Mazarr: "Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict"

Stephen DeAngelis

March 08, 2006

Commentary is underway in the blogosphere about this extremely complex article — “Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict,” by Michael J. Mazarr of the U.S. National War College and Dartmouth, just published in Policy Review, and also available online here.  Austin Bay’s response appears here, and ZenPundit gives a quick read here, promising more to follow.

There is much to digest in Mazarr — we are doing that now, and like most commentators will probably agree with some of his points, and disagree with others.  He covers a great deal of territory — from this history of conflict to the role of 4GW and Network-Centric Warfare — and makes the case for a new approach that he calls psychopolitik — the recognition that identity and psychology are primary drivers of conflict in the age of globalization.

One paragraph stands out immediately:

The great danger, though, is that, as we are doing now, we will persist in our faith that traditional conventional conflict is the dominant mode of warfare and assume that buying the thirty-eighth iteration of manned-precision-destruction-from-the-air capabilities will answer our security needs. Increasingly, it will not. One implication of this revised view of conflict could be crudely summarized as follows: We ought to shift $50 billion to $70 billion from the U.S. defense budget into a wider array of instruments of national power more attuned to the needs of conflict against alienation. These would include strengthened and expanded institutions of diplomacy, scholarship programs, a vastly reenergized Peace Corps, direct foreign aid, debt forgiveness, a restored and expanded public diplomacy program, and much else.

The case is strong but doesn’t go far enough — private-sector engagement, not just government initiatives are needed if we are going to succeed in creating resilient institutions and infrastructure and institutions in post-conflict and failed states.  Nevertheless, the larger argument — that effective international engagement requires that we attend to cultural identity and economic integration — is on target.

We will likely have more to say about this, and we will keep track of other commentary as well.