Let us say the 2016 presidential election is won by an anti-establishment candidate—Donald Trump? Bernie Sanders?—who knows that the establishment’s national-security policy was made for the 20th century, not the 21st. What might his alternative be?
To fit 21st-century realities, it would have to begin by acknowledging the greatest change in war since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. That treaty, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, gave the state a monopoly on armed conflict. As laid out in Martin van Creveld’s brilliant book The Transformation of War, published in 1991, the state is now losing that monopoly. All over the world, state armed forces designed, trained, and equipped to fight each other are instead fighting non-state opponents in what I call Fourth Generation war. All over the world, state armed forces are losing.
An American national-security policy designed for an era of this new style of war would have two aspects: security overseas and security at home. Both would look very different from current policy.
Security overseas means avoiding entanglement in Fourth Generation wars. Involvement in conflicts with non-state entities will result in our defeat, as it already has in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Not only do America’s armed forces not know how to win such wars, they have little interest in learning. Comfortable with their expertise in reducing the art of war to the mechanics of putting firepower on targets, they do not want to adjust to wars where the moral level is more powerful than the physical level. Nor is Fourth Generation war much good for justifying expensive programs for complex, high-tech weapons.
h/t Publius Huldah