The Obsolescence of ‘Conventional’ Military Operations

As military technology continues to grow, its usefulness lessens.  It has reached a point where a less advanced opponent can expect only annihilation in open conflict.  However, opponents with equivalent technology can no longer engage one another directly because of nuclear weapons.  Opponents who stand no chance in open conflict avoid open conflict.

Thus we end up with the ironic modern situation.  An arsenal of expensive toys that are useless against a handful of men with boxcutters.  In a sense the bombs, tanks, and cruise missiles have become antiquated and obsolete.  War has gone back to essentials.  It is not so much about the weapons as it is the people behind them.  If one person with hostile intent can be put in the right place at the right time, it almost doesn’t matter what weapon they have or even if they have any physical weapon.

One person is in terms of supply and demand dirt cheap.  There are always more people than anyone needs at any given time.  One can walk through any city in the world and see the poor lying around as unwanted as pennies dropped in between cracks in the pavement.  People regenerate, usually faster than they can possibly be killed off.  Males, especially, are mostly superfluous in biological terms.  Millions can die and the women can get pregnant just as before.  People are versatile, they can be deployed anywhere in society at any time.  One person is very easily lost in the endless crowd of humanity.  One human being who doesn’t want to be found is far superior to high-tech stealth weaponry.

Advanced weaponry on the other hand is so expensive that only the richest countries can afford to develop and purchase it.  Entire expensive facilities must be built for its safekeeping and storage.  Entire armies of personnel have to be trained and paid for its successful operation and maintenance.  The cost of operating a ‘conventional’ force is such that even a military occupation relatively modest by historical standards drains its nation of resources.  Such is the expense that ‘overwhelming force’ becomes impossible.

Hi-tech weapons kill people off with industrial grade efficiency and with minimal losses on the side that uses them, but in all cases the cost is so monumental, that they only stand a chance of doing their value worth in damage against like forces.  Namely, forces that could never be confronted without nuclear war and mutually assured destruction.

Against what the modern military calls ‘irregular’ forces, they are mostly useless.

A cruise missile might be able to easily wipe out a hundred men, but the cost of the weapon exceeds any damage inflicted.  The cruise missile costs millions of dollars.  A hundred men cost less than nothing.  Each one who dies just makes a little more elbow room for everyone else…and even so this loss just takes an insignificant bite out of population growth in an already overpopulated world.  In the Vietanam war, the US military had an unprecedented kill ratio, losing tens of thousands of troops in the whole conflict while liquidating hundreds of thousands of enemies per year.  However, over 2,000,000 new North Vietnamese males were reaching the age of conscription each year…

Deployment of modern weaponry against an expendable population is a losing proposal…unless the said weaponry wipes out the population’s capacity to produce more people.  This is easily done, but still cost far exceeds gains.  If any population now wiped another off the map, it would be in the direct interest of every other population to turn unanimously on the offender to ensure their own preservation.  The loss of trade alone would make wiping out an expendable population a cost ineffective proposal, as the wealth of modern states is dependent upon trade.

One might still make the case that hi-tech warfare still is preferable when one takes non-material considerations into account—that the hundred people killed by the cruise missile are a hundred of the right people to kill.  The argument is that one needn’t kill off even a large portion of an expendable population but only the few offenders.  The problem with this proposal is that each of the 100 people killed belongs to a family, clan, and tribe.  Each of the hundred killed only multiplies the portion of the expendable population with cause for resentment towards the technologically advanced power.  ‘Insurgents’ enjoy success because they are members of a community that actively supports and hides them.  There is no destroying them without inciting their supporters to riot.  If anything, when considered on a non-material level, the case against modern weaponry is more compelling.  When one factors in emotion in tight knit communities, there can be no ‘surgical’ removal of undesirables as with buildings.  Buildings usually stand on their own while human beings as fundamentally social beings never do.  Killing off a hundred men impacts the lives of hundreds, if not thousands more who knew them.  Not only was the cruise missile ineffective, its deployment on guys with AK-47s could be considered a lost battle for the advanced nation.

If a nation is unwilling or unable to move in overwhelming force and is unable to cost effectively fight a given population, victory through greater technology is not a likely outcome.  Without a conventional military opponent, there can be no conventional victory.  As far as the locals are concerned the conflict can drag on for generations—as many conflicts in their respective lands already have.  They’re at home with all the time in the world.  They don’t have to win any open confrontation, all they have to do at minimum is make their homeland cost ineffective to govern.  When their enemy is using a huge arsenal of expensive equipment, it is almost absurdly easy to exceed this goal.  The invader is losing resources from the moment they invade!  All resistance has to do is keep it that way!

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5 responses to “The Obsolescence of ‘Conventional’ Military Operations

  1. Gosh, I am retired military and I have been thinking this for years, but have not seen it so well articulated. Thanks very much!! Great writing/thinking! We spend $250,000 on a missle to take out a $14,000 Toyota Pickup carrying two toothless part-time farmers-part-time militia with ancient bolt-action rifles…. WTF??

  2. Fine article.

    Your discussion of the outright genocide option is one that is rarely seen and spot on correct. This does not apply in tribal warfare for land between two parties who are already there. They are in some sense both insurgents

    A minor exception as resources wain I expect the genocide option will be back on the table as trade will have failed long by then and rather than it being unthinkable, everyone will be thinking it

    • Groups of humans have always exterminated each other under certain circumstances. They just came with a new word for it in the 20th century to describe this ancient phenomenon occurring on a massive modern scale.

      Right now, it’s generally more profitable to trade with people than it is to conquer them, kill them, and take their things.

      Should the incentives change, then yes, we will see predictable shifts in human behavior.

  3. Good piece. This reminds me of a Fringe Elements video where he discusses how we’re already half-way to not needing a state (that is, so much ‘state business’ such as charity, etc, is already private market). About halfway through the following video he discusses the military – while it’s entirely plausible that a stateless society would still have a military force, he points out that there’s enough guns in the US to make a Chinese invasion impractical, let alone the fact that – without a government – what precisely are the Chinese invading?

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