The author responds to his critics.
- By John Arquilla
John Arquilla earned his degrees in international relations from Rosary College (BA 1975) and Stanford University (MA 1989, PhD 1991). He has been teaching in the special operations program at the United States Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. He also serves as chairman of the Defense Analysis department.
Dr. Arquilla’s teaching interests revolve around the history of irregular warfare, terrorism, and the implications of the information age for society and security.
His books include: Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat and the International System (1992); From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient & Modern Times (1996), which was a featured alternate of the Military Book Club; In Athena’s Camp (1997); Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (2001), named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association; The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror (2006); Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military (2008), which is about defense reform; Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (2011); and Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War (2012).
Dr. Arquilla is also the author of more than one hundred articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs. His work has appeared in the leading academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired and The New Republic. He is best known for his concept of “netwar” (i.e., the distinct manner in which those organized into networks fight). His vision of “swarm tactics” was selected by The New York Times as one of the “big ideas” of 2001; and in recent years Foreign Policy Magazine has listed him among the world’s “top 100 thinkers.”
In terms of policy experience, Dr. Arquilla worked as a consultant to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm, as part of a group of RAND analysts assigned to him. During the Kosovo War, he assisted deputy secretary of defense John Hamre on a range of issues in international information strategy. Since the onset of the war on terror, Dr. Arquilla has focused on assisting special operations forces and other units on practical “field problems.” Most recently, he worked for the White House as a member of a small, nonpartisan team of outsiders asked to articulate new directions for American defense policy.
I would really like to believe that the world is getting safer, but seen even in light of the thoughtful critiques of my article, war still seems a terrible human scourge. Even more dangerous than in the past.
Here’s why: There are significantly more wars going on in the world today than there were 60 years ago — per the Human Security Project’s own listing — and more people are getting killed in or dying directly from them. All too many of the victims are noncombatants.
Professor Pinker’s use of numbers killed per 100,000 people as a key measure over the past half century is a very good one. For me, though, it is the absolute numbers that remain a principal concern. In a world whose population has risen from 3 to 7 billion since 1960, the same percentage killed per 100,000 means more carnage.
And all too often the victims of war are concentrated in the poorest parts of the planet, with the least amount of relief infrastructure available. This leads to very large proportions of national populations dying — even in wars that see "just" a quarter- or half-million dead — a percentage far higher and seen far more often than in most other wars. Those Tutsi living inside Rwanda, for example, were basically wiped out in 1994 –to our shame, as this catastrophe could have been prevented with even a modest military intervention. President Bill Clinton refers to his failure to act there as his "greatest regret." It should be.
I include Rwanda, Cambodia, and other "big kills" because they do indeed represent wars — albeit internal wars, the sort that the Human Security Project has rightly noted have come to dominate conflict. I simply cannot leave them — and other conflicts like them — out, especially because of the genocidal war aims all too often on display.
Which brings me to the point about civilians becoming more and more targeted for killing over the past century — a point that both critiques of my article contest. Here’s how I came to my conclusion (drawn from a range of official tabulations that most scholars agree upon): In World War I, about 10 million soldiers died in battle, while just under a million deaths were "military caused." This is the 10 percent I was referring to: those who were killed when armed men pointed their guns and fired.
Yes, base-line death rates rose in many countries during World War I, due to disease and starvation, reaching a number calculated to be about 6 million. If these deaths are added in, so should the 2 million soldiers who eventually died of their wounds, and the 6 million who went missing in battle — which meant, in most cases, that they had been blown to atoms. By this expansive measure (i.e., beyond deaths in battle and from direct military causes, the categories I compare), just under 30 percent of total deaths were civilians — a percentage that is still much lower than in the next great conflict.
In World War II, the percentage of military-caused deaths skyrocketed. Battle deaths in the 20-25 million range were dwarfed by the 35-55 million military-caused deaths of civilians — precise estimates remain beyond our reach — many by execution in concentration camps and other charnel houses. In Burundi, Rwanda, Darfur and other lands torn by war today, armed men kill the innocent at even higher rates. The noncombatant is without question more in the crosshairs today than a century ago.
Let me close by thanking Steven Pinker, Andrew Mack, and Sebastian Merz for their wonderful bodies of work, which I deeply respect and fervently hope have it right. Or will at least be right one day. For now, though, I continue to worry about, and in my work for the military try to cope with, a world with a rising number of wars, mostly internal and irregular, in which innocent civilians are ever more targeted for killing. My heart is with those who see a world where war is already on the wane, but not my head. Not yet.