This week, I was fortunate to avail myself an article by J Boone Bartholomees, “Theory of Victory” (here) and Colin Gray’s “Defining and Achieving Decisive Victory” (here). Both are great articles and I find myself ponder the purpose of deciding an outcome in the conduct of war.

Gray argues that the concept of decisive victory in the conduct of military operations is both meaningful and important. This is in view that there are arguments which states that war achieves nothing meaningful other than destruction. This is especially plausible during the Cold War period when the purpose of the military is to prevent an outbreak of total war, nuclear war, that is. Dividing victory at various levels of Operational Level, Strategic Level and Political Level, Gray argues that war has indeed decided the course of history at numerous occasions. While it may not be the intended outcomes of the parties involved, it can nevertheless be considered decisive as it shaped the post war situation into an environment which is acceptable over a period of time. However, the military man must remember that achieving a campaign victory or a victory in the total aspect of war does not guarantee the political outcome desired by the political leaders. It depends on the political leaders to shape that military victory into a political one, accepted by other sides of the war. Since, war is between two parties, it only ends when both sides decides it to be so.

Bartholomees puts forth a theory in which victory may be defined. Taking Gray’s concept of decisive victory, he further expands on the concept that victory and its decisiveness is never an absolute but exists on a scale. Three scales, in fact. The scale of success measure the success of its forces at the battlefield, the scale of decisiveness shows the extent of how the operations affects political issues and finally the scale of achievement measures how well the military has completed the goals it has set out to do. He further points out that as war is between two parties, each side determines its own sets of criteria for victory. In fact, in a war, it is perfectly logical for both sides to be victorious. For it is not determined by loss of material nor territorial gains or loss, but by the parties own internal measurements. The conduct of war itself may change the conditions of victory and victory is useless if it breaks the more successful party economically, politically or socially.

What does this mean to the military man? In the conduct of war, especially long drawn out campaigns, there must be a continued discourse between the military leaders and the political leaders to determine whether the military objectives serve the political. The means and ways must logically linked to the ends and be socially accepted to be so. Much as Bartholomees points out that in cases not as clear cut, it is the population which decides the victory. In the case of modern social media, much as the political leaders would love to, their ability to influence opinions and viewpoints are greatly diminished. To win would not just to remove the opponent’s military forces off the field for it may not even achieve that which is desired. It boils down to breaking the opponent’s will to continue in the engagement. It may be achieved by physical means but the intent of the operations must be directed at the will, convincing the opponent that resistance is going to cost more than he can bear or exceed his perceived gain.


Hybrid Warfare

So I have completed reading a book by Williamson Murray, “Hybrid Warfare : Fighting complex opponents from the ancient world to the present.” Overall, it is an very interesting book, covering from the Roman conquest of the Germanic lands to Vietnam War. At the heart of it, it proposes that the term hybrid war, which seems to be the new term describing the counter-insurgency type of warfare, is not really a new concept. It dates back as far as the 5th century BC and even Napoleon’s army had difficulty going against this type of enemy.

In concluding, Murray states several principles in engaging any form of hybrid warfare. Firstly, while technology and resource superiority can be, it may not be the deciding factor in hybrid warfare. Technology is a tool. Like any tool, it must be used in its correct context for the right purposes. In engaging an enemy in direct confrontation, a technologically superior force may strike a decisive blow to the other force and thus force his opponent to give in to his demands. However, against a force that hide among the civilians, technology still needs intelligence to work. Even the technologically and doctrinally superior Roman army finds it vexing when the Germanic tribes melt into the forest, forcing the Roman army to leave its supporting fortress and fight them in their land.

Secondly, nevertheless, in engaging hybrid warfare, the conventional army still plays a crucial role as it prevents the superior force from taking out the inferior force piecemeal. In the American Revolution, it is the presence of a Continental army that prevents the British from rooting out the rebels and their supporters town by town. The Continental army, though small at first, forces the British to concentrate their force sufficiently in order to counter act them and thus unable to spread their influence throughout the colonies. Of course, there are numerous factors which swung the war.

Thirdly, a deep understanding of the opponent’s framework, culture and their preferred mode of conflict is crucial to any decisive victory. There are numerous causes to why the American’s lose the Vietnam War and one crucial factor is this, that, at least initially, the Americans simply did not understand how the North Vietnamese Army fight. The Americans can take out their bases, the bridges and their factories, but these still would not stop the North Vietnamese from moving using tunnels, people and animals. Their factories were never their central key installations, as they depend on agricultural industries. Similarly, on a larger scale, the military commander needs to understand the strategic framework of both his own policymakers as well as the opponents’ in order to achieve political victory or settlement. As I have talked about the linkages between the strategic, the operational and tactical level of warfare, the linkages are crucial in achieving synergy. My thoughts on the operational art of war here.

