WHEN IS A COUNTRY TRULY "AT WAR"?
BY Colonel (ret'd) Pat Stogran
With our Understanding of the strategic-operational-tactical framework of war and the acknowledgement that, at the tactical level, the high intensity combat operations in Iraq to which our troops are contributing training, advice and assistance looks a hell of a lot like war, the question begs: Are we at war? Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said, “Canada is not at a declared state of war,” although he qualified that assertion by saying we are “a lawful party to an armed conflict against a non-state actor.” Technically and legally, in a spurious sort of way, he is correct: We are not “at war.”I say spuriousway because it is obvious that a nation does not have to declare war in order to go overseas to kill people. However, is a nation at war in this day and age even though we have not so declared but, for the most part, are having the killing done by an agent on our behalf?
Under the Westminster style of government, the power to formally declare war evolved from the prerogative of the Crown to do so on the recommendation of the duly elected Cabinet. The Royal Prerogative was vested to the Government of Canada in the Statute of Westminster in 1931, which effectively made Canada and other countries in the Dominion sovereign, independent nations. Canada subsequently exercised its authority to declare war as we entered the Second World War, although it was arguably more of a symbolic gesture that masked our tradition of subservience to the monarchy. If we set aside the lingering redundancy of the monarchy as it pertains to Canada for the moment, to “declare war” in our bastardized-Westminster-come-ad-hoc-presidentialized system of government, the prime minister needs only to decree it so. In other words, the only legal requirement for Canada to be “at war” in Iraq or anywhere else is for Cabinet to cut an Order-in-Council to that effect and post it in TheGazette.
Notwithstanding our reticence to declare war formally, the international community has adopted protocols and conditions that justify the use of armed force by one nation against another. Philosophers have batted around the concept of the “Just War” for a millennia, the arguments of which are reflected in the United Nations Charter and form the basis of what I used to understand as the laws of armed conflict (LOAC). The LOAC, commonly known as International Humanitarian Law, have been an attempt over the last century to constrain the use of violence during international armed conflict. The conventions that have been adopted call for the protection of non-combatants and otherwise incapacitated combatants, compel military forces to restrict their attacks to legitimate military targets and to employ a level of force that is sufficient to achieve the desired military effect with minimal collateral damage. Chapter Seven of the UN Charter acknowledges the right of nations to use lethal military force against another in self-defence, although it encourages the use of lesser means of coercion. To the best of my knowledge, none of those conventions compel a nation to formally declare war before launching military operations against another sovereign nation.
The Government of Canada has not exercised the prerogative to declare war since WWII but, then again, neither has anybody else despite some fairly major conflicts: not the Americans in the so-called Vietnam War, the United Kingdom in the so-called Falklands War, nor any of the coalition partners that participated in the so-called Korean War, the Gulf War (neither the first or second one), nor the war in Afghanistan. The United States and like-minded nations have further blurred the lines by unconventional declarations of war on objects and a relatively vague, ill-defined concept, having declared war on drugs and later against terrorism. In Canada, although we were the first nation to join the United States when they invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we conveniently avoided the dreaded term war by choosing instead to reference our use of force as a campaign against terrorism.
Prior to our non-war in Afghanistan that cost the lives of well over 200 people KIA and consequential suicides, the so-called Cold War raged around the world for decades even though there was nary a clash of force between the main warring parties: the superpowers of the United States of America and the Soviet Union under the guises of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact respectively. Another apparent aberration of the concept of war, the main antagonists of the Cold War did, however, taunt each other pseudo-anonymously on the fringes by instigating proxy bush wars and insurrections. And while the member nations of NATO and the Warsaw Pact were preoccupied by equipping and training for massive scale combat operations under the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the conventional forces of the lesser powers were heavily engaged in trying to manage some of those conflicts on the periphery and mitigate their fallout. These became known as peacekeeping, peace support operations or operations other than war, but not “war.”
In the shadows of NATO’s apparent victory in that ostensible war, the Cold one, noted scholars were anticipating that the face of war was changing. As the Cold War unravelled and peace appeared to be breaking out all over the place, Samuel P. Huntington warned of an impending “clash of civilizations,” the rise of conflict based on culture, ethnicity and religion. A similar theory was offered by Israeli historian and military theorist Martin Van Crevald in his book The Transformation of War, which was pivotal in my own military metamorphosis as a warrior-scholar. As the title implies, Van Crevald prognosticated the emergence of Huntingtonian-like threats and so-called low-intensity conflicts that differed hugely from the conventional interpretation of war and that would pose a huge challenge for conventional forces to deal with. The details of these and other such hypotheses have been the subject of heated debate amongst military philosophers and pundits, but as a fan of Bruce Lee I tend to follow his martial art canon and “absorb what is useful” from all those analyses of contemporary conflict.
As simple soldier I liked the operationally relevant picture the theory of USMC University professor William Lind painted, that of fourth generation warfare. It put an edge on these theories that really resonated with me as a war-fighter. In short, Lind talks about post-Westphalian warfare that has evolved through four generations. In the first generation, warfare manifested itself in the form of masses of soldiers armed with musket, ball and bayonet. To generate maximum combat power at decisive points, armies marched around en mass in rank and file. As the Industrial Age matured and weaponry became much more lethal and far reaching, troops had to seek protection in the terrain to survive. This led to the trench warfare that emerged during the American Civil War and characterized World War One, which Lind coined as the second generation. The advent of the tank broke the stalemate of WWI and later became the theme of the Second World War, which has dominated military thinking ever since and defined Lind’s third generation of warfare. In the fourth generation of warfare, the Internet, commercially available broadband communications, worldwide high-speed travel, satellite imagery, and the liberalization of technologies that could lead to the development of weapons of mass destruction, all of which used to be the soul domain of the militaries of only the most sophisticated nations, have greatly empowered international terrorists and transnational criminals to become serious threats to sovereign states. These combine to constitute fourth generation warfare (4GW).
As such, the world finds itself in a global 4GW war, albeit an undeclared one, against non-state actors. ISIL, like the Taliban and al-Qaeda before them, is an example of a 4GW threat of mammoth proportions. ISIL has struck terror in the hearts of millions through its use of the Internet and social media to recruit suicidal madmen to kill masses of people in Europe, North America and elsewhere. And while our military keeps insisting that “boots on the ground” in Iraq will be required to defeat ISIL, a fifth generation of warfare has been lurking behind the scenes as a full-on cyber war rages around the world. It is well known, for example, that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons suffered a severe setback due to a cyber attack — the infiltration of a computer worm or virus that apparently destroyed over a thousand of that country’s nuclear centrifuges. Since then, Iran has allegedly risen to become one of the world’s cyber superpowers alongside the United States, Russia and China. Cyber warfare is not restricted to attacks against government institutions and military installations, as power grids and the private sector also pose lucrative targets for cyber attacks. And as we have seen with the appearance of “Anonymous” on the scene, non-state actors again are challenging the technological dominance the United States and other states and aspiring superpowers.
With all of this percolating in the background, our prime minister has advocated a return to sunny ways and the good old days of peacekeeping, with his CDS insisting that we aren’t at war in the Middle East. So what? Does our understanding of the apparent transformation of war at the strategic level challenge that assertion and call into question how our government is dealing with contemporary conflicts? If other people have declared war and committed acts of contemporary war against us, for whatever reasons (which we will get to in later articles), are we not at war? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are we pre-occupied with regional Industrial Age solutions to global Information Age problems?
I would like to hear your views. If your contribution is included in my next installment of The Full Send, I will send you a copy of my book Rude Awakening: The Government’s Secret War Against Canada’s Veterans.