Gregory R. Copley

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Gregory Copley with friend and renowned author, Maj.-Gen. Jack Singlaub, "father" of the US Special Forces.

Toward Victory in the New Cold War

By Gregory R. Copley.

An Address to the US Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, May 21, 2007.

Could there yet be victory for the Coalition in Iraq and the International Force in Afghanistan? Or still victory for the West in the days and years after the outside world can no longer hear in its mind the sporadic, staccato Kalashnikov; or the punctuating whack of mortar fire; or feel — as much as hear — the melancholy basso profundo tremors of the IED2, resonating from hot, sand-colored places or cold, barren mountains?

To answer these questions we must first deal with complex questions of philosophy; and you are impatient and restless young warriors, so I beg your indulgence.

The world is, as we wade through the morass of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, and the transformation of conventional, nuclear, and anti-ballistic missile forces, already embarked on a wider war, a New Cold War. This New Cold War has some different players than the Cold War of 1945 to 1990, and is not a revival of that great, silent, and glacial clash between the Warsaw Treaty Pact and NATO; between East and West. This New Cold War transcends and embraces our immediate conflicts.

The question as to whether victory is possible in Iraq and Afghanistan, then, is a question within a question, set within a different world from the one we currently inhabit or envisage. Our present world — these current conflicts and the emotions they stir — sits at the edge of the forest of the future. And our principal task, in reality, as we face these present battles and our broader future, is to define what we mean by victory, and to envisage victory more broadly, and to understand it within the context of what has emerged as a world polarizing into a New Cold War. For it is this New Cold War which is more significant in the longer-term than the hot skirmishes which provide the color of today’s news headlines, and it is in this New Cold War that victory is most important. The hot wars we are currently fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Chechnya, Eastern Turkey, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, the Solomons, and elsewhere, are the symptoms of this New Cold War, seeping like the lava of a subterranean eruption into the media and the consciousness.

What is difficult for society all societies today is the angst of uncertainty created by globalization, which entails the overwhelming flow of imagery and words across a world which has seemed to lose its definition and hierarchical order, and yet which is now becoming starkly defined as an urban world, driven by technology. The world is dividing into crowds, one of which demands to be told what to do, another of which demands to be heard, and a third which demands to be left alone. But all their demands are lost in the maelstrom of change, movement, chaos, and the perceived need for immediate gratification.

This is the world of cratometamorphosis: the world of the transformation of societies. I had asked my friend, a Greek Cypriot professor, Dr Marios Evriviades, to help devise two words which I needed for my recent book, The Art of Victory3, to describe how nation-states were being terminated, and new states brought into existence. He devised for me cratocide for the murder of states, and cratogenesis for the birth of states, for we have entered a new age which is being dominated by the destruction of nations, and the creation of new nations. But we are also engaged in the transformation of existing societies, including our own. For this, the venerable Marios Evriviades has devised for me the word cratometamorphosis.

So here we are, at an age of movement; global movement. Everything, in a strategic sense, is in a state of flux, and we can make of the new world whatever we will. I had hoped that after more than four decades in the field of strategic studies I would find certainty and the pleasures of a stable victory; instead, I find a totally new world of chaos and adventure. All things are once again possible; both to win and to lose. 

I said, in The Art of Victory that [t]here is, along the path to the ultimate victory or vanquishment, much winning and losing of battles; even the ephemeral winning and losing of wars.” 

There is much hanging on the current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in Somalia and Sudan, and the New Cold War on which we are currently embarked. Significantly, the hot conflicts are being played out on one side of the equation substantially by proxy actors representing, largely, the weaker powers, combating formal coalitions of governments. This is, then, asymmetric warfare in more than one sense. We have defined asymmetric warfare as the conflict between weaker powers and greater powers, with the weaker powers resorting to irregular battlefield doctrine against what we call conventional warfare doctrine. In reality, we are also witnessing strategic asymmetric warfare, in which politically, economically, and structurally weaker powers are using informal means of achieving their goals in the face of experienced, entrenched, wealthy adversary states.

So the world will end neither in the heat of Iraq nor the mountains of Afghanistan, and not by the Indian Ocean shores of Somalia. The playing fields of human destiny are far broader than direct military conflict, which is just one part of the context of competition. The world, then, after Iraq and after Afghanistan, will merely continue its process of transformation, and at all stages we must decide whether we are to be the masters of it. We cannot cease from war and the winning of it, but we must see it for what it is, within the context of history and the wider world in which we function.

