The Future of War

If WWIII is not, as I argue, possible in our time, then what is the future of war?

Critics of my stance on WWIII and my opposition to joining the modern American military fall broadly into two camps. The first accuses me of failing to address relevant facts about modern war. The other holds that I lack a positive vision for what is possible. I do not, in this latter view, explain what I think should be done.

To address the first school of criticism, just because I think WWIII is not possible does not mean I think war is impossible. War will continue to be an endemic part of human life. I hold, however, that large-scale conventional war between great powers is not going to be a feature of America’s coming conflicts.

Insurgencies, proxy wars, civil wars, tribal conflicts, and ideological mass slaughter represent the future of armed conflict in the 21st century—not grand set-piece battles like Normandy or the Somme.

Put more simply, we are not going to see tank battles on the scale of Kursk in 1943 in the 21st century. I do not see how any semi-rational modern nuclear-armed state could fight such a battle with another great power. If such a battle were fought between nuclear-armed states, it would be utterly meaningless and a sign of profound cognitive delusion at political, strategic, operational, and tactical levels.

Even if such a conventional conflict were fought, it could not bear meaningful strategic fruit. Any state that possesses nuclear weapons owns a trump card that ultimately serves as a backstop against any existential conventional threat.

Conventional war in the 21st century so far has been very limited. The best example of such a conflict is between Ukraine and Russia. But that war is between a nuclear-armed power and a non-nuclear-armed power. That is the only reason this conflict is even possible. If Ukraine had nuclear warheads, it would not be in a conventional conflict with the Russians. Indeed, one of the causes of the Russo-Ukraine War is Putin’s desire to keep NATO (and her nuclear warheads) out of Russia’s vicinity.

The Russians themselves are unlikely to use nuclear weapons for the same reason that no other great power in our time wishes to use them: the risk of such weapons is enormous. Nuclear weapons turn every negotiation between great powers into a high-stakes game of chicken. It is very hard to create or maintain any kind of policy in a game where the way to win is to pretend as compellingly as possible to be crazier than the other side.

If nuclear weapons are going to be used in the 21st century, it will be by a nuclear power against a non-nuclear power, by a non-state actor against a state, or by a nuclear power in a first strike against another nuclear power in an orgy of atomic slaughter that would make the survival of civilization itself a very dubious question.

None of these three possibilities lend credibility to the idea that a third world war waged by conventional arms is likely in our time. WWII was not a proxy war. Allied soldiers confronted the Axis directly on the battlefield. A war conducted through skirmishes and intermediaries, whatever they may be, is not that kind of conventional conflict.

I believe there are existential threats facing the modern great powers. These threats, however, are primarily internal and spiritual, not external and physical. I do not see any reasonable scenario where Chinese troops conduct an amphibious landing on the California coast. I can very much foresee, however, an explosion of riots and political violence on the scale of the 2020 “summer of love.”

The kind of mass psychosis that characterized the COVID crisis could very well return. The same Americans who wore masks for years, demanded lockdowns, and insisted that vaccine mandates for employment were all legitimate could easily buy into even more extreme political pathologies.

To use military jargon, the modern “battlespace” and “combat paradigm” have changed dramatically since 1945. The older conventional model with its rigid command structure, emphasis on firepower and high technology (F-35, etc.), and focus on “near-peer adversaries” is completely out of touch with reality.

America doesn’t need more aircraft carriers, stealth bombers, or main battle tanks. Instead of stopping Chinese battle troops from landing in Long Beach, we need to figure out how to keep Chinese fentanyl out of American cities. Instead of protecting our borders from waves of stealth bombers, we need to be far more concerned with the stream of illegal migrants who daily invade our soil.

America faces a very real threat of invasion. In fact, we’re being invaded this very moment. Nearly 2.5 million illegal migrants have crossed our borders in the last year alone. Their advantage is their weakness. If 2.5 million Chinese troops had crossed the Mexican border, we could have stopped them with superior firepower. But millions of these “refugees” utilize their very powerlessness against us. The result is the same—the invasion of the third world, whether with arms or not, ultimately means the transformation of the American regime and the destruction of our way of life.

