PS21 Event Writeup “Changing Face of Conflict”

At the second instalment of our ‘Changing Face of Conflict’ series, a panel of experts considered the future of warfare. The discussion included cyber warfare, the limits of military force, policing in Karachi and the lack of long-term strategies.

Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army, said that the recent past – while often presented as largely peaceful – had also seen the world at war just below the threshold of outright conflict. He said that amongst the most powerful tools were weapons of mass disorder, such as propaganda and information warfare, leading to a new kind of warfare. Recognising this shift, said Lamb, should bring changing tactics and strategy. Lamb acknowledged the limits of military capacity, stating that grand strategies must ultimately return to politics, as militaries can deal with the symptoms but are unable to tackle the causes of conflict – a political solution was needed.

Stefan Soesanto, Non-resident James A. Kelly Fellow, Pacific Forum CSIS, said that nation states were still working out where the thresholds of war and peace stood when it comes to conflict in cyberspace. Currently, ground rules for cyber warfare existed largely only in theory – in the form of the Tallinn manual, the UN GGE, and elsewhere – outlining how international law applies to cyberspace. Attributing responsibilities within the cyber domain was also challenging, he said, with private companies often being the victims of incidents while the role of the military remains frequently unclear.

Zoha Waseem, PhD candidate on Urban Security, Policing, Terrorism and Religious Extremism (King’s College London), shifted the conversation to policing in Karachi, Pakistan. The deterioration in law and order in the city in recent years had encouraged police to act above the law, said Waseem. This in turn weakened their legitimacy, leading many civilians to turn to other armed groups, such as militias, to rely on protection. The security dilemma worsens as the police then participate in volatile arms races. The police culture in Karachi, according to Waseem, had taken on ethnic dimensions with geopolitical impact. Citing an example, when a Pashtu youth was killed in Karachi, an ethno-nationalist movement was sparked, exacerbating the existing security dilemma.

Director of the Remote Warfare Programme, Emily Knowles, said that today’s world saw a large spectrum of threats and varieties of warfare – from machete wars to nuclear dangers. The UK political climate was risk-averse with a shift away from large-scale operations to a reliance on local allies and smaller UK training teams. Knowles saw an absence of strategy in this threat environment as a major problem going forwards, particularly the lack of a clear political vision of what the desired end state for conflicts that the UK is currently engaged in should be.


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