Prominent journalist Matt Gurney published an editorial in the National Post entitled “The Last Big War” (http://natpo.st/11iKemY) in which he argues that a massive military campaign (a “big war”) like the 2003 invasion of Iraq will no longer happen. Conflicts will now be moreas a result of insurgencies, which will be opposed by smaller, specially-trained military units that follow up drones to overcome opposition forces. Many other experts, including noted generals and military theorists, have argued this thesis as well.
Call me cynical if you will, but I cannot help believe that such a dramatic forecast stretches the lessons of history too far. War has been with us for as long as history has been recorded. We would hope we have learned lessons sufficiently that we would not engage in massive conflicts in this modern age. Weapons now are more deadlier than ever, not even considering the terrible thought of using nuclear weapons. But politics and conflict are the outcome of human interaction and drives, and human psychology is little changed. Hate, fear, anger and lust for power still burst out when leaders are blinded by their inner impulses.
Forecasts of the end of war were common at the end of the 19th century. The most famous book on this subject was perhaps Is War Now Impossible? By Ivan Bloch, published in 1899 (http://bit.ly/15qygo2 ). Bloch argued very rationally that the industrialization of European society and the development of weapons of great destructive power at that time would make future wars impossible. He believed that the power of weapons developed at the end of the 19th century would make it impossible for armies to achieve decisive results, and stalemate would occur. Despite his confident analysis, a massive war did break out fifteen years later, and it was followed by others throughout the 20th century.
Yes, we are in an era where insurgency or unconventional warfare is effectively challenging conventional forces. Revolutionary changes are taking place in weapons, technology and communications that have made past tactics obsolete. So modern military forces must adapt their training and methods to deal with both asymmetric warfare and the tools of war. However, power politics and national ambition have not gone away. Author Dan Gardner, in his book Future Babble, (http://bit.ly/15qNXeT ) has nicely shown how forecasts in all spheres of life (besides the military) have proven to be false – the more confident the forecaster, the more unlikely that he has not got it right.
So what to do? We still have to analyze and use our best estimates of what kind of conflict is likely to take place on the international stage, and what role Canada can usefully play within the international community. For now, asymmetric warfare is the most obvious type of conflict taking place. But one must remain prepared for something bigger and more conventional; the 21st century still has a long time to play itself out and large areas of the world are very unstable now.
The conclusion: we still need a Canadian Armed Forces that is well trained, agile and ready to serve against whatever challenges arise. Semper Paratus, if you will.
I know the definition of Psyops but nothing much more. But I also know that it is an essential element of military action in 21st century warfare. I am excited that one soldier who served in that function in Aghanistan has agreed to talk to me and I will learn more on a trip to Montreal.
If all goes well, he will take up a chapter in my new book, adding his experience to the rest of the group that I will be writing about. The group of eight Canadian soldiers who have agreed to speak to me will present a fascinating cross-section of experiences: regular infantry, armour, artillery, OMLT, POMLT, now Psyops. A few earned decorations for military valour, but most just did their duty - and that was dramatic enough. Some were injured - serioulsy - but I admire the reslience they are showing even today. The Canadian public needs to know more about what they did, before news about Afghanistan (or at least the Canadian role there) fades away completle under the barrage of Arab springs, Syrian civil wars, Malian insurgecies, and who knows what next!
I had the privilege to speak to a former officer of D Squadron, RCD, who helped me understand more thoroughly what happened during their tour in Afghanistan in 2008. They basically held the northern approaches to Kandahar City with only two troops of Coyotes and one infantry recce platoon. That's a big task to ask such a small force to do. But that's the most that the 3 RCR Battle Group could afford, as the main force struggled with the Taliban in Panjwayi and Zharey Districts.
The Taliban were not pleased that this small Canadian force operating out of FOB Frontenac would insert itself in the middle of their transit route down which they moved supplies and fighters from the north to threaten Kandahar City. In fact, the insurgents had only recently made it clear that they intended to continue to threaten the city when, following the Sarposa Prison Break, they were reported as having flooded fighters into Arghandab District from Khakrez and Uruzgan Provinces. Faced with a rapid Canadian and ANA reaction on that occasion, however, the insurgents rapidly withdrew .
During D Squadron's entire tour, the Taliban concentrated on trying to intimidate the Canadians, launching an aggressive IED campaign against their daily vehicle patrols. The resuilts were not pleasant, with four Canadian troopers killed and many injured. That was difficult to absorb out of a small force of just over one hundred personnel. But the officers and senior NCOs of the unit were determined that they would not let the Taliban lock them up in the FOB where they would become even more of a target. It inspired MWO Shawn Mercer to reflect that after each IED hit, the men and women of his unit kept going with the mission. "What inspired me daily, and to this day, is that even after the worst of days, they got up on their horse and went out on the very next day. You can't put a price on that. And if I could get evey one of them medal, I would."
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history