War is the Theatre of the Unexpected. As soon as battle begins, it comes as an unpleasant surprise to discover that the enemy has some advantage that we didn’t know about till now. This is the kind of surprise that costs lives – more than would otherwise be the case.
History is strewn with examples: the bitter lesson that armoured cavalry can be destroyed by local townee militias (Courtrai, 1302) or by bowmen plagued by dysentery (Agincourt, 1415); or that the enemy you face is a new type or model of army with new levels of discipline (Naseby, 1645); or that the enemy who slaughters you consists of ‘natives’ whom you have underestimated and despised (Isandlwana, 1879 or Adowa, 1896 or Dien Bien Phu, 1954); or that your opponent has just invented the cannon (Niebla, 1262) or the tank (Western Front, 1917). You are surprised when the enemy by-passes your elaborate defences (Maginot Line, 1940) or by-passes your detection systems and destroys some of your capital ships (Pearl Harbor, 1941). Most of all you are shocked into submission when your enemy destroys two of your cities, each with a single bomb (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, 1945).
We shouldn’t be complacent and reassure ourselves that it couldn’t happen now. It is happening. Whilst the defence establishment clings to its new aircraft carriers and the Conservative-led government refuses to give up Trident, our new enemies turn out to be young men constructing bombs in a council flat down the street or teenage hackers with the capacity to bring down power systems. In fact, cyberwarfare is already upon us, but what can the Coldstream Guards (say) do about that?
True, the most recent UK strategic security review (October 2010) lifts the issue to a higher level of priority: “[we shall] develop a transformative programme for cyber security, which addresses threats from states, criminals and terrorists, and seizes the opportunities which cyber space provides for our future prosperity and for advancing our security interests”, but where is the political rhetoric and publicity about this? Where is the national colloquy about all this? What should we be doing? The future pattern of warfare is already amongst us. We must not be surprised again.