Doug Casey on the Future of War

Terror, as used by non-state actors, is all about what John Robb calls “open source” warfare. One group tries something, and all the others imitate it if it’s successful, and improve on it. There are going to be many more non-state organizations in the future. Most of them want to be governments when they grow up. They’ll use terrorism to project force.

By Doug Casey for International Man

Justin Spittler’s discussion with Doug Casey on the new “era of peace” in the Korean Peninsula.

Justin: Doug, how will wars of the future be fought differently than today?

Doug: Well, war’s evolving in several ways. For starters, we won’t see as many nation states fighting each other. There will, instead, be more conflict between nation states and non-state entities like so-called terrorist organizations.

Over the last 30 or so years terrorism has become a buzzword, supposedly one of the greatest evils of our era. But “terrorism” is simply a method of warfare. So you can’t fight terrorism. It’s like saying you can fight artillery barrages, cavalry charges or frontal assaults. Terrorism isn’t a thing, it’s a tactic.

There are about 100 separate definitions of terrorism. I’m not sure any two US Government agencies can even agree on one. It’s a little like trying to define pornography using the standard of the rather confused Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who said “I know it when I see it.”

Terrorism is essentially psychological warfare, intended to sway the minds of the enemy. As such, it’s much cheaper, much less destructive, and potentially much more effective than conventional warfare. As Napoleon said, in war the moral is to the physical as three is to one.

I should also mention Sun Tzu in this light. He’s become very fashionable in recent years. This isn’t the time to discuss his views on warfare, but there’s no question he would have been a huge advocate of terror as a method.

Anyway, the big names in the terror world are still ISIS and Al Qaeda, although there will be plenty of others. These groups have good public relations arms. PR is absolutely essential, critical, to a proper terror organization. There are undoubtedly scores of little groups looking to break into the bigtime, and become governments themselves. All of them want to gain as much recognition and power as those two groups.

Nation states—governments—are well aware of the value and effectiveness of terror, and use their own variations of it. Drone strikes and B-52 raids are prominent examples, but aren’t characterized as terror, because it’s convenient to say only the bad guys do that.

Terror, as used by non-state actors, is all about what John Robb calls “open source” warfare. One group tries something, and all the others imitate it if it’s successful, and improve on it. There are going to be many more non-state organizations in the future. Most of them want to be governments when they grow up. They’ll use terrorism to project force.

But you can’t attack these organizations directly, like you can a nation state. To do so you’d have to attack civilian populations wholesale, which tends to be counterproductive. So the era of B-52 mass-bombing raids and mass attacks by tanks are over. That’s all history. Those weapons are increasingly useless in today’s world. Entirely apart from the fact bankrupt governments are about to find they can’t afford them.

Justin: And yet, many governments around the world still appear committed to the technologies.

Doug: Further proof that the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history—and that’s absolutely true of bureaucracies. The F-35 is a perfect example of this. It reportedly costs around $100 million per copy, but who knows if you can trust that number with all the strange accounting that the government does. Each of those planes could really cost much, much more.

It’s completely unaffordable. And none of this junk is going to get used anyway. Most of it is just toys for boys, and free money for “defense” contractors, so they can make political contributions.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. In World War II, it took nine months from its conception on blank paper for the P-51 Mustang to be in production, arguably the best fighter aircraft of World War II. They cost about $50,000 per copy to make. That’s like $600,000 today. But with the huge advances in manufacturing techniques, materials, computer tech, and so forth, you can argue prices should be dropping. They’ve been playing with the F-35 since 1992, and it still doesn’t work right.

Justin: If those tools won’t work in future wars, what will?

Doug: Part of the answer is special operations groups. These outfits are well suited to fight non-state organizations.

Commandos and special operations troops used to be just a teeny-weeny part of the US army. They weren’t held in particularly high regard by the conventional military. Now, they’re the fastest-growing part of the military establishment. I understand that there are roughly 70,000 personnel that are special ops in one form or another. And that number will continue growing.

They’re especially good at trying to decapitate the leadership of opposing forces, the command and control systems, without doing a huge amount of physical damage.

