Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rupert Smith on the Art of War in the Modern World

I have been coming across mentions of Gen. Sir Rupert Smith more and more frequently at the Small Wars Journal and so I googled him and found the following videos of Smith in an interview (about 28 minutes) and giving a talk (about an hour), both at the Carnegie Council, on his book The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World.

During the talk, he tells a very interesting story from his experiences in Northern Ireland:

One of the most difficult things is to identify your opponent in warfare amongst the people. He is deliberately concealing himself amongst the people. He does it for security; he does it to gain legitimacy; to force you, through the strategies of provocation and propaganda of the deed, to treat the people in such a way that they start to support him rather than you—in other words, to dislocate your military act from your political purpose. He relies on the people for his sustainment morally, physically. He gains information and so forth from the people.


I paused a moment because a memory came. I'm about to tell an "I was there" story, which I hope will perhaps entertain but also make the point.


As a fairly young officer, I was in Belfast, responsible for a patch of West Belfast. A bus route came to my area, at the end of its route from Belfast city center. There was a roundabout, and the bus would sit there for twenty minutes and then turn round and go back down into Belfast.


Most Friday nights, somewhere around 9 o'clock in the evening, this bloody bus would get burned. There would be a riot, and people would throw stones at the fire brigade when it came, and then we'd all turn out and fire batten rounds and things at the hooligans throwing the stones, and then someone would shoot as us and we'd shoot back. A good time was had by all. The BBC and everyone were all in there. A burning bus can really get everyone going.


This was going on rather more than I was prepared to put up with. But I couldn't stop it. I just wasn't able to defeat this. Until we came up with a cunning wheeze, which involved me persuading two soldiers that it was in their interest to hide in a hidden box on the top of this bus, and when the hooligans appeared with the buckets of petrol and the box of matches, they would leap out before they lit the petrol and capture the hooligans with the petrol, and we would all rush in and help them.


These two soldiers agreed that this was a wizard wheeze and hid in the box. We drove the Trojan Horse in. And, sure enough, we got them.


A quiet conversation took place between the regimental sergeant major and these two little hooligans. It turned out that this thing that we had been treating as IRA terrorism, disrupting the streets, a come-on operation so that we would be pulled in so that then we could be sniped at—that was our complete logic and understanding of it—was wholly and totally wrong. This had nothing to do with terrorism at all. It was the black taxis, and they were paying these hooligans to burn the buses so they got more trade. We hadn't been fighting anybody.


But as one clawed away at it, I learned a lot. Yes, the IRA were benefiting from this. They were able to show us as being part of the problem, because we went onto the housing estate, invaded their space, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. They were now defending and were given legitimacy because they were the defender. They were taking 10 percent off the taxi drivers, because they knew what was going on, so they got money as well.


So we then started to develop an operation, which went on for a long time—this is timeless, remember. About eight years later, I am back there, at a rather more senior level, and we knock off the whole of the financial structure of that part of the IRA. It starts with that event. As you went through the file, the opening entry was the black taxi man who was handing over the 10 percent. We found out who he was, and you've got the beginning of a piece of string. But it took eight years.


The other bit of information was that in the wallets of one of these little hooligans was a check for £10 from the BBC. And down we went to the BBC and said, "What the bloody hell are you doing?" It turned out that this little hooligan would ring up. Having been paid by taxi drivers 50 quid to burn a bus, he then rang up the BBC and said, "There's going to be an incident at such and such." So the cameras were already there. 


War amongst the people, the theater. Nobody is in control in the sense that we think there is a master plan. So your operation must be a learning operation.


The currency of war amongst the people is not fire power. That's the currency of industrial war. The currency of war amongst the people is information—not just intelligence, information—what you put out, what you get in. That's what is going on on that confrontational seesaw.

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