To make success meaningful and possible — be it in Iraq, or Afghanistan, Iran, or the Horn of Africa — it must be understood, and planned, within this broader framework, which I call Strategic Situational Awareness (SSA). For the strategist, conflict is not merely where the heat is apparent, but conflict is also implicitly embedded within the framework of whence it originates in the darkest recesses of history, and from where it derives the oxygen for its combustion.

Today — quite apart from the hot conflicts we see in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and so on — we see the prospect for renewed conflict in Europe and the Mediterranean as the various crises in the Balkans, Asia-Minor, and the Levant reassert themselves from those rich, dark recesses of history. We can link the 20th Century battles between Serbs and Croats back two millennia or so to the original schism of Christianity between Roman Christianity and the Orthodox Christianity which sprang from St. James. And it is possible, for example, to trace the linkages of today’s conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East in part back through history to the magical fires on the Caspian Sea, at the Aspheron Peninsula near Baku: the eternal and sacred fires which spawned Zoroastrianism and the Persian culture. Today, of course, the fires of Zoroaster still burn on the Aspheron Peninsula as a sign of the modern Azerbaijani oil and gas industry. But the teachings of Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) can also still be found in remnants of Roman Army Mythraic traditions — Mythraism was the Roman Army adaptation of Zoroastrianism — which pervade the identity of the Cham peoples who, in the 21st Century, demand their autonomy from the Greeks and Albanians on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.

To paraphrase the title of the book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: thus still speaks Zarathustra.4

So the growing Balkan tensions, including those involving the Serbian province of Kosovo, Albania, Serbia itself, Bosnia, Greece, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and more broadly, Turkey, have origins reaching back millennia. So, too, as I noted, do the conflicts in the Middle East. And even in the 20th Century, the Soviets attempted to stamp out, in Mongolia, the sacred symbols associated with Genghis Khan, dead these past eight centuries.

As you fight in Iraq you fight with the ghosts of the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, where monotheism and the seeds of modern Western civilization began their rise in the confluence of the Tigris-Euphrates rivers. But these are not phantoms which haunt the ruins of ramparted Uruk. Rather, the historical links are made visible in the blood of the people into whose eyes you search on the streets of Baghdad; and indeed in your own blood, which carries with it the accretion of millennia of experience and the building of civilization. We are not conscious of how the habits and logic we use today were built, one generation at a time, from experiences which began to rise and learn over the past thousands of generations of human existence. We carry, unconsciously, habits and attitudes which hold the genetic memory of our African ancestry, and the sweep of early humans, initially as hunter-gatherers, into Asia, and into Europe in the waves before and after the great Ice Age.

As humanity, we surge and unite and part in waves which we call civilizations, nations, cultures. And where our surges collide we often ignite. And now, because human numbers have more than doubled in the past half-century from around 2.5-billion in 1950 to well more than six-billion today, these surges carry with them the prospect of more clashes and, at the same time, the tensions which build as we atoms of humanity move, through urbanization, into closer and closer and more frictional contact.

Karl von Clausewitz described the friction of war, noting: “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction beyond the imagination of those who have not seen war. … The influence of innumerable trifling circumstances, which cannot be properly described on paper, depress us, and we fall short of the mark. A powerful iron will overcomes this friction; it crushes the obstacles, but at the same time the machine along with them.”5

What we are seeing today, and what we witnessed briefly during what we can call the first Cold War, is that, in strategic warfare, entire populations are involved, albeit often unwittingly, and that the very nature of human concentrations into urban machines creates a “friction of war” among civilian societies. This makes societies as a whole more challenging to manage, and makes everyday life more filled with an angst which cannot be released in battle.

And the human population and its corresponding friction will continue to grow, albeit briefly, until population levels peak at around, perhaps, 12-billion before the end of this century, and then begin to subside to the historical levels of human population, perhaps around two-billion in the world, by some time in the next century.

