TCS Daily

Think Anew, Or 'The Next Time Will Be Worse'

By James Pinkerton - September 12, 2001 12:00 AM

"The next time will be worse. The technology will be more ferocious." Those words of warning came from Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., on the night of Sept. 11, the date that will live in infamy, the date that it became obvious that a new kind of warfare was being fought -- the date when it became obvious that the United States, just as at Pearl Harbor 60 years ago, once again wasn't ready for what was coming. America will take time to grieve, it will take time to seek retribution; yet as Andrews says, above all, it must take time to get a better plan.

To look back at the fighting of the last century is to remember that the winners triumphed because they were able to muster the most technological, economic and, increasingly, political resources. The 21st century will be no different, although the influence of politics -- and the power of the media -- are both likely to increase.

The early advantage in World War I went to the Germans, who used new weapons -- the machine gun, long-distance artillery fire, and poison gas -- to wipe out opposing armies, notably the French and the Russian, that insisted on using old-fashioned massed infantry and cavalry. Yet the Germans lost, for two reasons: first, the allied powers eventually equalized on tactics and technology, and, second, the Germans so misplayed politics that they brought the United States into the war against them.

The story of World War II isn't much different. Once again, the Germans started out ahead on technological virtuosity -- tanks and airplanes combined into Blitzkrieg -- but they were overwhelmed by enemies that Hitler kept attacking or provoking, notably the Soviet Union and the United States. And of course, in that war, the United States proved that its military-industrial complex was, indeed, the "arsenal of democracy" -- undertaking a role it has played ever since.

The tide of American technological superiority accelerated in the second half of the 20th century. In the Korean War, American jets swept the skies of enemy aircraft, and not a single U.S. casualty from enemy aircraft fire came after the first few months of the war. Indeed, no American service personnel have been killed in the half-century since by enemy aircraft. In addition, U.S. helicopters first proved themselves in Korea as an aid to ground combat. The value of this air superiority can be measured, in part, by the skewed casualty figures: Americans killed in action numbered a little over 33,000, while North Korean and Chinese KIA's approached one million.

But Korea demonstrated something else, too: the restraining influence of domestic and world public opinion. That's why the United States did not use nuclear weapons in Korea, even when it was in desperate danger of defeat -- first, in the weeks after the initial North Korean attack in June 1950, and again after the Chinese intervention in November.

The same two factors - U.S. military superiority, and yet at the same time, political limitations on U.S. power -- were evident in Vietnam. American KIAs numbered 47,000, while U.S. forces inflicted the vast bulk of the estimated 444,000 Vietcong and North Vietnamese KIAs. Yet, the United States could never win the war because political factors -- protests at home, lack of an international consensus abroad -- prevented decisive military action, such as sustained aerial bombardment of the North, including harbors and dikes.

To put it bluntly, the wars of today must be fought by generals and admirals on the one hand, and p.r. people and spin doctors on the other. The Gulf War was an easy triumph for the United States as long as it held the high cards, both military (Gen. Schwarzkopf & Co.) and political (the 28-nation alliance). But the media, and with them, arguably, world public opinion, proved to be wild cards. That became clear in February 1991, when President George H.W. Bush felt restrained from annihilating the retreating Iraq army. And so while the Iraqis were devastated, suffering perhaps 100,000 KIAs as against 148 U.S. KIAs, the bulk of his army managed to limp home.

On those rare occasions when the military and the media achieve a harmonic convergence, victory is swift and sure, as in Kosovo, when NATO forces, mostly American, suffered zero combat casualties while inflicting thousands of casualties on the Serbs.

So in the wake of Operation Allied Force, it's hard to imagine that any country will dare to oppose the United States on the field-- unless it's willing to gamble that "public opinion" will stay the American fist.

But as Tuesday proved, America's enemies have found new ways to fight. Terrorism has been a bloody feature of modern life for three decades now, but Sept. 11 represents a profound escalation in the lethality of such "asymmetrical warfare." Nobody knows yet how many suicide terrorists were aboard those four planes, but it couldn't have more than a score, and maybe it was many less. Similarly, nobody knows how many Americans were killed, but the total is surely in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

Almost no matter what the United States does in terms of domestic counter-terrorism, the American homeland will still be vulnerable. Indeed, terror is likely to get worse; William Cohen, secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, said on "Meet the Press" in May 2000 that "the likelihood of an attack on American soil, using either a chemical or biological or, indeed, a nuclear weapon, is quite, not only possible, but probable."

In the long run, this reality is insoluble: the earth is a fixed size, while the potential destructive power of weapons of mass destruction continues to grow. In a two-part article here on Pinkertonspace, appearing on June 11 and June 18, I argued that the United States needs a new politico-military doctrine that will take us to outer space as a last resort.

But of course, in the shorter run, we cannot and must not give up. I have written about this grave threat, too, in the past. On May 28 on Pinkertonspace, I argued for a multilateral entity that would deal with the two great military and political variables of our time: first, the mortal threat from rogues and rogue nations, and, second, the practical need to coordinate the U.S. response to this threat with other security-conscious countries. I called then for a World Anti-Rogue Nations Organization, or WARNO.

Since then, I have had discussions with Rep. Andrews, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He, too, has long been concerned about terrorism in its many forms; he introduced legislation last year to deal with the cyber-terrorist threat to the U.S. domestic utility infrastructure. The New Jersey lawmaker has also focused on the need for a comprehensive response to all the perils of the 21st century. As I wrote in a Newsday column of June 19, "Andrews speculates that NATO or some other multilateral entity could deal with the many dangers that nation-states face -- from missiles to hackers to terrorists --under a broad internationalist umbrella."

And in an interview Tuesday night, Andrews said this: "We should form an international alliance that would, as President Bush said, 'hunt down and punish' the terrorists. It has to be international because we need common ground with other organized states -- the Israelis, the Russians, the French, plus maybe less conventional allies, such as the Saudis -- to make this work."

Andrews will be pursuing these ideas in Congress. But it's time for the entire U.S. government to think anew, act anew -- and soon. Because, as Andrews says, the next attack will be more ferocious.


TCS Daily Archives