Alternatives to Military Force: The Fabian Strategy
What is the purpose of war? According to Carl von Clausewitz, author of the book On War, the institution of war, itself, is a political tool and a means to political ends (Clausewitz, 2012). In other words, war is a tool that societies use to accomplish political goals. For example, in the concept of total war, the objective is to destroy the enemy by any means possible, but that may lead to mass causalities inflicted upon civilian populations, which is why civilized societies avoid conducting warfare is this manner. The purpose of conflict in modern times has shifted to preventing the loss of life and protecting national interests; however, tactics developed and implemented must adapt to the current threats in order to be effective at accomplishing the desired outcome. There is a common saying in the military that “generals always prepare to fight the last war” and this means that, all too often, generals do not change their tactics when entering a new and different style of warfare, usually to their detriment. In relation to the War on Terror, military force abroad is the most commonly accepted way to prevent terrorism; however, there are alternatives, which may be more effective at keeping American interests safe and deterring threats to the homeland, if implemented properly.
It is important to note that there are many alternatives to armed conflict or military force. Some of these alternatives are more effective than others and usually their effectiveness is dependent upon the desired outcome and the threat faced. We’ve all heard the old saying, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” In terms reaching political goals, this old adage is true; however, even though some tactics may eventually accomplish the desired task, there may be other tactics that are much more effective and less costly. For example, some alternatives to military force are non-violent struggle, heart and mind campaigns and economic sanctions.
Concerning the threat of terrorism, the above mentioned alternatives to military force are largely ineffective at producing a desirable outcome. A non-violent struggle is better suited for targeting large regimes and would likely not be very effective at combating terrorism. Regarding the use of a hearts and minds campaign, this could produce results if it managed to win over a local population that was on the fence about what side of a conflict to support; however, when dealing with radical terrorists, it is unlikely that a public relations campaign will have much effect on their resolve. Radical terrorists have likely already made up their minds and will be less susceptible to this kind of action. Economic sanctions are essentially useless when combating the threat of terrorism, because sanctions are meant to economically punish nations. Unless sanctions are being used to target state sponsors of terrorism, they are not an option, and even in this case they have major limitations. With this in mind, responses to threats must be catered to each specific threat and strategy must be developed to reach the desired objectives.
National security threats are ever changing; terrorist continue to develop new tactics and it is becoming more difficult to respond effectively to the threat they pose via military force than it used to be. According to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson there are individuals living in the United States with connections to the Islamic State who wish to commit acts of terror on US soil (Richter, 2015, para. 1). This information is even more concerning when combined with the fact that there were "445,000 illegal entries into the United States across our southern border in Fiscal Year 2010. The Border Patrol has reported that, out of those 445,000, about 45,000 are immigrants coming from countries other than Mexico" (Lanham, 2011, para. 4). In today's world, it would seem unwise to fight wars abroad, at the cost of American blood and fortune, while leaving the homeland completely vulnerable to attack. If this many illegal entries can be conducted in a single year, how difficult would it be for a terrorist to come to America? In addition to that, how difficult would it be for them to bring a weapon of mass destruction with them? Out of the more than 100 or so nations that these immigrants originate from, at least four are state sponsors of terrorism (Lanham, 2011, para. 4).
The threats that America faces at home are real and legitimate. The urgency to secure the border has never been more critical to national security than it is right now. In a speech given by John McCain on foreign policy and national security in 1998, he said, “Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is probably the most serious international problem confronting America's leaders” (McCain, 1998, para. 16). Though his speech may be a bit dated, this point is still extremely relevant. As more governments gain access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) the risk that one of these weapons will fall into terrorist hands grows exponentially. That risk is aggregated even more with that fact that some of these governments trying to obtain WMDs are state sponsors of terrorism. For example, “Iran has been deemed as a state sponsor of terrorism since January 19, 1984 by the US Department of State” (State Sponsors of Terrorism, 2015) and has been actively pursuing nuclear technology. Though they lack a delivery method such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, they can easily use the insecurity of America’s borders to sneak a weapon capable of producing a nuclear yield into the country. The effects of such an attack on US soil would be devastating.
Those in favor of the War on Terror suggest that it is better for America to combat terrorism overseas than it is for the nation to combat it at home. This school of thought is appealing, especially on an emotional level, as a citizen living in the homeland; however, it is a generalization about the nature of conflict and does not account for the ever evolving landscape of the modern battlefield. As a civilized society, America abides by certain rules of war. Those rules limit the kind of military response that can/should be conducted against terrorism. For example, if a known terror cell is operating in a specific city, America cannot simply carpet bomb the entire city, because there will certainly be many civilian causalities. Terrorist know this limitation and they use it to their advantage. Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has become an unconventional guerilla war. Insurgents hide in plain sight and use the War on Terror as a recruiting tool, their organizations gain legitimacy and popularity from every battle, and they succeed in spreading terror when their attacks on the American military are reported on in news cycles around the world. Terrorists do not have rules limiting the kind of warfare they can conduct, so fighting them in this manner plays to their advantage. Additionally, conducting warfare overseas does nothing to eliminate threats to American interests at home. Simply put, it just creates another front to fight and/or get attack on.
When determining what strategy to use against an enemy, the very first task is to determine exactly what objectives one wishes to accomplish. As a civilized society, America purports to conduct war as a means to prevent human suffering, loss of life and to protect its national interests. Different threats will require different strategies in order to accomplish those objectives; however, when discussing with the threat that America faces due to terrorism one thing is clear: America is failing to accomplish these goals. As a result of this failure terrorism is on the rise, the Middle East has been destabilized, and the threats to American interests from terrorists are at, what appears to be, an all-time high.
