War: How It's Being Fought, and Where It Might Next be Fought

by Navin Vaswani

Modern warfare is making increased use of special forces, and super smart weapons. Future conflict zones are not where you'd expect. We have a collection of background articles for you. And, in the video player on the right, you can watch three interviews by Steve Paikin with three of the top experts on future military conflict.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor is an expert on the rise of special operations forces in U.S. military circles. It’s a pleasure to have Colonel Macgregor back on the program. What I love about him is that he always, as the kids say, “keeps it real.”

The rise of special ops is all over the news, and here’s some background reading that I found useful. Remember, at The Agenda, we’re always reading.

Newsweek: Navy SEALs: Obama’s Secret Army
The New York Times: Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces
Council on Foreign Relations: Defense Spending, Special Operations, and Secrecy
Chicago Tribune: Special Ops: Obama’s Election-Year Gamble: President’s new strategy relies more on elite commandos

One last thought about special ops: Somewhere out there is a member of the elite U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6, who put a bullet through Osama bin Laden’s head. What I’ll always remember reading about the raid that killed bin Laden is that after the mission was completed, President Barack Obama met with the SEAL Team 6, including the troops that were on the mission, but he didn’t ask who pulled the trigger; he didn’t ask who shot and killed the most wanted man, arguably, in U.S. history. I would have asked. I would have wanted to know. I would have shaken his hand, and said, "Nice shot." 

Interview number two: Peter W. Singer, senior fellow and director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. His specialty is drone warfare, and how technology is changing what we think of as war.

Both Colonel Macgregor and Mr. Singer bring up the point that acts of war – drone strikes, or the use of Navy SEALs in missions across the globe – are occurring, but without the discussions that normally accompany acts of war. In the years since 9/11, the unconventional enemy – the terrorist – has changed what we think of as war. And I don’t think that can be denied. America’s been “at war” for more than 10 years now. Canada was “at war” in Afghanistan for years. Being “at war” simply doesn’t mean what it used to; it doesn’t resonate with the greater population like it used to. How war is being fought is fundamentally changing.

Here’s some background reading on drone warfare:

The New York Times: Do Drones Undermine Democracy?
Los Angeles Times: New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?
Foreign Policy: My Drone War
Foreign PolicyThe Obama Doctrine: How the president’s drone war is backfiring
The Guardian: With its deadly drones, the US is fighting a coward’s war

Patrick Cronin is Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He discusses the geostrategic significance of the South China Sea. According to Robert Kaplan, Cronin’s colleague at CNAS, “The South China Sea Is the Future of Conflict,” and Cronin agrees. Kaplan and Cronin collaborated on a CNAS report that is worth your time: "Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China and the South China Sea."

With China aspiring to become a significant naval power, and India having blue-water navy dreams of their own, the region -- especially the Strait of Malacca, already one of the most important shipping lanes in the world -- is only going to grow in importance in the coming years. And the U.S. recognizes the importance of the region. They have a number of allies in the Pacific, and recently announced that American troops will be stationed in Australia. Researching the topic, I was reminded of the game of Risk. Except, you know, that this is real life. 

Complicating matters, the South China Sea is believed to be rich in natural resources. The debate is not whether territorial disputes are going to happen; they will. They're already happening. The debate is how the friction between competing countries will be managed. The South China Sea isn't often thought of as being strategically important, but as Mr. Cronin points out, it is the “geographical centre” of the world economy, and the place “where globalization and geopolitics collide.”

I hope you enjoy these interviews. Again, you can watch them in the video player in the right-hand column. 

Follow me on Twitter @nav_vaswani