In a world of war and conflict, why is it that we continue to be so reactive?
Is it because we do not develop decent, workable strategies based on sound, credible intelligence? Is it because we continually want to believe that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” – even when he isn’t? Is it that we lack the ability to interpret events to the extent that we cannot be forward-looking? Is it because we simply want to ignore the lessons of history?
Whereas we cannot predict the future, we can – with some effort – have a very good indication what it may hold in terms of war and conflict.
The wars, conflicts and problems we witness were all prefaced with numerous indications that they were about to happen. From the piracy off the coast of Somalia to the drug wars in Mexico to the criminal insurgencies in other countries – all have provided us with clues that a problem was rapidly approaching.
Yet, we seem to stand by and wait until the problem reaches a situation that it cannot easily be contained – and then we try to take action. Ironically, we then cannot understand why it is so difficult to resolve the issues, win the wars and end the conflicts. A 10-ton truck free-wheeling downhill cannot be stopped by simply jumping into its path. With enough men at hand, we can probably stop it but at an enormous cost in lives lost and collateral fall-out.
By allowing the enemy to gain momentum and maintain the initiative, we lose the ability to put a rapid end to it. Our reactive actions are almost akin to trying to stop that free-wheeling truck. And despite all the warnings, we act surprised when we are unable to stop it.
Some time ago I spoke with a senior commander in an African country. His country had recently discovered a valuable natural resource. He was very excited at how this resource would benefit his country and his people. I, in turn, warned him that his country’s problems were about to start in earnest. I wasn’t being cynical – I was being realistic. After all, hasn’t history shown that when a new resource is found in Africa, problems are sure to follow?
With all of our early-warning systems, intelligence gathering capabilities, diplomatic liaisons, mass media reporting, satellite surveillance and so forth, I find it very hard to believe that we have not yet reached a stage where we can be proactive.
Is it possibly that we simply don’t want to be proactive and instead prefer to rather be reactive and suffer all the disadvantages this laissez-faire approach hands us? Do we rather want to attempt to stop these problems once they are unstoppable – will that make us feel better? Or do we only want to be pre-emptive when carrying out the first phase of a strategy and thereafter wait for the enemy to gain the initiative?
It is said that a wise man in times of peace prepares for war.
To prepare effectively for war, we need to know what to expect and from whom. Still, we seem to wait and react only once we think the enemy has shown his hand. But the enemy too knows about deception and it is a foolish enemy who shows his hand in the opening stages of a conflict. We cannot expect all of our enemies to always be foolish.
If we continue to miss all of the warning signals flashed at us, we will continue to be reactive. The implication is that we will continue to be surprised, unprepared and find ourselves fighting on the back foot – often against untrained, ill-disciplined, out-numbered and technology-poor enemies.
Until such time as we begin to exploit our assets and resources to maximum effect and look for exploitation options whenever and wherever we can, we will remain at a disadvantage both on and off the battlefield.
We may appear to be politically correct but we will lose the battle – and there is no second prize for the loser - and the truck will keep rolling.