Military might alone can’t win a war

In the modern warfare, media and social networking have gained a strategic position. Through these networks, the enemy mind can be controlled. Soft power has made it easier to reach out to a larger audience.

By Amna Ejaz Rafi

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Published: Sun 13 Feb 2022, 9:38 PM

In the evolving political theatre, where economic integration, regional connectivity and trans-regionalism are fast emerging as global trends, the phenomenon of war has also expanded to multifarious domains. The battle ground is no more confined to mountain ranges or deserts alone. Similarly, the conventional strength is not the only criteria determining a country’s military prowess. The security capabilities have moved beyond the physical domain. The armed forces do not rely (entirely) on the physical manoeuvring, rather the technologically empowered war tools are the high data speed processing, robotics, quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber space activities. The escalating impact of a cyber-attack can be devastating, it can cause an industrial collapse and can also paralyse the state machinery. These developments are an outcome of the technological advancements.

In the modern warfare, media and social networking sites have gained a strategic position. Through these networks, the enemy mind can be controlled. Soft power has made it easier to reach out to a larger audience. Technological access is another area which has equipped the countries and the disgruntled elements to further their vested / nefarious agendas. Often, the deprivation in people, based on their ethnic, religious or economic lines, is targeted to provoke resentment. This disturbs internal peace and at times becomes detrimental to a country’s economic growth. Such enemy tactics do not require physical presence of troops. It is the technological prowess which enables the actor to reach out to the audience of target country. The economic damage which it causes is no less to a physical attack led by troops. In extreme cases, the societal resilience is broken and people start perceiving themselves as downtrodden.

Seeing the dynamics of war in the past, there have been instances where the strategic manoeuvring has led to victory. For instance, Germany’s series of attacks on Spain (1936), Poland (1939), Belgium, the Netherlands and France (1940) involved a ‘mobile strategy’. Tanks and aircrafts targeted the enemy lines. The war strategy was coined as ‘Blitzkrieg,’ a lightning attack. In all the encounters, Germany was the defeater. The focus of the lightning attack was on ‘quick fight’ and short duration of war. Due to this strategic foresight, the German economy did not suffer. These military encounters proved that the strength of economic stability is not only essential in waging a war but also in winning it. While comparing the past warfare strategy with the digital warfare tactics, a lot has changed owing to the technological prowess. However, the basic idea behind the act of war is the same i.e. ‘a knockout blow’. Germany, by employing the Blitzkrieg tactics, caught the enemy states by surprise. The enemy states were simultaneously faced with ground and aerial fronts.

Applying the same principle in today’s era of globalisation and digitisation, states are competing on multiple fronts. New battle fields are open; overt and covert operations are launched to outmanoeuvre the opponent. Psychological impairment as a whole is done through documentaries, dramas and movies whereas specific societal groups are targeted through subversion and other covert means. All this is being done in an organised manner and the play field is a vacuum in the target country created by its weaknesses and unjust practices. This inner weakness is exploited by outside forces to widen the rift within society.

Due to the internal disharmony, the state is not in a position to fight back the adversarial interference from outside. In such a situation, the target country is defeated without a physical attack. Another tactic is to target the enemy’s fragile economic condition. With a weak economy, the country would face political isolation which, in turn, would sow internal discord. In such a scenario, the enemy is disarmed through political isolation and economic sanctions. To counter adversarial tendencies, military preparedness alone is not sufficient; economic strength and diplomatic positioning are equally important. The absence of any of this will weaken a country’s defence and political standing.

Amna Ejaz Rafi is research associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

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