That’s important, because if you want to win a war, you need to change the regime—not necessarily destroy the country itself. And it’s interesting that the US government now uses the term “regime change” as opposed to “start a war.” It sounds much more sanitary, and less risky. In fact, however, the Nuremberg Trials determined that starting a war is, in itself, a war crime. “Regime change,” as Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, only differs in semantics from starting a war.

Today, the US Government is the only outfit in the regime change business. They want “regime change” if they don’t like the way a foreign government is acting. It’s actually a fair description from one point of view, because the people of a country itself almost never want war. At least not unless the regime incites them. The average person in most places just goes about his business. The real problem is with the people at the top. The people in the Deep State. The people who run the government and the people who, in turn, run them. Every “democracy”—a very problematical word—has a Deep State, or a Shadow Government, which is somewhat different. Absolutely including the US.

In today’s world, the intelligent way to win a war—the low-cost way and the most-effective way—is not to have all these ridiculous weapons that will bankrupt you if you build them. And if you use them, they could end up destroying civilization.

Justin: So, the answer is to simply kill the people at the top of the power structure.

Doug: Exactly. But that’s almost never done. There wasn’t even a serious effort in World War II to take out Hitler and his coterie. During the Cold War, was there any effort to take out Soviet leaders as individuals? No.

It makes me think that the Top Dogs realize that they’re very vulnerable to being taken out. If governments started doing that, it might not be considered playing fair. But it’s apparently totally fine to terror bomb Tokyo and kill 100,000 people in a night, as the United States did in World War II.

They never even tried to kill Emperor Hirohito, Tojo and the other top Japanese officials, perhaps because then they might return the favor. These are things we need to think about.

Even to this day foreign government officials aren’t targeted. I believe it may even be illegal… The only recent example that I can think of is when they tried to take out Gaddafi in Libya. They used the Air Force as an assassination vehicle, bombing his tent.

This is only done with nothing-nowhere countries. Panama is a similar case, with Noriega, although it was an actual invasion that killed a couple thousand Panamanians. That was OK, in that they were just what’s known as collateral damage. It’s quite unfortunate how the US has gotten into the habit of attacking small, backward places. Not because they’re a threat to anybody. But because they have the wrong allies. Grenada comes to mind. Another completely illegal unprovoked invasion.

It’s reminiscent of a famous incident in the Peloponnesian War. Athens wanted the use of the harbor of Melos, a small city-state, in their war against Sparta. The Melians refused, saying they were neutral. The Athenians attacked, burned the city, and killed or enslaved all of its inhabitants. Thucydides summed it up with the line “the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.” It was a permanent blot on Athens’ character. I’m afraid the US is making the same mistake.

The days of conquering a neighboring country for profit—stealing the gold, the women, and the cattle—are gone. Anyway, if the rulers of one country don’t like the rulers of another, I’d say it’s appropriate they go after them personally—and not involve millions of innocent bystanders, using the country’s military. I know that sounds quaint, but I suspect there might be more of that kind of thing in the future. It’s only possible with special operations groups. And that’s one reason why these groups are on the ascendant.

The other is that most people on this planet are already living in cities. That means there will be a lot more emphasis on urban warfare. More fighting will occur inside and around buildings as opposed to fields, forests and deserts. And special ops are best-suited for this kind of conflict.

Justin: What about a possible shooting war between the United States and China? You said there was a high probability of that happening recently.

Doug: Well, it seems like all these horrible people Trump has surrounded himself with—like that fellow with the bushy mustache—are banking on one, a conventional war. They seem to figure US aircraft carrier groups will allow them to bring the war to the enemy, but avoid going nuclear.

Unfortunately, the carrier is equivalent to the battleship in World War II. It has many sophisticated defense mechanisms, but there is no defense against the hypersonic weapons that the Russians, Chinese, and soon everybody else, are developing.

The carrier group’s Aegis systems, phalanx guns, and anti-aircraft missiles are useless against hypersonic attack.

