The term "Byzantine strategy" immediately evokes thoughts of complexity, convolution, and duplicity. But despite these disparagements (which most likely originated from the council room rants of the simpler foes it routinely defeated), it clearly worked. No empire in history lasted as long as a contiguous entity, or maintained its societal complexity in as harsh an environment. There's obviously something that can be learned from that experience.
So, it was a delight to see that Edward Luttwak (the author of two excellent works, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, and Coup d'etat -- both written as practical handbooks worthy of being on a reference shelf) wrote an article that applied Byzantine strategy to the US adventure in Afghanistan. His conclusion mirrors some of the verbal testimony I gave in response to questions at the House Armed Services committee last year (a couple hours after Petraeus' testimony to the same body): simply, use proxies.
Luttwak's article, "What would Byzantium do?" is short and straight forward. It builds off of the core tenet of Byzantine military strategy:
[Byzantine military strategy] centered on a single, paradoxical principle: do everything possible to raise, equip and train the best possible army and navy; then do everything possible to use them as little as possible.As hinted at earlier, his recommended solution for Afghanistan is to use proxies to spoil an enemy victory (in short the same strategy that defeated the USSR years before). Unfortunately, the article ends there. If he had gone on to write a more complex application of Byzantine strategy to the US situation he would have probably concluded:
- Move from mass to elite forces. The US military is built for overwhelming an enemy by the application of superior resources. That's a path to failure merely given the inability of the US to finance it. Mass is in contradiction with the major trend of the 21st Century: technological super empowerment.
- Avoid COIN, the use of military forces to build functional nations, like the plague. This type of effort is extraordinary expensive (in money and manpower and time) and therefore can't scale to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving threat environment.
- The ability to conduct complex diplomacy and effectively manage/incentivize a plethora of small proxies (open source defense) is critical to survival.
NOTE: I found that Edward Luttwak recently published a new book, "The Grand Strategy of Byzantium." I've ordered it and it will immediately gravitate to the top of my reading list when it arrives. Will post a more detailed review when I'm done.