Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Tale of the Wise Elephant

  Mice : elephants : : insurgents : powerful nations

            The very same majestic and gargantuan behemoths possessing the fearsome physical sway to protect their young from fiercely muscular lions, are all but helpless in the face of tiny, delicate, scurrying mice. Due to their sheer size and mass, elephants are among the most powerful creatures in existence. But in the face of diminutive, almost dainty mice, elephants find themselves at a disadvantage. Their tusks are useless against these little beasties, and they do not possess their agility or speed. There are, nonetheless, ways in which elephants may use their abilities to their advantage against these puny pests. If able resist the compulsion to use their bulk, often their greatest advantage, in favor of calm, still patience, an elephant may easily flatten the furry little fellows by stomping them with deliberate precision.

            Let us, then, compare the US Military to these extraordinary elephants; insurgent groups or militants to the quick, agile mice; and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones to the precision strikes of the elephant's patient, precise foot. The US has carefully assessed the modern threat environment to determine that ground wars involving tanks, troops, heavy artillery, etc., are now all but obsolete. With the superpower 'elephants' either armed with menacing 'tusks' (nuclear weapons), or comfortably situated under the protection of an ally's 'tusks,' open conflict between such 'elephants' is unlikely. We have moved into an age of proxy wars and insurgent fighters working in loosely connected cells. These militant mice have found that they may strike at elephants that they could never hope to overcome on an even battlefield, simply by devising strategies for irregular warfare that allow them to use their smaller size and agility to their advantage.

            In spite of decades of experience with conflicts against Native Americans, revolutionaries in the Philippines, the Vietcong, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, etc., the US experienced some regrettable growing pains while adapting to the concept of irregular warfare. We have now, however, begun to focus on addressing the strengths and weaknesses of insurgents so that we may use them to our advantage. Insurgents owe much of their agility and efficiency to the availability of communications technology that allows groups (or cells) which are geographically remote relative to one another, to remain in constant contact. This coordinative use of communications technology can work to our advantage if we are able to successful monitor communications and use collected data to predict movements or attacks. This allows us to position our elephant feet in just the right way, so that when these militant mice scurry beneath them, we may crush them with ruthless precision.

            Perhaps the best tool we have to serve as this deadly 'elephant's foot' is the drone. Less costly both financially and in terms of human lives expended over the course of a given strike, drones may also be the best option for addressing our inflated defense budget. The US has successfully taken some first steps toward devising strategies for preventing and, less desirably, responding to insurgent strikes. We have now to stay the course while keeping the mice away from the one weapon we cannot use effectively against them, but which they may use to great effect against us: our tusks (nukes). 

            These irregular opponents could raise the stakes exponentially if they managed to get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction, particularly an armed nuclear device. For obvious reasons, this is highly undesirable. So...let's not let that happen.

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