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Response to Martin Senn - On Escalation and Chaoplexicity as a New Panacea

With regard to your first point about the risk of escalation, first a disclaimer. The purpose of my research has been to look at the exercise of military force as an instrument through which states or other political entities seek to achieve certain goals ('the extension of policy by other means' as Clausewitz would have it). I do not prejudge of whether the attainment of such goals is either desirable or ethical ('what if the political goal is coercive?') and while this is of course an important question in its own right, I do not think it directly impacts on my argument. What I sought to explore were the different means that have been deployed in order to make military force as predictable and effective an arm of political will as possible.

Where your point is immediately relevant to my argument is in the tension you highlight between the decentralising impulses of chaoplexic warfare (and the associated risks for unauthorised escalation) and the necessity for the state to maintain military action as a docile instrument of his broader and necessarily limited objectives. If we are to believe chaoplexity, there are significant benefits to decentralising the military even within the above constraints, although in some areas it will obviously never make sense to do so – I can't think of any circumstances in which the decentralisation of the authority to launch nuclear weapons would be desirable! Hence states by their very hierarchical nature will never be able to decentralise the exercise of military forces in the way in which guerrillas or terrorist organisations can (conversely the latter cannot rule in the way they have fought – all such organisations go through significant transformations if they ever find themselves in the position of running a state). Perhaps the most effective way in which decentralisation will be possible without a loss of the necessary political control and accountability will be through superior training of recruits so that they use wisely and appropriately the greater degree of autonomy granted to them.

Your second point about chaoplexic warfare potentially becoming a new panacea and falling prey to the same technological hubris as previous approaches is a legitimate concern but a problem that hinges on how seriously we actually take the lessons of chaoplexity. In my view, chaoplexity provides a scientific framework for what Clausewitz had already formulated in early nineteenth century: that war is inherently plagued by friction and fog that can only be managed but never eliminated. If this insight is embraced by policy-makers and military leaders, one could hope that with it will come a greater degree of caution in the application of military force and less frequent reduction of complex strategic challenges to simple military problems. Admittedly, the deeply engrained technophilia of modern militaries (chief among them that of the United States) and the desire for absolute certainty manifested by their political masters may prevent these lessons from being absorbed. Indeed, this is the essence of my reproaches to network-centric warfare, namely that it has largely repackaged chaoplexic ideas to fit the cybernetic certainties of the previous RMA debates and has yet to engage fully with their implications.


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