Still Fighting the Last War

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 28: Carryn Owens, widow of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, reacts after being recognized by President Donald Trump during his address to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol's House Chamber, February 28, 2017. Owens was killed in January during a raid in Yemen. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Jay Tea, on the people behind Wikileaks:

Here, like in the War on Terror, we are seeing a group take on some of the aspects of a nation-state, but not enough to qualify as such. They still qualify, under the old and still existing rules, as “civilians” and have the protections accorded thereto.

Quite frankly, the world has outgrown the presumptions behind those principles. Civilians were protected because they were seen as largely helpless and harmless.

No longer. Groups like Al Qaeda and WikiLeaks can actually cause more harm, in different ways, than many actual nations.

What we are seeing very well could be the beginning of the end of the modern nation-state. Non-state actors are becoming more and more powerful, taking on many of the powers that have been traditionally been reserved for nation-states — but without the corresponding responsibilities and liabilities and weaknesses. They are, in their own way, waging war against the United States and other nations — and doing so in a way that our own laws and customs regarding warfare limit our ability to fight back.

We need to adapt to this new reality. We need to rework how we deal with these trans-national organizations, to come up with new rules that cover groups that wage war on the US while still pretending to be “civilians.”

This is exactly right — but nothing very new. A dozen years ago, I read The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg. They warned of a fractured future, where the map of the world looked far more medieval than modern — complete with city-states, marches, and dangerously powerful non-nation state actors. That last item, they argued, was because “offensive weaponry” was becoming so inexpensive.

And I laughed off that bit, because it was pretty obvious that tanks and planes and guns were becoming more and more expensive, just as they had been since at least since the Second World War.

Then, 9/11 happened. And after the initial terror subsided, I remembered the book and thought, “Oh. So that’s what they meant.”

Davidson and Rees-Mogg made the argument back in 1997. Al Qaeda gave us deadly proof just four years later. And here we are, almost ten years further down the road, still trying to wage 20th Century warfare against 21st Century opponents.