Thursday, September 12, 2013

Limited Resources Changing Warfare

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr. Albert Palazzo, Australian Army Land Warfare Studies Centre, is speaking on "The Revolution of Limits and the Changing Character of War". Dr. Palazzo started by emphasizing that he was expressing his own opinion, which may not reflect the Army or centre policy. 
Dr. Palazzo  explained that the "Revolution of Limits" referred to limits on natural resources. As more people in developing nations move into the middle class, their expectations increase along with their consumption of resources. This will result in reduced resources for the poorest people, with resulting civil and military conflict. He suggested the Arab spring will be a mere harbinger of the conflict to come. The resulting refugees may be treated as a threat to nation states and treated as such. Climate change will cause further stresses.

Dr. Palazzo suggested that limited resources will challenge economic globalization, with the previous assumed improving living standards ended. Governments will not be able to subside food and other essential resources, due to shortages. Global trade will break into regional groups, as nation states place a priority on feeding their own population.
Dr. Palazzo pointed to the building of dams limiting water supply to downstream countries as a source of conflict. Also he envisaged large scale refugee movements causing security problems on one thousand times the current scale.

As someone who read "The Limits to Growth" decades ago, none of this seems new. Clearly in a pure sense continual expansion of the consumption of resources is not possible. During the decades since the release of the Limits of Growth, technology has provided access to new sources of resources and more efficient use of them in some cases. But there is no guarantee this can continue indefinitely.

Dr. Palazzo pointed out that the cost of energy effects the military directly. Fuel is a significant cost in military operations. The US DoD has looked to alternative energy sources (such as solar panels. The cost of energy will change the cost/benefit of war, with military personnel needed at home to counter civil unrest, or used to capture resources from others. The laws of war may be ignored by desperate groups.

Dr. Palazzo  suggested the military skills in risk assessment could be put to use in identifying points of failure in the civil society. But I am not sure the civilian government or the non-government sector would welcome military involvement. 
Dr. Palazzo asked if the USA would be willing to safeguard Australia in a world of limited resources, turmoil, with more and more violent wars. He argued for flexible defence systems for Australia, but without being more specific.
It is an ideal time for Australia to consider how to structure its military. The new Australian government is looking to make the whole government more efficient. The military are not targeted for large budget cuts, but there is the opportunity to rethink investments. During the election campaign the Coalition government promised a new Defence White Paper within 18 months of the new government, but other areas of government are being reviewed in three months and perhaps the same should apply to defence.

At question time I asked Dr. Palazzo what changes should be made in defence spending and structure, given that other changes are now being made with the next government. He said this would need further study, but I suggest that Australia does not have that luxury, with decisions having to be made.

Dr. Palazzo  commented that cyberwar and dealing with China was taking up the attention of military planners, with resource issues not receiving the attention they deserve.

Dr. Palazzo is author of "The Future of War Debate in Australia", Land Warfare Studies Centre Working Paper No. 140, August 2012.


In this paper I consider the implications of resource peaks and climate change, their possible effect on the character of war and the challenge these developments pose for the future of Australian security. The analytical approach I use is one that will be familiar to most military and security professionals, the idea that periodic Military Revolutions are responsible for discontinuous shifts in the nature of society which have a cascading effect on the parameters of what is possible (and not possible) in the art of war. I explain why conditions are becoming likely for the onset of another Military Revolution; perhaps one that has already begun but whose effect is not yet being felt. The paper will highlight that the guiding force of the coming Military Revolution will be global limits on the availability of resources, particularly food, water and energy. In making the case for the Military Revolution of Limits I will outline possible repercussions on Australian society that will effect the Army and suggest ways forward in order to adjust to coming changes.


Dr. Albert Palazzo is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre in Canberra. His Ph.D. is from The Ohio State University and his thesis was published as Seeking Victory on The Western Front: The British Army & Chemical Warfare in World War I. He has written widely on warfare in the modern age and on the Australian Army in particular. His many publications include: The Australian Army: A History of its Organisation, 1901-2001; Battle of Crete; Australian Military Operations in Vietnam; Moltke to bin Laden: The Relevance of Doctrine in Contemporary Military Environment and The Future of War Debate in Australia. His current research concerns the implications resource shortages to lead to conflict and the waging of war in an age of mutually assured precision.

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