Lastly, as Murray puts it, war, hybrid or otherwise, should always be regarded as the last resort as its gains rarely compensates for the loss in lives and treasures. I agree with him, for war is indeed a topic of national importance. As Sun Zi said, “The conduct of war is a matter of vital importance to the nation.” (孙子曰:兵者,国之大事) Fighting a hybrid war further compounds the matter as the costs goes beyond the military. Thus, only fight hybrid wars if fundamental interests of the state is at stake.

What does these all mean? In any declaration of war, victory can never simply mean the takeover of certain estates or territory. Just as Napoleon and Hilter learned, Russia’s strategic depth allows it to simply pull back, denying its opponents the crucial victory while letting the Motherland whittler them to frost. Colin Gray talks about the decisive victory here but I shall not go into this yet.

It does mean that a deep understanding of the other side is crucial in understanding the method required to achieve any strategic outcome. It may not and hopefully not resort to warfare. However, when it comes down to warfare, the military commander must not and cannot hesitate to strike at the heart of the enemy. Hybrid war breeds when one side, though militarily weaker, does not give up and thus seeks to continue the struggle by means other than a direct confrontation. A commander who hesitates in striking out at their centre at the onset and compelling the other side to capitulate will only prolong the conflict and prevent it from reaching a conclusive end

Land and the fate of its people

It has been a long while since my last post. We have just returned from a month’s trip to Australia, the land of the kangaroos and koalas (not bears!). While the trip has been an adventure in more than one ways, I will slowly recount the various lessons learnt during the trip. For this year, (happy New Year!!!) I intend to write up one post per week, doing this every weekend as a means of more than just an account of what I have read and learnt, but also to ensure that I continue to learn and think over matters in my new job. Yes, new job!!!

During the trip in Australia, I marveled at the land they have over there. Land is the ultimate resource. For a land deprived nation like Singapore, the impact of this statement rings true everyday in our lives. As we drive to work, we encounter jams along the few arteries of our city state. No matter how much the efficient government tries to correct the situation, jams are here to stay. As we work in our cubicles and stare out into the opposite office block, the concrete jungle surrounds us left, right, up and down. As we run out of space to grow, we have no choice but to grow upwards at exponential cost. Even as we head home to our stacked up apartments, even the closeness of our neighbors and the numerous humanity that crowds us in malls sometimes suffocates us. There is no wonder why fictions occur and our people generally are grumpy.

As mentioned above, I was amazed at the vastness of space available in Australia. As I overlooked the fields of sugarcanes, ginger and banana trees, the amount of production generated from the land and its potential looked back at me. The resources imbued in the land enable the people to prosper and grow without the constrains faced by Singaporeans. The space between homes in the countryside, even the suburban areas gives breath for families to grow and children to develop as creative individuals as they are able to explore and roam. Resources in the country are plentiful, even in the age of natural conservation. As my father said, food drop on their laps easily even if they take a break for a day. While this may be a over simplification and surely life is not as easy for all Australians, there is a truth there. That Singaporeans have to fight and strive every single day of their lives in order to maintain their lifestyle or even to achieve a lifestyle which comes easier to others. And this is because of land.

I learned a lot of lessons while playing the computer game, Civilization V. If anyone says one cannot learn anything from games, it’s rubbish. Anyway, it is a complicated game as you are placed in charge of a civilization and lead it to victory. There are plenty of things to consider in the course of the game, Politics, Sciences, Military, Happiness of the People, Production, Foreign Relations, Resources, Roads, etc. However, in order to gain advantage in the later stages of the game, it is crucial for the civilization to establish control over a sizable amount of land for it to grow and develop. Civilizations that stay in their original spot grow slowly and may eventually be swallowed up by foreign powers.

Thus, it has been said and I will repeat again. Singapore is an anomaly. A city state driven into independence with no natural resources, surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors in the 1960s. That it has advanced beyond its neighbors and continues to punch above its weight is nothing short of a miracle. Tributes must be paid to our leaders, our forefathers and fortunes. Let the future generations never forget this, take pride in this and never take it for granted.