Even nuclear weapons are becoming dinosaurs. In our last interview, I mentioned the space weapon, the “Rod from God.” Now, this won’t be deployed anytime soon. That’s because—and this is speculation—each rod would be 20 feet long, a foot in diameter, and made out of tungsten, which has an extremely high specific gravity, about 19, the same as metallic uranium. Even lead is only 11. Each rod might weigh 10 or 15 tons.

There are major technical hurdles of getting just one of those into high orbit. Then, there’s the challenge of building a launch platform for a battery of them in space. Then keeping the satellite, the battle station, safe from a preemptive strike.

The basic idea is sound from a number of standpoints, however. I first encountered it in Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, a really great sci-fi book he wrote in the ‘60s. The idea was that the colony on the moon revolts against Earth, and simply launches big rocks down the gravity well to win the war. Something like that will undoubtedly happen in the future.

Justin: Yeah, I read somewhere that it would cost $230 million just to get each one of those rods into orbit.

Doug: Expensive, plus billions more for the launch platform needed to deploy it. But considering the cost of a B-2 bomber, maybe $500 million, they might go for it. I’ll wager the future of warfare is going to be decapitating enemy leadership cadres. And it would be much more precise and useful than a nuke.

My guess is that the first decapitation of a major state’s leadership will be done by a nongovernmental organization with an agenda.

ISIS and Al Qaeda are excellent examples. They use open source warfare. Instead of having a very expensive think tank planning out ultra expensive, high-tech weaponry, these people deal with off-the-shelf products, ultra cheap. Somebody does something. They learn from them. They make a mistake. They incorporate what’s learned from that mistake.

When you’ve got hundreds of thousands or millions of young males that can be deployed at near zero cost, they’re much more effective than spending a million dollars training a special ops soldier. Or three million for a cruise missile. Quantity has a quality of its own.

A Muslim teenager with a bomb pack strapped around him can do almost as much damage as a cruise missile. But he’s a lot cheaper and there are a lot more of them. So that’s where things are headed.

If these guys were smart, they’d start attacking individual government officials. They’re backward types, generally ignorant, saturated with medieval theology—but they certainly all know about Hassan-i Sabbah, who originated the term assassin during the Crusades. He was quite effective against the invaders.

Then what would happen if they stopped attacking innocent civilians, and went strictly for government officials? Where are the nomenklatura going to hide? Is the government going to have to encase itself in concrete? How will these individuals protect themselves and their families? The answer is: They can’t. Just protecting the President alone, even now, is almost impossible and hugely expensive.

That’s the way it’s going to evolve because conventional warfare is too expensive, too destructive, and highly ineffective.

Justin: What do you think about artificial intelligence (AI) being used in future wars?

Doug: Well, science fiction has long been much better at predicting what’s likely to happen than any think tank. AI is going to be huge. As will other computer warfare, because the whole world is now run by software.

But there are other weapons rapidly evolving, like drones. It’s amazing what the US is able to do with their Predators, Reapers, and so forth. All the world’s armies are working on their own versions. No doubt the next generation of fighter aircraft will be drones, run by AI, with no need for a pilot. F-35s will be little more than targets for them.

But the next generation of drones will be tiny things, the size of insects. Instead of one big Predator, you’re going to have thousands or hundreds of thousands of little bumblebee-sized drones. And each will have a high-explosive payload. Each big enough to take out one individual. And they’ll be very hard to stop.

They’ll be very effective at going after the people running governments, as opposed to just countering other armies.

Plus, anybody is going to be able to deploy them. You’ll be able to make them with off-the-shelf-type products. They’ll be cheap. Even a well-to-do individual will be able to launch his own micro-drone war against offensive government officials. But it goes beyond even that.

Everybody’s seen the movie The Terminator. That scenario used to seem impossible. But AI is advancing at the rate of Moore’s Law. So, there’s no question that within a generation there will be robot soldiers that are as effective as any of today’s individual soldiers. Actually, they’ll be more effective, much stronger, and harder to kill.

Organizations are already working on these technologies. It’s going to happen. It’s unstoppable because the technology is already cheap, and getting cheaper, and it can be used off the shelf by clever people.

