For General Carter, war appears to be like a competitive business.
British General Sir Nick Carter provides the best illustration possible of the growing need for a complete Devil’s Dictionary. The general appears to be a leading a campaign to provide new definitions for old concepts as he promotes new forms of war and cites what he expects will be convincing reasons for increasing the funding of the military. In this speech, he focuses on two concepts in need of a new definition: war and weapons. Here he is on weapons: “What constitutes a weapon in this grey area no longer has to go ‘bang’. Energy, cash [as bribes], corrupt business practices, cyber attacks, assassination, fake news, propaganda and military intimidation are all examples of the weapons used to gain advantage in this era of ‘constant competition.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Any human activity or attitude used to gain a competitive advantage
General Carter also demonstrates a talent for pregnant metaphor, as in this example where he expresses concern, “worryingly, though, all of these states have become masters at exploiting the seams between peace and war.” As any member of a military-industrial complex should do, he sees peace (industrial production) and war (murderous campaigns) as sewn together into a single garment. We thus learn that there exist carefully designed seams sewn into the fabric of public life so artfully that naive citizens may not ever notice them.
The general also identifies what he calls an “arch exponent,” which he names: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. “Who else?” we might reply, archly. It has been quite a while since we have had something we could call an “arch exponent,” an appropriate neologism for the new Cold War, since communism will no longer evoke the right level of fear. We used to have just plain adversaries, rivals and enemies. But now we have exponents.
Though he only cites Russia by name, General Carter assures us there is more than one of this new breed of enemies. And they aren’t even the beloved terrorists — those amateur exponents — who have done so much to stimulate our continued investment in the military over the past 15 years. No, it is the “rising threat” from the savage horde of what we should now perhaps call seamstress states, his “masters of the seams between war and peace.”
Carter then describes their modus operandi. “Their general staff is able to change, evolve, learn lessons with agility.” They sound like disruptive innovators, adopting the methods of promising startups. So let it be heard. Learning needs to be added to the list of weapons. And learning with agility may be the ultimate horror, the deadliest of their weapons. Clearly unfair competition.
It is true that General Carter is following rather than creating a trend. The term “weaponized” has become popular in recent years. Even “revelations” can be turned into weapons, as this recent article in Business Insider claims: “Trump’s allies are weaponizing new revelations about ousted Mueller investigator Peter Strzok in what experts say is a bogus ploy.” Everything’s a weapon in this dog-eat-dog world.
Perhaps the key notion that puts everything in perspective can be found in this quote: “We now live in a much more competitive, multi-polar world, and the complex nature of the global system has created the conditions in which states are able to compete in new ways short of what we would have defined as ‘war’ in the past.”
The spirit of “constant competition” that animates capitalism formerly played out mainly among rival commercial interests. War was a last resort after the failure of diplomacy or the ineluctable response to an act of monumental aggression (the invasion of Belgium, Pearl Harbor, 9/11). Now, at least for General Carter, war appears to be more like a competitive business. States with their armies have become entrepreneurs, competing with all comers, honing their weapons while aiming at “exponential” growth in the hope of becoming the top “arch exponent” in their trade, with the largest market share. General Carter may see his own role as that of marketing manager.
We have truly entered the age of Trump, where both politics and war will be more Art of the Deal than Art of War (Sun Tzu).
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.