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Ideas will be crucial to victory

The war on terror will be a long-running global conflict along the dimensions of the Cold War and it will demand from the West a response that far transcends military and security tactics, by seeking victory on the basis of values and ideas.

Western nations such as Australia face the prospect of a long, difficult challenge that will demand sacrifices from people, not just the military, and require a strategy that appeals to and persuades people, just as they eventually decided that communism was a failed ideology.

"This is fundamentally a cultural issue; the military plays a supporting role," says recently retired Australian military officer David Kilcullen, who has spent the past several months as a special adviser on counter-terrorism in the office of the US Defence Secretary.

Kilcullen was the keynote speaker last weekend on the theme War and Conflict in the 21st Century at the Centre for Independent Studies' annual Consilium, drawing on personal experiences living with tribes and insurgent groups in Asia and the Middle East, serving in East Timor and as an adviser to Indonesian special forces.

The paradigm he offered at the CIS meeting – attended by several federal cabinet ministers and Labor shadow ministers – is a conflict on a scale that has not been outlined by either the government or in public debate. He was speaking in a personal capacity.

Kilcullen's diagnosis is that two epic trends drive the new warfare, globalisation and US conventional military dominance.

Globalisation has created blowback. Islamist terrorists, G8 protesters, environmentalists, narco-insurgents and others oppose, in different ways, the US-led model of globalisation because it attacks their values, interests and way of life. America's unassailable military superiority dictates that its enemies fight the US where it is weak, not where it is strong: that is, by unconvention- al means.

In military terms this means that US enemies "must adopt unconventional, asymmetric and unorthodox approaches in order to oppose Western interests". This is the path of Islamic terrorism. It relies on networks or the Muslim diaspora. The point about a hostile network is that it cannot be replaced with nothing. It needs to be replaced by a friendly network, but this is a daunting task. (Witness how the US has dismantled much of al-Qa'ida's structure since 9/11, yet the Islamists disappear only to re-emerge.)

Kilcullen says: "They go below US power into the realm of terrorism, insurgency or civil unrest, or they go above US conventional power into the realm of (weapons of mass destruction). This is what links all the groups opposing US power: seeking to avoid US strength via asymmetric or irregular warfare."

This warfare is cheap, difficult to counter and often effective. Kilcullen didn't make this point, but Iraq is now a study in how the US, despite its conventional superiority, is being humiliated by an insurgency that is a template for Islamists across the globe. Where will they strike after Iraq? Perhaps in Saudi Arabia, or perhaps in the vulnerable cities of Europe.

The US is caught in a dilemma. It must maintain its conventional superiority to manage the rise of China, yet the core threat it faces is unconventional. The US National Intelligence Council said in its December 2004 report: "The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years. The likelihood of great-power conflict escalating into total war in the next 15 years is lower than at any time in the past century."

The logic seems clear: any enemy, not just Islamists, opposing the US will resort to irregular warfare as long as the US retains its conventional superiority.

Kilcullen says: "The war on terror will be a conflict on the scale of the Cold War: numerous proxy conflicts fought out over decades all over the world, driven by a single large- scale civilisational or societal dynamic and involving two opposing global world views.

"In order to win we need to do three things: Stop conceptualising the war as primarily a military or law enforcement problem; it is a whole-of-society issue. Second, put as much or more effort into the constructive activity of building networks of trust and liberal institutions that meet people's needs, as we put into the destructive activity of eliminating terrorist networks.

"Third, change the way military forces do business. The tactical features of this type of war include failed and failing states, urban environments, complex terrain, a greatly increased emphasis on armies, police forces and intelligence services (the only forces that can effectively come to grips with irregular enemies), individualised lethality (where access to advanced weaponry is proliferating to private individuals), pervasive media presence, where the media becomes a de facto combatant, and the privatisation of war via contractors and private security companies."

This demands a military response in small, agile teams, drawing upon information feeds, with cultural and linguistic ability, and able to switch between different roles such as active combat, civil affairs, peacekeeping and humanitarian activities.

Kilcullen's three-point program for victory is daunting in the extreme. It highlights that this new conflict needs a road map to guide democratic societies under assault. The debate post-London is marked by community revulsion, yet a profound strategic uncertainty.

The Islamist crusade is an attack on the legitimacy of the democratic state, notably the state's claim to protect its citizens. This war is not about territory but about societies. The targets are not armies but ordinary people. The enemy is external as well as internal. The Islamists seek not to extract a concession but to extinguish the idea of the modern liberal state.

The issue is whether the democratic multicultural state can survive as the 21st century end-of-history model. Its defenders, now divided, must find the right balance between force and persuasion.


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Original piece is http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,16204634%255E12250,00.html


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