So, it won’t just be governments that possess this firepower. Individual war entrepreneurs will develop terminators. And they’ll be able to do so faster and cheaper than governments, which are slow-moving bureaucracies.

In essence, technology is headed towards giving small groups, or even individuals, ways to cut the head off the snake.

In the days of ancient warfare, generals and kings led from the front. It was rare for a general to control things from miles behind the front; his army would see him as an unworthy coward. In the Iliad, leaders would go out in front of the army and fight it out, in personal combat. It’s hard to imagine chicken hawks like Cheney or Obama doing that—although Putin is a different matter…

I don’t think we’re going back to the way things were in the days of the Iliad. But technology is going to make the actual miscreants who run governments, and actually start wars, be held responsible—personally. This is a cause for optimism. They’ll be much less likely to do something stupid if their own necks are on the line.

Justin: So, do you think this could lead to less bloody conflicts?

Doug: It should. If politicians are forced to accept the consequences of their actions on a personal basis, they’re going to be a lot more cautious about encroaching on others’ lives and property.

Justin: Since you mentioned The Terminator, I have to ask…are you worried about AI or robots trying to destroy the human race?

Doug: I’m not worried about that. You have got to recognize that the ultimate problem of life is death. Technology is the only way there is to cheat the Grim Reaper. At least for a while.

As a result, I’m intensely interested in seeing all types of technology continue to accelerate. It’s genuinely stupid to try to slow it down or regulate it. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen 50 or 100 years from now—chances are, even if we have something that looks like World War 3 in the next few years, our grandchildren will pity us, and see us the way we see medieval peasants.

Unless technology makes some near-term breakthroughs in life extension, we’re all going to be dead by then anyway. It’s possible, however. And the prospect of attaining it is worth any risk.

There are going to be some negative aspects to the rapid development of technology—mostly in the ways the State uses it to control its subjects—namely us. But the good news is technology may find the key to letting us each live as individuals for hundreds of years. So, I’m all for completely letting the genie out of the bottle.

The only way we can solve the problems of the material world is with technology, so you’ve got to let technology expand as quickly as possible, instead of trying to put it back in the bottle because it might be too dangerous.

Of course, all new technologies are initially controlled by governments—gunpowder and rockets being two examples. But once they get into the hands of the average man the tables are turned. Gunpowder gave the peasant the ability to take down the armored thugs that were suppressing him, and brought down feudalism. Rockets were the means to destroy civilization when they were the exclusive province of governments—now there are a half-dozen private companies that will use them to further free and expand mankind.

Things can go wrong. Sure. But that’s a chance we’re going to have to take.

Once again, I’ll say that Ray Kurzweil is almost certainly right that we will have the singularity within a generation. That will change the whole nature of reality unrecognizably, permanently, and totally. We haven’t even discussed nanotech, which is going to be the biggest game changer.

People should be thinking about things like this. Instead we’re wasting huge amounts of capital on things like the F-35 and new aircraft carriers, which are already dinosaurs. It’s criminal because that capital could be used constructively. That stuff is all going to be junk in 20 years. By that I mean actual junk.

Justin: Yeah, I’m sure all those F-35s are going to be collecting dust somewhere. Plus, by then they’ll probably be shelling out billions of dollars to build the new fighter jet.

Doug: What do they care? It’s not their money… And I’ll make a prediction…The military technology being developed right now that’s going to make the biggest change is going to be microdrones.

Think about it. If you can launch a fleet of 10,000 microdrones against an airfield where all the F-35s are stationed, they’ll destroy every one of those planes. They’ll probably also kill every carbon-based lifeform that’s anywhere near that airfield.

The same is true for aircraft carriers. If you could get those microdrones within striking distance, you could totally wipe it out.

Microdrones are going be very cheap and readily available. You can forget about individual soldiers in the field. A whole army would be dead meat against a swarm of these.

There are quite a few game changers out there. But I’ll put my finger on microdrones as being the single biggest technology that’s going to change the nature of warfare.