America’s real adversaries have figured out our weak point and are exploiting it. Instead of directly attacking our strong points (our military technology), they have attacked us where we are weak (our liberal pity for the downtrodden and the leftist love for the non-Western world).

In a way, the illegal migrants and the NGOs that assist them are strategic and tactical geniuses. Our greatest weakness is our lack of will. We have been outflanked in every way that matters.

America’s ongoing obsession with defense spending, aircraft carriers, stealth boondoggles, and new battle rifles is a symptom of our strategic idiocy. Our military leadership doesn’t want to face reality. Admirals, for instance, drooling over bigger and bigger aircraft carriers are like short men who drive massive, lifted trucks—they’re compensating.

At its core, the American military cannot protect Americans from the real internal threats the nation actually faces. More importantly, the military does not want to address those problems. When Trump tried to call out the military to suppress the communist riots in the summer of 2020, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper simply refused to follow orders.

In a sane world, our political leaders wouldn’t waste taxpayer dollars on useless conventional military spending. The pre-WWII American tradition of maintaining a very small peacetime military was exactly right.

The United States today needs very few active-duty troops, and we have no need at all for an independent Air Force or large naval surface fleet in order to defend ourselves. We could slash conventional military spending by hundreds of billions of dollars without compromising American security in the slightest.

Right now, the most effective military branch is the Coast Guard, by far. The Coast Guard actually defends American interests from external threats. The least useful is the Air Force, which only justified itself coming into being because of the idea that strategic bombing could somehow win wars—ample historical evidence shows us that this was a lie.

Our worldwide panoply of bases is an overall net drain on resources and a provocation towards war. For instance, America no longer needs the base on Okinawa. It does not, in any meaningful way, constrain Chinese action or give us a useful position against our adversaries. The Marines, airmen, and sailors on the island are just sitting ducks, twiddling their thumbs. The real defense of American interests are the nuclear-armed submarines patrolling the Pacific a thousand feet below the surface.

In a war with China, sinking their shipping in the straits of Malacca with submarines would be way more effective than whatever it is the Marines pretend they are doing on Okinawa.

In reality, the United States needs a strong nuclear missile fleet, a large reserve component that could be called up for national defense in a major crisis, a strong submarine arm, and a small but highly trained active-duty component that could immediately respond to foreign threats.

At most, the United States only requires 250,000 to 300,000 active-duty military personnel. All of our long-range strategic bombers should be mothballed. So should most of our air superiority aircraft. We aren’t going to be fighting other nuclear armed powers, and we have no near-term need to get mixed up in wars against non-nuclear conventional powers (such as they are).

The majority of our surface ships should also be put into long-term storage. The U.S. Navy should concentrate the bulk of its resources and virtually all new ship construction on submarines—both nuclear-powered and diesel-electric.

The Army should be converted into an almost entirely reserve force with only a handful of trainers and technicians on active duty, ready to expand in case of an unlikely large-scale conflict. The Marine Corps should absorb all of the nation’s rapid response and special operations capabilities.

The most important use of military resources today is in regards to immigration. America needs to pour a massive infusion of resources into stopping the flow of drugs and human beings over our southern border. We need improved physical defenses (the wall) as well as an increase in the human and electronic surveillance deployed against the tidal wave of invaders that are pouring into our country. In reality, a massive increase in border security is relatively cheap to procure—a full-fledged border wall would cost roughly the same as one new aircraft carrier.

At the broadest level, in order to meet the most serious military threats of the near future, the American military needs to narrow its focus. This requires a profound revolution in the view of political aims and strategy at the highest level in the Pentagon and White House.

The people of the United States are paying too much for too little. We need systematic changes in line with the real geopolitical and military situation that we face today. A smaller military that is focused on actual defense threats, like the border, would be far more effective.

All of these reforms depend on political will. There is little point in young American men joining a military that is not optimized for real national defense. Ordinary Americans need to place pressure on political candidates who recognize the problem and want to fix it.

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About Josiah Lippincott

Josiah Lippincott is a Ph.D. student and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. You can find him on Telegram at https://t.me/josiah_lippincott or subscribe to his Substack here.