In the meantime, the growth in human population, and its concentration overwhelmingly into urban conglomerations will critically affect global strategic developments. In a paper which I wrote in November 2006, I said: “Large urban groupings — the super-cities — are the great strategic phenomenon of the current Age of Global Transformation. They represent, for the first time in history, the reality that most of the masses of humanity dwell in concentrations set apart from the areas which are vital to their physical survival: those areas which produce their food and gather their water, generate their resources of energy and building supplies.”6

In the paper I noted that the underlying, driving human psychological factors, logic, and imperatives were now beginning to profoundly diverge between the urban and non-urban societies, and this will affect the way in which conflicts are fought, and who fights them. I noted that understanding the great schism between the polar elements of human social groupings — between the urban and non-urban mindsets — is the key to understanding how sovereignty and power will change over the course of the 21st Century. It is the key to understanding how, and why, for example, terrorism forms and is sustained as individuals and societies fight not only to retain or build a sense of identity, but also regain their actual ability to survive down the generations in the face of the demands and threats of the cities.

And further, I noted: “In US political terms, we see a voting breakdown between the Red States (Republican, heavily-rural or non-super-city states), Blue States (Democratic Party, heavily urban super-city states), and the national security community; thus the polarization seems to crystallize between Red, Blue, and ‘Red-White-and-Blue’.” In other words, the “red-white-and-blue” segment of societies remains the group within the country which still clings to the value of an overarching, integrated nation with a balanced rural-urban set of priorities, which sustain, for example, the modern need to urbanize but also the need of all societies to produce food and potable water, and to recover resources for energy and manufacturing.

But, as I noted, the global population will begin to decline by the end of the Century, or perhaps earlier, although we do not know whether technology will have enabled people in the year 2100 to have advanced into a “post-industrial society” status, being able to use minimal resources to grow food, produce clean water and energy, and to manufacture, leaving the remainder of the population to work in abstract endeavors in the cities. Your grandchildren’s children, who will still know your name, will live in a time in which mass urban society will not resemble the frenzied concentrations of people we are building today. What all this means is that we are not in a world of linear expansion or the stable progression of anything: not human numbers and the conflicts which are generated through sheer mass, nor the demands made on nature by these numbers, nor even, necessarily, the growth of human knowledge and achievement.

How far, you ask, does this perspective — fascinating ’though it is — take us from the question which presses us today: can the West achieve victory in Iraq and Afghanistan? Can the West retain its victory in the aftermath of these wars?

There are many answers. Firstly, define victory. Secondly, however you define victory, the answer is “yes”. But then ask: what does victory mean? What do you wish it to mean? How do you wish it to shape, and be shaped by, the larger context?

In essence, as I describe it in The Art of Victory, the whole nature of victory is defined by will. It is defined as the prevailing of the collective will and ethos of a society, shaped by the individual will and ethos of leaders and thinkers, over a protracted period. In other words, you can achieve victory if you wish it, and enforce it through the exertion of your will, and through the use of the civilizational tools which your will creates. But bear in mind that victory is created only by two types of people: those who actively lead, and those who actively follow. Those who wish to do nothing but feed from the trough of victory are the malignant tumors which devour societal progress.

I hope that I have set the stage for you: that we are shaped by every generation of human history since before conscious remembrance; that our victory is shaped by the context of a global society; and that tomorrow will come, whatever happens, and it will be profoundly different from what we see today.

Let us, then, dwell on matters of today, and the immediate questions of what will happen in the here and now. As young men and women facing hostile fire, and moving from the tactical to the strategic, from youth to maturity, you are concerned, naturally, with whether you will survive the battle, and what you must do to turn it to success.
I have already told you that victory is possible for the Coalition in Iraq and the International Force in Afghanistan. But I have told you neither how it will be possible, nor yet how we should define victory.

I did, however, mention that we are in a New Cold War, and it is in this arena that true success will be either obtained or denied. You, who are engaged in the current fighting, may feel that all rides on victory in Iraq, or victory in Afghanistan, but, despite the billions spent and the lives lost, we have not yet defined victory. In reality, at some point, society, wearied of its concerns, bored and insensible to the reality of what is occurring, will merely declare victory and call us all home from the fray. Indeed, as with the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, or in Britain’s war in Waziristan in the 1920s, questions will arise in later generations as to what it meant at all, and was this war or that meaningful to the progress of our society. Some wars stand out as watersheds: the World Wars, for example, the sweeping conquests of Genghis Khan. The conquests of Alexander the Great, or Darius. These changed who we are today. But will the wars of this decade, in Iraq and Afghanistan, change human society?

