CA in the New Age of Durable Disorder

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

CA forces are on the front line of this COVID-19 crisis. From the 361st CA Brigade in Europe to our CA elements in South Korea and pretty much all over the world, CA troopers are fighting this crisis. Populace resource control measures and civil information management (CIM) are in high demand. Help is needed and CA answers.

Dr. Sean McFate warned of our current global situation as a state of "durable disorder." He did not specifically identify a pandemic but argued entropy and strategic apathy have led the US to its present state, where it is ill-prepared to deal with challenges like COVID-19 among many others. He calls for more civil affairs in the US inventory of capabilities.

On a recent visit to the United Kingdom (UK), the British Army and the Ministry of Defence hosted Sean for several intellectual discussions on strategy and modern war. His book New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder and its UK version titled, Goliath: Why the West Doesn’t Win Wars. And What We Need to Do About It, are widely read on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our One CA Podcast team recently conducted a two-part interview with him here and here. If you haven't listened to them yet, you should check them out. His message is illuminating and impactful.

Many of the ideas in his book are useful for the CA professional. We are fortunate to have him as a keynote speaker on Tuesday, 7 April, for this year's CA Roundtable which is now virtual and free. Register for this discussion here.

As a teaser to his keynote, I will share some notes from his recent visit here to the UK. I can personally attest that his thought-provoking ideas are resonating at the highest levels.

Cover of Sean's book available on Amazon

"Victory goes to the cunning not necessarily the strong."

Each discussion started with culture. Peter Drucker once exclaimed, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Dr. McFate argues there is a decline in strategic thinking in the West and worse, when it appears, it is often ignored and in one story, an innovative thinker was punished.

He tells the story of Billy Mitchell, who made a case for airpower. He demonstrated that planes could sink ships but was ignored, silenced, and sent away to the Pacific. After several years, Mitchell returned and warned of the fleet’s vulnerability at Pearl Harbor to an early morning Japanese air attack. He was court-martialed for being “highly contemptuous and disrespectful” of the War Department and the Navy. In hindsight, it is evident that Billy Mitchell was ahead of his time and he was right.

“Are we in a Billy Mitchell moment?” Dr. McFate asks rhetorically, and argues, that in fact, we are in a similar moment. The enormous cost of platforms like the F35 and carrier are unnecessary. A similar analogy is made with the French Maginot Line. The French invested heavily in a form of defense that was no longer relevant.

"War is going into the shadows and we need to be prepared to punch back."

War is getting epistemological. China, Russia, and other adversaries do not want you to know that you are probably already actually at war. They achieve war-like aims short of any response or meaningful deterrence. War is going into the shadows and we need to be prepared to punch back. Mainly because, according to Dr. McFate, there is no war or peace anymore, they coexist. He states that the world will be – or already is – in a state of Durable Disorder as mentioned above, comparable with the period prior to the Westphalian Peace. The current world order is changing, and we must change our type of warfare with it. Victory will not be a ‘Missouri-moment’ but an infinite game.

In the US, global supply chains are exposed and there is no real strategy to address this. In the movie business, China has essentially bought Hollywood. Movie scripts require a ‘green light’ from China to ensure there is no negative view of the PRC.

The utility of force is declining in modern war. It is becoming an era of plausibility where attribution is getting more and more difficult. We need strategic acumen to improve operations in this growing space between peace and war. We need to be creative in the way we make the case for organized violence.

Technology and mass no longer matter as much. They are subordinate to legitimacy. War is increasingly more about shaping the perceptions of populations. He describes this by explaining how Israel came to realize their recent loss to Hezbollah. Information was the domain they had to shift their focus to for strategic benefit.

Picture above, Dr. Sean Mcfate talking with Visit Sean McFate's Web Site British Army senior leaders

A most salient point echoed throughout his discussions was how do we create strategic leaders? He claims the US Army War College and similar institutions are moribund. It is too late to expose strategic thinking to military leaders at that grade. It must begin much earlier and the entrepreneurial spirit (like Billy Mitchell) should not get punished so easily.

Below are the new rules from his book. He admits that rules may be a strong word, but they are principles or discussion points to emphasize nonetheless.

The Rules

Rule 1: Conventional War is Dead
Rule 2: Technology Will Not Save Us
Rule 3: There is No Such Thing as War or Peace—Both Coexist
Rule 4: Hearts and Minds Don’t Matter
Rule 5: The Best Weapons Do Not Fire Bullets
Rule 6: Mercenaries Will Return 
Rule 7: New Types of World Powers Will Rule
Rule 8: There Will Be Wars Without States
Rule 9: Shadow Wars Will Dominate
Rule 10: Victory is Fungible

You don’t want to miss his presentation at the CA Roundtable. If you haven’t registered yet it is not too late. Follow this link here or click on the photo below to confirm your seat.

Photo above, Sean McFate and Arnel David (of note, a painting of British officer piercing

someone's face with a sword, Army Hq)

About the Author

Arnel P. David is an Army Strategist and Civil Affairs Officer serving in the United Kingdom as the U.S. Special Advisor to the Chief of the General Staff of the British Army. He is the editor-in-chief of the Eunomia Journal and a Local Dynamics of War Scholar.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, British Army or the U.S. or U.K. Government.

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