About the Author
Dr. Sean McFate is a professor of strategy at National Defence Academy and Georgetown
University’s School of Foreign Service. He served as an officer in the 82nd Airborne Division of
U.S. Special forces and as a private contractor.
He is the co-author of two novels, Shadow War and Deep Black, and some non-fiction, The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, and the New Rules of War: How America Can Win—Against Russia, China, and Other Threats (Morrow) which has been called “The Freakonomics of modern warfare.” It was named a “Book of the Year” by The Economist, The Times [UK], and The Evening Standard, and is included on West Point’s
“Commandant’s Reading List.”
Summary of the Book
The New Rules of War is a brilliant strategic bible for the people interested to know about
warfare, its tactics, strategies and what the future holds for us in terms of conflicts and battles. The book doesn’t make prophecies about the future of war but takes the example of past and present to give a glimpse of war strategies which can be used in the future against the enemies.
There are some points which we might not fully accept and the author meaningfully tells us why. The book takes inspiration from Great War strategists like Clausewitz and Sun Tzu and how the west, particularly the US, is actually lagging behind militarily to Russia and China due to conventional ways of fighting.
It debunks the myths and the conventional formulas of fighting and winning wars and sheds light upon the subject that if we don’t move ahead, we won’t be able to catch our enemies who have already moved ahead and picked up new ways of fighting.
About the book and the rules
War is inevitable and timeless. Some things about war changes- tactics, methodology, strategies, weapons, etc, but the nature of war remains the same. Humans have been fighting in the past, present and unfortunately will fight in future as well. But what will be the future of war? There are three types of war futurists-
- Nihilists, who sees the future to be Hobbesian like World War Z, Mad Max movies, etc;
- patriots, who are heavily influenced by Hollywood movies or fictional novels to fight for the flag; or
- Technophiles, those who think wars will be fought with machines like terminators and calls them the most gullible group. Sean McFate, stunningly describes the top 10 new rules of war in
RULE 1: CONVENTIONAL WAR IS DEAD
Conventional warfare is the war between two or more nations or states, there is a clear enemy distinguished from the civilian population, e.g. World Wars. The most significant actor in winning these kinds of wars are just brute force and military might. However, the war has moved on and nobody fights conventionally anymore which is why the west has been facing nothing but frustration since winning WWII. Be it Vietnam, which turned Communist, Korea, which is still a stalemate, Iraq, where situation has turned worse or Afghanistan, where despite US presence since 2001, Taliban still controls half the territory.
While the US is living in past glories of World Wars, the terrorists have moved on with different strategies, tactics and procedures of war, which is why US forces in various regions are facing nothing but disappointments.
To counter this, the author has explained various points like abandoning buying of conventional war weapons costing billions of taxpayers’ money and to reflect the military tactics of Special
Ops, which should be brought to the mainstream because these forces do not fight conventionally and that is why they are used in counterinsurgencies and are mostly successful.
Another important point is that the US shouldn’t participate directly in a war which isn’t there to fight, like VIETNAM WAR, but instead train the forces of that country to fight the bad guys. This will save the money and most importantly, the lives of their own soldiers.
Lastly, funds to be reallocated to civilian agencies to fight. Firepower does not win you wars anymore, you need to cut the resources to your enemies and financially strangle them to death..
RULE 2: TECHNOLOGY WILL NOT SAVE US
This is my personal favourite as I’ve always thought about this topic.
Ever heard of the US’s F-35 Fighter jet? It is considered to be the stealthiest and smartest war machine ever made with 1.5 trillion dollars going into making this plane- more than Russia’s GDP, and costing around 120 million dollars per plane. Sounds cool, right?
Wrong. In recent mock air battles, it was out performed by 40 year old F-15 fighter jets in nearly every field and astonishingly, it couldn’t even perform dogfight, the crux of any fighter jet.
Sometimes the pilots have to reboot its multimillion radar systems while in the air and as it is a coded system, it can also be hacked. But the most serious of them all is that the F-35 has no
combat experience and sits on the runway despite the US missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But even then, the US military wants to spend billions of dollars in buying 2400+ of these machines.
Cool looking gadgets do not win wars. If that were so, the US would have won in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc. and not gotten outsmarted by a low level brain washed enemy hiding in caves.
Tech is not a bad thing but overreliance on it can be fatal. The military needs to invest in people as it has been observed many times that sailors are not taught the basic seamanship skills like navigating through stars, which becomes dangerous when their radar doesn’t work. Grey matter is more important than silicon and it will always be so. Humans have made tech so they can outsmart it as well which leaves the country vulnerable to enemies who could be high tech hackers.
“Those who live by technology die by it too”
RULE 3: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WAR OR PEACE- BOTH COEXIST, ALWAYS
For the US, who fights conventionally, think that if there is no peace there will be war or vice versa. However, countries like China and Russia are rising globally because they know that both war and peace can coexist.
Taking the example of China, their grand strategy is called “Three Warfare ” strategy. This
succeeds as it is a war disguised as peace and makes them conquer territory non militarily, like in the South China Sea. They purely follow Sun Tzu, using psychological warfare on its neighbours like India, and on the US. They use many psychological methods against its enemies which involves escalate to de escalate and the author describes it with various examples. They make the enemy doubt its own ability and force its top leaders in making big blunders. Its
strategies include diplomacy, false narratives, harassment, control of the UN, etc.
The author also explains the Grand Strategies of different nations like that of the US, UK and China.
