Finding alternatives to violence

By Daniel Bavly (for Safe Democracy)

Daniel Bavly writes on the changing face of War in the 21st century, and how, after two world wars, the menace of terrorism has arisen as a new threat to peace. In Bavly‘s opinion, insufficient coordination, poor planning, cumbersome bureaucracies, and increasing citizen disillusionment are weakening militaries. As war changes, the military must also change, and society must seek new diplomatic alternatives to fighting violence with violence. A century and a half after the statement that War is Hell, Bavly writes, society may finally be beginning to believe it.

Daniel Bavly graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after having fought as an infantryman in Israel’s War of Independence. An Executive Partner in the Accounting and Auditing Firm Bavly, Millner and Co. in Tel Aviv from 1957-1995, Bavly became an active lay-leader in many Israeli Universities after retirement. He is the author of a number of books on the history and foreign relations of Israel.

SOME 15 YEARS AFTER THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR, in a speech made in 1880, General William Tecumseh Sherman was quoted as saying, There is many a boy here today who will look on war as a glory, but boys, let me tell you, War is Hell. He was surely not the first to have uttered such words, nor would he be the last, but a hundred years later, war is still a norm of human existence.

There are a variety of answers to try to explain why new wars break out. Over the past several hundred years, three main conflicts have instigated wars: religious conflict, territorial conflict, and ideological conflict. And while the number of wars caused by territorial or ideological strife seems to be declining, in recent years these types of conflicts have erupted again following various perceived (or real) threats.

It had been hoped that in the brutal aftermath of World War I, and the carnage of World War II, the leading nations would do all they could to ensure peace throughout the world. Yet, the history of the past 60 years indicates that although there have been some ferocious confrontations, compared to the first half of the 20th Century the brutality has hardly been as widespread.

Yet, with the advent of radical terror towards the end of the century, society has been exposed to a new kind of lethal menace.

Wars in the past were won with the perseverance of force and might. Clear winners and losers could be defined by the size, determination, and force of their armies. Yet, the world is no longer what it was. Terrorism, it is becoming clear, cannot be fought with brute force. The militaries of the world must pool their resources in search of different, diplomatic solutions to handling extremism.

While there are still a modest number of young men and daring leaders willing, indeed eager, to fight terror and take part in one time adventures like the release of the high-jacked plane in Entebbe in 1976, it is becoming far more difficult to recruit tens of thousands of troops willing to spend months (even years) in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not many relish being involved in long campaigns in hostile terrain. And there are indications in Western democracies, certainly in Europe but also in the US and in other parts of the world, of contempt for the military, and an increased resistance to recruitment.

Some believe these trends to be a sign of a long-term growing resistance to participate in lengthy, costly wars. And inevitably, with less enthusiasm to join the military and more attractive options open to society’s most talented, it is hardly surprising to find that the quality and innovation of senior military staff is in sharp decline. The difficulty is not only in enlistment but also in managing the complex, and cumbersome bureaucracies that have become inherent to the operation of large armies. From the lengthy American confrontation in Iraq to the Israeli combat in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, bureaucratic blunders have hindered the success of recent campaigns greatly.

The following are the experiences of the Israeli military in fighting the conflict in Southern Lebanon this past summer. From the partial reports issued so far, it is easy to understand the impact that a mediocre and cumbersome bureaucracy is having on the Israeli military’s capacity to act.

The performance of the Israeli military was greatly hampered by a lack of knowledge of the topography of the region, the strength of the Shiite troops, and poor coordination. These problems were exacerbated by shortcomings in the flow of intelligence between the air force and the land forces, and between the military intelligence units and the operating land forces. Orders were sometimes so vague that they were impossible to carry through.

Also an issue was that many of the senior officers in the military had not attended advanced senior command colleges (nor taken advanced courses). In fact, universities have cancelled a large number of advanced military courses in recent years. These shortcomings have impeded both the professional quality and the communication of military officials. The traditional Israeli image of commanders as dashing, young heroes has changed to one of fatigue and impotence.

Other problems confronting Israeli operations involved insufficient training for the hilly terrain of Southern Lebanon, insufficient advanced military planning, and the inability to restock partially or entirely empty reserve supply centers.

The Israeli Army’s poor preparation, ineffective supply lines, and improper training contributed to the failure of the war. Yet, these failings are uncommon in Israel, considering the imaginative creativity and tenacity, which ensured Israel’s survival during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War along with impressive levels of communications among the senior military commanders, the efficient training of the fighting men, and the coordination of military equipment and a supportive logistical arm.

Yet, despite its losses, the Egyptian Command was satisfied with its performances during the Yom Kippur War, as were the commanders of Hezbollah this past summer. By aiming for simpler, more limited objectives, they have been able to achieve military success.

The military doctrines of the Israeli Defense Force, drawn up over thirty years ago, do not include the possibility of fighting against guerrilla troops, nor do they consider the tasks of on-going occupation and military rule. As war changes, the IDF must adapt itself to a new reality. The past twenty years’ struggle to contain a hostile community and active terrorists in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has proved costly. And Israel’s failure to adapt provides a partial explanation for the inconclusive results in the aftermath of the Lebanese campaign a quarter of a century ago and last summer.

Armies depend on the logistical support of their bureaucracy. To perform effectively, bureaucratic supply centers must train and maneuver in a way complementary to that of the combat troops they serve. Over the past few years, the Defense Ministry’s bureaucracy has grown lax, and cumbersome and provided far too little coordination between different military units. The military, security forces, and ministry of defense must begin mending their mistakes to ensure that the poor performance of the past is not repeated.

In Israel, at the outset of 2007, patriotism and trust in the country’s leadership were at an all time low. More and more youth are realizing the great need for better, more credible commanders and a clear direction in the military.
In order to restore faith in the Israeli government again, Israeli decision-makers must now begin to realize the consequences of the changing world, and consider alternative ways to settle existing conflicts. Coercion is not the sole arbiter of disputes. Equitable discussions and negotiations should always be tried before rushing into military conflict.

A new era is dawning in the twenty first century. Now, our youth are growing up in individualistic, liberal, democratic societies that understand, much better than our forefathers did, the truth of the phrase War is Hell. And as our youth grow more reluctant to collaborate with those who perpetuate war, we may be entering a time in which huge budgets, resources, and personnel are devoted not to building up a giant army, but to finding more effective tracks for peace and mutual benefit.

Modern governments and institutions of higher learning must begin to contemplate strategies and tactics to resolve war without using force, so that finally, a century and a half after General Sherman’s statement, no State will ever have to experience the hell of war again.

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