What Does Expanding the Definition of War Mean for the U.S. Military?

Increasingly, America’s armed forces are tasked with protecting new battlefronts around the world — from cyberwarfare to post-conflict peacekeeping. And that could be very bad for the United States.

On this episode of The E.R., Max Boot joins us to discuss his new book "The Road Not Taken."
On this episode of The E.R., Max Boot joins us to discuss his new book "The Road Not Taken."
On this episode of The E.R., Max Boot joins us to discuss his new book "The Road Not Taken."

In this week’s episode of The E.R., FP’s David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Yochi Dreazen discuss Brooks’s new bookHow Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything.

The panel begins by discussing the past and present of the U.S. military, arguably the strongest and mightiest in the world. But has it become so good at one thing that it has forced itself into a business it’s bad at — like economic intervention, waging asymmetric wars, or cyberwarfare?

And, as the panel discusses, is it this expansion and versatility of the military and its new roles that has brought about another more serious consequence? Because being a country always at war changes the very definition of war. Brooks points out that the danger of being locked in protracted, unending conflicts is that once you decide to call a set of activities “war,” then you’re operating in a world where you’re allowing the government to do things it normally wouldn’t do.

In this week’s episode of The E.R., FP’s David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Yochi Dreazen discuss Brooks’s new bookHow Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything.

The panel begins by discussing the past and present of the U.S. military, arguably the strongest and mightiest in the world. But has it become so good at one thing that it has forced itself into a business it’s bad at — like economic intervention, waging asymmetric wars, or cyberwarfare?

And, as the panel discusses, is it this expansion and versatility of the military and its new roles that has brought about another more serious consequence? Because being a country always at war changes the very definition of war. Brooks points out that the danger of being locked in protracted, unending conflicts is that once you decide to call a set of activities “war,” then you’re operating in a world where you’re allowing the government to do things it normally wouldn’t do.

Surveillance by the National Security Agency and the detention center at Guantánamo Bay might be dramatic examples, but, the panel argues, it’s worth considering that if and when we change, adapt, or expand what defines an “armed conflict,” then it’s logical to presume that what’s considered just during “wartime” will be extended as well. And over the last 15 years in particular, Brooks says, the United States “has quietly put more and more stuff in that ‘war box’ and in some cases with devastating results for any kind of democratic accountability.”

It would appear, the panel argues, that the line of these definitions and perceptions is becoming more and more blurred.

Rosa Brooks is a senior fellow at New America and teaches international law, national security, and constitutional law at Georgetown University. She is the author of the newly released bookHow Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything. Follow her on Twitter at: @brooks_rosa.

Kori Schake is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where she focuses on military history, and a former foreign-policy advisor to Sen. John McCain. Follow her on Twitter at: @KoriSchake.

Yochi Dreazen is the managing editor for news at FP and author of The Invisible Front. Follow him on Twitter at: @yochidreazen.

David Rothkopf is the CEO and editor of the FP Group. Follow him on Twitter at: @djrothkopf.

Subscribe to FP’s The E.R. and Global Thinkers podcasts on iTunes.

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