With that said, how exactly has War on Terror failed to accomplish these goals? First, it has failed to prevent the loss of life and is actually responsible for causing far greater suffering, death and destruction than terrorists could have ever hoped to inflict themselves. For example, on September 11th, 2001, "2,792 Americans were killed in the largest terror attack in U.S. history" (Powers, n.d., para. 18). According to the Global Terrorism Database, since 2003, there have been 25 American deaths from terror attacks on US soil (Global Terrorism Database, 2015). Conversely, "4,683 brave Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) on October 7, 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began with the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003" (Powers, n.d. para. 2). Additionally, in a study conducted by “university researchers in the United States, Canada and Baghdad in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health, approximately 500,000 people have died, not only from violent deaths, but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown since the Iraqi invasion began in 2003” (Gordts, 2014, para. 3).
Secondly, the War on Terror has not made the American homeland any safer from terrorist threats and it has significantly drained American coffers. As of March 2015, "the United States has spent approximately $1.6 trillion fighting the War on Terror" (Cost of National Security, 2015). That money could have been used to secure the border and upgrade the power infrastructure to withstand an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which is a side effect of a nuclear yield or dirty bomb and would devastate the country. Congressional studies estimate "that two-thirds of the [U.S.] population would die of starvation, disease, exposure or violence related to social breakdown in the first twelve months alone" after an EMP terror attack (Register, 2015, para. 4).
Fortunately, there are options that have yet to be attempted in order to accomplish the goals of saving lives and securing American interests. One of those options is securing the nation’s borders. Based off information provided in HR 1299, the Secure Border Act, “only thirty-two percent of America’s northern border and forty-four percent of its southwest border are under operational control or have acceptable levels of security” (Miller's legislation focuses on development of comprehensive plan for border security, 2012). A second option of combating that threats that terrorism poses and has yet to be attempted is hardening the American power grid to withstand electromagnetic pulses. Doing this action will eliminate the threat that an EMP poses to two-thirds of the American population, preventing countless American deaths, immense suffering and securing national interests. Lastly, once the border is secured, increased scrutiny should be conducted on immigrants attempting to come into America as well as on those who are already here on temporary visas. Controlling who is allowed to come into the country is a key component of national security. All of these endeavors will be costly, but it is doubtful that it will be as costly as a never-ending War on Terror. Each of these actions will bear real and verifiable fruit, which Americans will continue to reap for generations.
A tactic such as this has actually been used before throughout history. It was first used in ancient Rome during the Second Punic War to outlast and overcome a Cartheginian threat to the homeland. It was named the Fabian Strategy, after its creator Quintus Fabius Maximus. The Roman army had suffered great losses at the hands of Carthage’s most skillful general, Hannibal, and it had become clear that direct confrontation would not be the most efficient way to end the conflict. Fabius “advocated a policy of attrition and delay - to dog Hannibal round Italy, but never engage him. This policy turned out to be very successful, frustrating Hannibal at every turn and preventing him landing a knock-out blow” (Jones, 1998, para 1). The Fabian Strategy called for “a campaign that conserves strength by keeping clear of battles, relying instead on harassing and exhausting the enemy through attrition, steadily undermining morale” (Freedmen, 2003, para 3). The Romans harvested their crops, lit fire to their fields and withdrew to their walled cities. Due to the fact that Hannibal lacked to proper siege equipment to take on a Roman city, his army eventually ran out of supplies and he was forced to return to Carthage.
If one were to draw parallels from the Second Punic War to the War on Terror, it would be clear that this same strategy could be used to undermine the war fighting capability of terrorist organizations who wish to do harm to the United States. It does not make logical sense to continue fighting an enemy on their own terms, while also ignoring the serious threats caused by a wide open border. The reason America is at war with terrorists overseas is because the homeland was attacked. With that in mind, doesn’t it make more sense to shore up defenses at home in order to prevent another attack, rather than to create another battle front to be attack on?
As mentioned before, no strategy is perfect for every situation and care must be taken to adopt the right strategy for the circumstance; this strategy is no different and does have its limitations. One major limitation of adopting a Fabian Strategy in the War on Terror is that America would be forced to take a less proactive approach regarding military intervention in the Middle East. This could result in problems for America’s allies and a loss of control in the area. Additionally, it is possible that rival countries, such as Russia, could obtain a foothold in the Middle East if America were to abandon the region entirely, but is that really a problem? Russia has already tried invading Afghanistan once and it didn’t work out very well for them. Even if they were able to stabilize the region and gain control, they would simply be accomplishing the same objectives that America claims to seek for the Middle East. The real question the American people need to ask themselves is, with $17 trillion of national debt, can they afford to be the world’s police?
According to Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War and arguably the greatest general of all time, “to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting” (Tzu, 2003, Ch. 3, para 2). Military force is not always the most effective answer to national security threats. Regarding the War on Terror, by bringing the war to the terrorists (fighting them abroad) America has made it easier for its enemies to inflict casualties. In this case, a better alternative to military force would be to deny terrorists the ability to inflict casualties by securing American interests. This can be done through tighter immigration screening processes, securing the United States border and upgrading the power grid to withstand an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. The cost of this endeavor will be significant; however, it can be paid for by diverting the budget spent on the War on Terror abroad. By choosing to deny terrorists the ability to inflict casualties, instead of making it easier for them, lives will be spared and that is the ultimate goal of conflict in a civilized society.
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