The answer to that question is that for all contenders, these wars will have meaning only if we decide that they should; only if one society gathers great strength from the iconic aspects of the conflict, or another society wallows in the negative reflection of those same icons. It is, then, in some senses a challenge not to kill the enemy on the battlefield, but to destroy the will and nature of the society which places the enemy on the battlefield. But perhaps it can also be defined as a challenge not even to destroy the will of an opposing society, but to channel the opponent’s will; in essence to remove the enemy’s need to fight to survive. In many instances, the fight is actually an effort to define individual and societal identity. That is the essence of survival: the preservation of identity, which gives meaning and purpose to existence. So the need to fight for survival is quite different from the need to fight to conquer. But once engaged, a fight for survival becomes a fight to conquer: to drive a stake through the heart of the enemy in order to seek security, confidence, and influence.

In this context, the terrorist and insurgent war against the West today is thoroughly understandable.

In essence, too, this present fight in Afghanistan and Iraq is perceived to be between actors who do not regard themselves as equal in terms of wealth or other power resources. That is why the parties which recognize, or feel, their strategic impotence, are forced to fight a strategic Cold War, and to engage in hot conflict only out of desperation.

The same principles apply as they did during the last Cold War. The USSR and the People’s Republic of China, during most of the Cold War, recognized that they lacked the strength to successfully confront the West, despite their success in the Korean War. As a result, they engaged heavily in proxy warfare, manipulating the frustrations of elements of essentially “trapped” societies around the world — and, as well, on frustrated, ignorant, or disoriented individuals within successful societies — to fight their battles for them through terrorism and other forms of irregular and psychological or political warfare.

The USSR and the PRC, in particular — but also the United States and others in the West when they feared direct, hot war — were successful in mobilizing their respective proxy combatants, and funding them through a variety of means, including, in some instances, assisting in the development of narco-trafficking and other criminal activities. Now, in the post-First Cold War world, we still see the remnants of the Soviet- and PRC-sponsored front groups, now severed from their original patrons [who often remained unknown to the activists at the time], searching for new causes. Some of them have continued in their ideological pattern of appeasement on the basis that all conflicts are bad conflicts. Some have been left with the remnants of an ideological fixation against all Western societies, and have thus transformed into a variety of anti-capitalist, and anti-technology causes.

Today, in the New Cold War, the major sponsors of proxy conflicts with the West — and particularly against the US — are the states which feel most threatened by the US and the West in general. Iran and North Korea are of key significance in this, and have sought to build a new bloc of states opposed to the US. To do this, they have sponsored causes quite distant from the beliefs of the Iranian clerical leadership or the DPRK’s leaders merely because their allies share anti-Western/anti-US feelings. US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice was correct when she said, on May 14, 2007, on her way to Moscow for a meeting with Pres. Vladimir Putin, that talk of a new US Cold War with Russia had “no basis whatsoever”7. That Cold War is over, even though Dr Rice herself and the US State Department, and other remnants, still serving in government, of the administrations of Pres. George H. W. Bush — Bush 41 — and Pres. William Clinton have persisted in treating post-Soviet Russia as a Cold War enemy, rather than as a state liberated from communism which had, in fact, embraced the West and wished to become part of it. The US mistake in failing to recognize that the West had won the Cold War and that it now could re-shape its old adversaries into allies and partners is one of the great failings which marked the post-Cold War period.

But the clarity of a war won or a war lost is not always immediately apparent. The British-led campaign to forge a new front at the rear of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and to relieve German pressure on Russia, in World War I through the landings at Gallipoli on the Turkish Dardanelles on April 25, 1915, was perceived as a disaster. There were tens of thousands of Allied and Turkish losses before the Allies withdrew nine months later. Turkey was the victor in the battle. But within that sorrowful carnage lay the origins of three modern nations. Modern Turkey arose from the ashes of the fractured Ottoman Empire which was among the losers of World War I. So from defeat in the war but success in a major battle, modern Turkey arose around the spirit of Mustafa Kemal — Atat�rk — who had been the general commanding Turkish forces at Gallipoli. Also, two nations among the victors of World War I were two of the most heroically defeated armies of Gallipoli: Australia and New Zealand. And it was from the iconic saga of their defeat in that nine month campaign that they forged national identities which shape their destinies to this day.