RULE 4: HEARTS AND MINDS DO NOT MATTER
Insurgents are armed social movements that want to topple the government. They dream of leading their men, being their messiah, being worshipped like Stalin and Mao. The more you force crush these insurgents the more their following will increase.
So, you fight politically and the military might come second. Conventional counterinsurgency (COINistas) cannot bribe the people of the country and change their ideology by building roads and buildings. The author provides 3 COIN strategies to succeed-
- “Drain the swamp” strategy: Involves highest collateral damage and doesn’t regard the lives of civilians. US Army Green Beret had a saying in the Vietnam War, “if you grab them by the balls, their hearts will follow.”
- “Export and relocate” strategy: Take the people revolting against you and relocate them to an area where they are in the minority.
- “Import and dilute” strategy: Diluting the native population with your own.
The best way to kill insurgencies is to use all these methods at once. And another method will be induction of foreign legions to replace US troops in foreign land.
RULE 5: THE BEST WEAPONS DO NOT FIRE BULLETS
In modern warfare, influence and ideology is more important than firing bullets and collateral damage. You kill one terrorist; three will come to replace him. That is why despite countries like India, US, Afghanistan, which are suffering from terrorist problems are not able to do much to eradicate it because they are using conventional methods of firing bullets while their enemies, who have no high tech gadgets, are easily killing security forces left, right and centre.
Influencing the minds of people is how success comes. Just make yourself look cool like how Apple’s MacBook commercial ridiculed a normal PC by showing it lethargic and rude to its customers, etc, on TV commercials.
RULE 6: MERCENARIES WILL RETURN
The author dwells into this topic and ensures the reader that mercenaries are back, how does he know? Because he was one.
Renting force is cheaper than maintaining it as mercenaries are more economical and they mostly consist of the deadliest warriors from around the globe.
Be it Alexander the Great, Rome or Great Britain. All used mercenaries at some point of time and they were extremely useful.
Once the Nigerian government rented mercenaries to fight terror group Boko Haram, who had abducted 276 schoolgirls and killed more than 10,000 people in the country. Those mercenaries weren’t what movies show you, they were a real private army with Special Forces teams and drove out Boko Haram in a few weeks. However, even terrorists can hire mercenaries as mercenaries are just looking for money and not power or land.
So, in future, who knows, maybe Google will also hire an army for itself too.
RULE 7: NEW TYPES OF WORLD POWERS WILL RULE
This is a world where big billionaires and private companies and even the government can hire private armies for their use to fight for them. The ultra rich may become the new world power. In 2015, just 62 billionaires possessed more wealth than the poorest half off planet.
Organized criminals can also become superpowers as many criminals or drug barons are counted in Forbes’s list of billionaires. Drug cartels already exist in places like Mexico and
Terrorism can also become worse as they might be able to rent these private mercenaries for their own use and can surprise the conventional war fighters.
RULE 8: THERE WILL BE WARS WITHOUT STATES
This is pretty obvious and the author gives an example of how the term “war” has been misunderstood in the west. Most of them do not count drug cartels as a threat because they don’t fight in the conventional way of guns and bullets and there are no nations involved- it’s just between different drug gangs.
Thing is, these cartels are regional superpowers, remember how once Pablo Escobar saved the economy of Columbia?
These drug cartels have GDP higher than most countries and they thrived during the 2008 recession while people in rich countries were dying. Also, they fight like empires for land, resources and people. To defeat them, the author suggests methods of containment, deterrence, and military punishment.
“War” doesn’t have to be fought between 2 or more nations. There are wars between criminal gangs, drug cartel, pirates, etc, but they do not get attention because this is not what conventional fighters like to call war. The Rwanda genocide killed more than 800,000 people in 90 days but this wasn’t called war because it wasn’t a conventional fight and there wasn’t any “state” involved.
The author has given strategies to curb these unconventional fighters, for the fighters.
RULE 9: SHADOW WARS WILL DOMINATE
“The shadow is mightier than a sword”
Future warriors will be masked and will offer deniability like Russia and China is doing to fulfil their needs. Information is weaponized like how Russia took over Crimea by first denying any military presence in the region only to later confirm “yes we were there”.
China is a nation of lies, there are no rights for the citizens to question its government, people are disappeared by the government officials who are critical of the government and China’s obvious denial of military violations, be it in Pangong Tso or South China Sea.
“All warfare is deception”- Sun Tzu
You won’t win by direct approach like in WWI and WWII, Wit always beats muscle. Modern war is information based and this can be weaponized either by the good guys or the bad ones. This can make or break the country and the west needs to understand it.
RULE 10: VICTORY IS FUNGIBLE
War is an armed politics and the only ground where you can announce victory is by fulfilling what you set out to do. This is where the west is lagging behind since WWII.
The Tet offence was a military failure but a propaganda success and that is how the North
Vietnamese were able to drive out the American forces because they showed the Americans at home that US Forces weren’t able to capture or succeed anywhere in Vietnam. Thus, Vietnam wasn’t lost on the battlefield, it was lost at home.
“Victory belongs to the cunning, not the strongest”
The Vietcong knew that in a conventional war they would be crushed by the Americans and that is why they were one able to surprise the Americans by fighting unconventionally- propaganda, guerrilla warfare, etc. You need to be more skilful to win wars.
The author has given the “TACTIZATION” of strategy and how it can be used against the enemy. Future leaders should be war artists who could be effective and creative.