The Future of War, Peace, and International Relations

I was going through my files and found this particular piece, from around 2 years ago, sitting in a metaphorical corner. The piece was requested by one of the editors of my department’s student magazines (they have this column where profs are invited to write), but as far as I know, it never made to print. So, instead of letting it sit, I might as well upload it here. I haven’t made any adjustments; everything is presented as it was the moment I sent it off to the editor. As this was intended for an undergraduate audience in a magazine, the language has been adjusted as such.

What does the future hold?

That question is the very reason why analysts and researchers remain employed and relevant. But it is not the easiest question to answer. Nobody knows what the future holds; we can only make educated guesses. So, I would recommend against thinking of my following commentary as a definitive answer. Rather, think of it as a guide to think in this increasingly perplexing world, particularly on the issue of war, peace, and international relations.

Technological acceleration will continue to be the defining feature of future international relations, along with a rise in populism as a counter-narrative to globalism. In war, technology will continue to play a dominant role as unmanned technologies become more advanced. But this doesn’t mean we will be living in a Terminator scenario. In peace, the future will only bring about newer problems that require new ways of thinking. With this in mind, what does the future hold?

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Le’ Notes #37: A very short introduction to Clausewitz

This post briefly covers Clausewitz’s main ideas on war, with specific reference to Books 1 and 2.

If you have (or are) studying war, the name Clausewitz will always pop up, and for good reason too. His treatise, On War, is one of the foundational texts in the study of war. In it, Clausewitz tries to create a sort of grand theory of war. So, what’s his theory of war? In this post, I’ll go through Clausewitz’s main ideas that make up his (unfinished) theory of war.

Before we go further, I’ll be taking most of the quotations from the Howard and Paret translation, as this is considered the academic standard of all On War translations. There are two versions of the Howard-Paret translation: the first being the original version (1976) and the second being the Everyman’s Library version (1993). Since I have the 1993 version, I’ll be using that as a reference. Note that the major difference is just the page numbering.

On War consists of eight books; however, for those who aren’t studying to become military commanders, you mostly need to be acquainted with Books I and II. These contain the essence of Clausewitz’s thoughts on war. However, if you have the time or are planning to further your understanding on Clausewitz, I suggest you read Bernard Brodie’s guide on how to read On War, present in the Everyman’s edition on page 775. It’s a really nifty study guide.

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Le’ Notes #32: Intelligence, the basics

This post covers the basics of intelligence: what it is, why it’s important, and how it works.

What is intelligence?

James-Bond.jpg

When the word “intelligence” is brought up, you might have vivid images of a savvy English spy, drinking a martini (“Shaken, not stirred”) and conversing with a drop-dead beauty while surreptitiously listening in to the big bad mob boss on the other side of the club. Most likely, the word is associated with espionage and sabotage, the work of CIA spooks in third world countries like Jason Bourne (Bourne series) or Michael Westen (Burn Notice). But that is often the exception, rather than the norm. Most of the time, intelligence analysts are quietly sitting behind a computer and staring at a screen, occasionally yawning and adjusting his buttocks, waiting for a ping to come up. Covert action, like depicted in Hollywood movies, are also included in the activities of intelligence, but they arguably make up a very small piece of the overall pie.

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Le’ Notes #28: Why is it so hard to buy military transformation?

This post discusses the factors that make buying military transformation so difficult.

Why doesn’t the military get with the program? Why does the government seem so reluctant to buy those shiny new Gen-5 planes and ships? These are some of the questions I had when I was a snot-nosed undergrad aspiring to solve all of the country’s defence problems. I thought we could buy our way out of being a big country with a meagre defence force. I thought the government was stupid because it didn’t (or was too slow) to embrace the technological marvels that were on sale. The truth is, defence acquisition may be one of the most convoluted processes within the government, aside from implementing neoliberal macroeconomic policies.

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Le’ Notes #24: Models of the Revolution in Military Affairs

Continuing from the previous post (Note #23), this post introduces the major models of the RMA.

The previous post discussed the historical origins and the definitions of the revolution in military affairs. Now, let us take a look at the major models that seek to explain the RMA. The theories introduced range from Alvin and Heidi Tofflers’ “Wave theory” to the business-as-usual model.

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Le’ Notes #23: Introducing the revolution in military affairs

This post introduces the origins of the revolution in military affairs.

We are said to be in the middle of a self-conscious revolution in military affairs, or RMA for short. This assumption is grounded in the breakneck pace of technological advancement that’s happening almost on a daily basis. Every now and then, someone in Silicon Valley or DARPA or some whiz kid somewhere comes up with a new thing that promises to shake up or “disrupt” the entire world as we know it. Tesla Motors, for example, is trying out driverless cars. The South Korean military showcased their LEXO exoskeleton systems, which they had been developing since 2013. Suidobashi Heavy Industries have already marketed their Kurata robot, which was unveiled in 2012. The robot, which is basically just a bigger and capable exoskeleton, can be fitted with rapid-firing weapons. Although Suidobashi claims the Kurata only comes with BB guns, in the future, that may change to live ammo. However, the RMA is not just about technology. In the US.

 

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Hell yeah, future warfare

 

However, the RMA is not just about technology. In the US, the Department of Defence has been constantly trying to implement their Third Offset Strategy, which (at the risk of oversimplifying) basically wants to use a combination of technology and operational art to gain an edge over America’s adversaries and maintain their alliances. With President Trump in office, America might just be great again, although the alliances part might not be.

Sure, the future looks amazing. And bleak at the same time, considering we’re developing weapons of war. But, let’s step back for a moment and reflect on this RMA phenomenon. What is it? How did it start? How did we get here?

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Le’ Notes #22: A toolkit for approaching counterterrorism studies

This post is mostly a summary — with additional commentary — of Rohan Gunaratna’s talk in his first session of the Terrorism, Intelligence, and Homeland Security module at RSIS.

The first thing that we need to distinguish is that there is the threat of terrorism and the response to terrorism. Like any good strategist, we need to know what exactly the threat is before issuing a response. It’s the same like answering a question. If we don’t know what the question is or what it wants from us, we can never arrive at an answer. This was exemplified correctly and hilariously in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when the pan-dimensional beings created Deep Thought to calculate the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life and the universe. But it turns out that the beings gave Deep Thought the wrong question, which resulted in the answer “42”.

So, we need to know what we’re facing and the responses that we have in our toolkit.

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Le’ Notes #15: The Indonesian Way of Guerrilla Warfare

This post is a collection of notes on reading A. H. Nasution’s Fundamentals of Guerrilla Warfare.

While most scholarship on guerrilla warfare gravitates around Mao and Giap, the name “Nasution” does not pop up that often. Which is quite unfortunate, considering Indonesia (and by “Indonesia”, I also include colonial Indonesia, though, at that time, Indonesia was yet to be conceived) has had a long history of fighting guerrilla wars against colonists. However, it was not until circa 1928 when the resistance started to consolidate. Prior to 1928, there were only local kings and sultanates organising localised resistance against the Dutch. The experiences of fighting guerrilla wars then became ingrained in Indonesian military thinking, and Nasution’s treatise, Fundamentals of Guerrilla Warfare, was part of that process.

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