Bruce Berkowitz is author of The New Face of War: How War Will Be Fought in the 21st Century and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior analyst at RAND. He began his career at the Central Intelligence Agency. Berkowitz recently discussed his latest book and the changing face of warfare as seen in the Iraq war with NRO.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is “the new face of warfare” and how long has it been around?
Bruce BERKOWITZ: The “new face of war” refers to how technology is overturning many of the basic principles of warfare. The most important development is the role of computers and communications. It’s changing how armies organize themselves for battle. Speed is usually more important than firepower and mass, and information is often more important than either.
War now takes place at a much faster pace, and commanders and their forces have to be more agile. Also, the front as we have known it is rapidly disappearing because armies can, using modern communications, deploy behind enemy lines more easily and effectively.
LOPEZ: There is no such thing as the “front,” you write in your book. And yet, we watched this war on TV, talking about various reporters being on various frontlines. But many of these fronts are actually computer screens, aren’t they? How much of this war is conducted nowhere we could see?
BERKOWITZ: Many of the most important aspects of war now take place away from the front — in the computers and information systems you describe. It’s all about getting an information edge over your adversary.
But even though many parts of modern war occur in electronic circuits, it’s important that we never forget that war is about killing and injuring people, and often causing terrible destruction. War is always a serious matter, and that’s why we should never consider undertaking it lightly. That’s one thing that even the most-advanced technology doesn’t change.
LOPEZ: Do naysayer armchair generals not get the tech-heavy aspect of this war, to some extent, partially because they are inundated with an incomplete view of the war?
BERKOWITZ: I think a lot of it is cultural. Military organizations have always depended heavily on culture to motivate and guide their people. Once in place, culture is hard to change, and it certainly changes more slowly than modern technology.
LOPEZ: Is the new face of warfare more moral?
BERKOWITZ: The morality of warfare always depends mainly on how it is waged. To be sure, though, the new face of war presents new issues. The tactics of terrorists and real armies are starting to resemble each other, mainly because so much of the new technology used for warfare is commercially available.
Don’t misunderstand me, though. There’s no moral equivalence between what real armies do and what terrorists do.
The difference is in how they fight. Real armies avoid noncombatants whenever possible, for example, and take responsibility for their actions. Terrorists do exactly the opposite — they intentionally target innocents, and try to obscure responsibility for their actions.
LOPEZ: Does our new way of warfare put our military at a disadvantage when we see such base, terrorism-tactics from the other side?
BERKOWITZ: It’s not necessarily a disadvantage. There is simply a constant challenge to stay ahead. That’s why we need to keep reexamining our tactics and improving our technology. There’s no “last move” that wins the competition for good.
LOPEZ: When you hear about things like a Russian company selling GPS jammers to the Iraqi regime: Is that potentially highly damaging — for an enemy to have such things?
BERKOWITZ: That particular case was probably over-hyped in the press, and I wouldn’t want to comment on it now in any case. But you always have to assume that your adversary is going to try to jam whatever electronic system you use.
LOPEZ: What do you think of the embedment program in this type of warfare? It gives everyone watching, of course, an incomplete view of what is going on (thankfully). Overall, is it helpful? Does it likely get in the way?
BERKOWITZ: I think embedding reporters into combat units was a great idea. Anything that connects the public to the troops is a good thing, and especially today when most Americans have little direct contact with their military services. I think it will also give the reporters a better understanding of the armed services and how they operate — and, of course, a better appreciation of our men and women in uniform.
LOPEZ: When this war is through, do you foresee some major revamping in terms of more reliance on more new technology?
BERKOWITZ: It is not just a matter of relying more or less on technology. It’s a problem of understanding how the new technology changes how we need to prepare for war and using it appropriately and effectively.
LOPEZ: Some book-talk: What’s your favorite story/fact in your book?
BERKOWITZ: I have several favorites; I really had a great time writing the book because there are so many interesting stories out there about how information technology has changed warfare. But there is one about Tom Rona that I especially like.
Tom was the originator of the term “information war” — the idea that attacking computers and communications can provide a key advantage in modern warfare.
Tom was a staff scientist for Boeing. His wife, Monique, ran one of the early computer time-sharing companies in Seattle during the 1970s. She had hired some local kids — including Bill Gates and Paul Allen — to help out.
The boys hacked the system on occasion, and that seems to have helped Tom to realize how, if you could hack a civilian computer, you could do the same with a military computer — and that could have decisive effects.