The Civilianization of War

The Civilianization of War

From Ukraine to the South China Sea, states are using civilian proxies to counter the might of modern militaries.


The rules of civilianized warfare

The United States and other Western countries need to better prepare for civilianized warfare. After over a decade of fighting large-scale insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, one would think they would be well-prepared by now. However, the lackluster results from those two campaigns indicates that something is still missing from the Western response to civilianized warfare. This is even more odd when one considers how much the United States itself has recently civilianized its own military operations For example, the civilian Central Intelligence Agency runs one of the larger and more efficient air forces in the world, while the Pentagon and State Department have been prodigious employers of active and heavily armed civilian security contractors.


Even so, the thought of civilianized military operations remains anathema to policymakers in the West. One of the great virtues of having organized and uniformed military services is to deliberately separate combatants from noncombatants in order to spare the later as much as possible from the horrors of modern warfare. That system, in place among Western combatants for several centuries, broke down as soon as those resisting a Western occupation army found themselves searching for any kind of competitive advantage.

The logic that drove defensive insurgencies to civilianize has now been taken up by those looking for better offensive options against modern military firepower. The deadly efficiency of military firepower has caused the role of civilians to come full circle. Civilians needed to be protected against firepower. Then insurgents used civilians as a shield against firepower. Now civilians are becoming a attacking sword, flummoxing the use of firepower. These are the new rules. The United States and its allies in the West will need to edit their rulebooks, or find themselves outwitted by the new rules.

Robert Haddick is an independent contractor at U.S. Special Operations Command. He writes here in a personal capacity. In September 2014, U.S. Naval Institute Press will publish “Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific,” Haddick’s book on the rise of China’s military power and U.S. strategy in East Asia.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Mstyslav Chernov. CC BY-SA 3.0.