visible immediately. Obvious acts of war and attacks, discernible by physical damages and phased timing, will often remain undetected on the “Cyber battlefield”. The classical military as a fundamental constituent part and guarantor of national sovereignty will be in a permanent state of reformation, due to the demilitarization of war. The balancing act between civil flexibility and the vital conservation of the military virtues, together with the disaggregation of the borderlines between home and foreign security, will force the leaders of all security institutions to cooperate intensively and permanently with other authorities. On the other hand, it is not at all certain that the national structures will be successful in this matter.