About the Author: The author is a 2020 graduate of National Law University, Delhi. She is currently pursuing an LLM with specialization in Human Rights and Criminal law from National Law Institute University, Bhopal.
Editor’s note: This post is part of the Reflection Series showcasing exceptional student essays from CCG-NLUD’s Seminar Course on Technology & National Security Law.
In the present essay, the author reflects upon the following question:
According to Luttwak, “The entire realm of strategy is pervaded by a paradoxical logic very different from the ordinary ‘linear’ logic by which we live in all other spheres of life” (at p. 2) Can you explain the relationship between technological developments and the conduct of war through the lens of this paradoxical logic?
Introducing Luttwak’s Paradoxical Logic of Strategy
While weakness invites the threat of attack, technologically advanced nations with substantial investment in better military technology and R&D that are capable of retaliation, have the power to persuade weaker nations engaged in war to disengage or face consequences. Initiating his discussion on the paradox of war, Luttwak mentions the famous roman maxim si vis pacem, para bellum which translates to – if you want peace, prepare war. Simply understood, readiness to fight can ensure peace. He takes the example of the Cold War to discuss the practicality of this paradoxical proposition. Countries that spend large resources in acquiring and maintaining nuclear weapons resolve to deter from first use. Readiness at all times, to retaliate against an attack is a good defensive stance as it showcases peaceful intent while discouraging attacks altogether. An act of developing anti-nuclear defensive technology – by which a nation waging war may be able to conduct a nuclear attack and defend itself upon retaliation – showcases provocativeness on its part.
The presence of nuclear weapons, which cause large scale destruction, have helped avoid any instance of global war since 1945. This is despite prolonged periods of tensions between many nations across the globe. Nuclear weapons are an important reason for the maintenance of international peace. This is observable with India and its border disputes with China and Pakistan where conflicts have been frequent and extremely tense leading to many deaths. Yet these issues have not escalated to large scale or a full-fledged war because of an awareness across all parties that the other has sufficient means to engage in war and shall be willing to use the means when push comes to shove.
Using the example of standardisation of antiaircraft missiles, Luttwak points out that ‘‘in war a competent enemy will be able to identify the weapon’s equally homogeneous performance boundaries and then proceed to evade interception by transcending those boundaries… what is true of anti aircraft missiles is just as true of any other machine of war that must function in direct interaction with reacting enemy – that is, the vast majority of weapons.”
Luttwak’s Levels of Strategy
The five levels of strategy as traced by Luttwak are:
- Technical interplay of specific weapons and counter-weapons.
- Tactical combat of the forces that employ those particular weapons.
- Operational level that governs the consequences of what is done and not done tactically.
- Higher level of theatre strategy, where the consequences of stand alone operations are felt in the overall conduct of offence and defence.
- The highest level of grand strategy, where military activities take place within the broader context of international politics, domestic governance, economic activity, and related ancillaries.
These five levels of strategy create a defined hierarchy but outcomes are not simply imposed in a one-way transmission from top to bottom. These levels of strategy interact with one another in a two-way process. In this way, strategy has two dimensions: the vertical dimension and the horizontal dimension. The vertical dimension comprises of the different levels that interact with one another; and the horizontal dimension comprises of the dynamic logic that unfolds concurrently within each level.
Situating Technological Advancements Within Luttwak’s Levels of Strategy
In the application of paradoxical logic at the highest level of grand strategy, we observe that breakthrough technological developments only provide an incremental benefit for a short period of time. The problem with technological advancement giving advantage to one participant in war is that this advantage is only initial and short-lasting. In discussing the development of efficient technology, he gives an example of the use of Torpedo boats in warfare which was a narrow technological specialisation with high efficiency. Marginal technological advancement of pre-existing tech is commonplace occurrences in militaries. The torpedo naval ship was a highly specialised weapon i.e. a breakthrough technological development which was capable of causing more damage to larger battleships by attacking enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes. The problem with such concentrated technology is that it is vulnerable to countermeasures. The torpedo boats were very effective in their early use but were quickly met with the countermeasure of torpedo beat destroyers designed specially to destroy torpedo boats. This initial efficiency and technical advantage and its ultimate vulnerability to countermeasures is the expression of paradoxical logic in its dynamic form.
When the opponent uses narrowly incremental technology to cause damage to more expensive and larger costlier weapons, in the hopes of causing a surprise attack with the newly developed weapon, a reactionary increment in one’s weaponry is enough to neutralise the effects of such innovative technologically advanced weapon(s). The technological developments which have the effect of paradoxical conduct in surprising the opponent and finding them unprepared to respond in events of attacks, can be easily overcome due to their narrowly specialised nature themselves. Such narrowly specialised new tech are not equipped to accommodate broad counter-countermeasures and hence the element of surprise attached with such incremental technology can be nullified. These reciprocal force-development effects of acts against torpedo-like weapons make the responding party’s defence stronger by increasing their ability to fight and neutralise specialty weapons. Luttwak observed a similar response to the development of Anti-tank missiles which was countered by having infantry accompany tanks.
The aforementioned forces create a distinctly homogenous and cyclical process which span the development of technology for military purposes, and concomitant countermeasures. In the same breadth, one side’s reactionary measure also reaches a culmination point and can be vulnerable to newer technical advancement for executing surprise attacks. Resources get wasted in responding to a deliberate offensive action in which the offensive side may be aware of defensive capabilities and it is just aiming to drain resources and cause initial shock. This can initiate another cycle of the dynamic paradoxical strategy. Within the scheme of the grand strategy, what looks like deadly and cheap wonder weapons at the technical level; fails due to the existence of an active thinking opponent. These opponents can deploy their own will to engage in response strategies and that can serve as a dent to the initial strategic assumptions and logic.
In summary, a disadvantage at the technical level can sometimes also be overcome at the tactical level of grand strategy . Paradoxical logic is present in war and strategy, and use of technology in conduct of war also observes the dynamic interplay of paradoxical logic. Modern States have pursued technological advancements in ICT domains and this has increased their dependence on high-end cyber networks for communication, storage of information etc. Enemy States or third parties that may not be equipped with equally strong manpower or ammunition for effective adversarial action may adopt tactical methods of warfare by introducing malware into the network systems of a State’s critical infrastructure of intelligence, research facilities or stock markets which are vulnerable to cyber-attacks and where States’ inability in attribution of liability may pose additional problems.
*Views expressed in the blog are personal and should not be attributed to the institution.