Today, the US involvement as part of the Coalition and International Force in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively is a war being fought less in the streets of Baghdad and the plains of Kandahar Province and more in the posturing of Washington’s own “warring camps” where the combat is psychological and political. It is in Washington, as the Iranian leadership knows, where the outcome of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be determined. So this reality — that wars are determined by politicians, the media, and polling, as we saw with the Vietnam War — should be sufficient to remind you of the reality of Napoleon I’s maxim that psychological factors are two-thirds of the strategic equation, and physical factors (military conflict) is but one-third of it.

So, with Washington in the mode of thinking that all that matters is “how the war plays in Washington” or the media, it is not surprising that the bureaucracies have failed to sense that what is underway in Iraq and Afghanistan are wars in which survival is at stake. Not only the long-term survival of the West, which can be rationalized away as a long-term thing, and not immediately pressing, but also the survival of those who fight against the Coalition, who have a far greater sense of urgency than does Washington about how they fight the wars. And they are fighting for survival, which means that they are taking the war more seriously than the Western public.

The failure by politicians and even military bureaucrats to sense the fact that this is a war of survival explains why bureaucracies in the Congress, the Administration, and even the Pentagon have taken so long to learn what is necessary to achieve success on the Iraqi and Afghan battlefields, and thus ensure that the West is free to address the broader strategic threats embodied in the New Cold War?

It is clear from the rapid pace of technological and doctrinal development in the development and use of IEDs by Iranian military workshops that the Iranian clerical leadership truly understands that this is a war with vital, life-and-death consequences.

I only need remind you of the reality that, in contrast to the urgent pace of Iranian R&D and doctrinal evolution to support their proxy fighters in Iraq, it has taken some four years of urban warfare to finally have the highest levels at the Pentagon realize that the problem of personnel safety in US Army and Marine Corps vehicles should be addressed as a priority. Why, for example, are there still turf wars about whether merely to add more armor to, say, an M1114 HMMWV8 vehicle or an MRAP9 vehicle, or whether they should also fit appropriate secure seating systems to the vehicles — indeed, to all vehicles on the battlefield — which would cut down on unnecessary deaths and injuries caused by either IED blast or vehicular accidents?

The only reason for the delay in seeking such basic solutions to the safety and warfighting needs of soldiers and Marines can be that Washington — both the civilian and uniformed components of it — has not addressed the truth that the US is really engaged in an urgent war which is part of the battle for Western survival, and that it remains to be won in the field (including the field of Iranian public opinion), not just in Washington (where the war can be lost). Indeed, the fact that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made the matter of vehicle safety an issue is even now not a tribute to the direct sense of urgency of the war, but rather to the pressure being applied by the Washington political scene. But at least Dr Gates and the new Multi-National Force Iraq Commander, Gen. David Petraeus, are dealing with success on the battlefield as an urgent matter.

But not one member state in the Coalition fighting in Iraq has grasped the reality that, whatever the finer points of the truths about why the war was begun, it is now a vital front in the New Cold War, and they must fight to win on the physical battlefield as well as on the global psychological battlefields, including the battlefields of their own societies.

This is a vast and complex equation, relating the immediate and messy conflicts to the broader and longer-term strategic issues. But it gets to the heart of the need for leadership at all levels of society. It gets to the need to understand who are enemies and who are friends. World War II was greatly protracted because US Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman insisted on war against the totality of German and Japanese societies, instead of specifically against the nazi leadership and the War Cabinet in Tokyo.

Similarly, although Iran’s clerical leadership and their ally, DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il, are the great enemy of the West in the New Cold War, the Iranian people and the North Korean people are not the West’s enemy. Indeed, for example, the Iranian people, more than anyone, are the primary victims of the clerics who dominate them and, once again, as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did in 1982, are prepared to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iranians in a war against the US, Israel, and the West in order to ensure that they, the clerics, retain power. And the battlefield against the Iranian clerics by the Coalition is only partly seen in what is happening with its proxies and Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iraq; mostly it is, as Napoleon said, a battle conducted in the hearts and minds.

So all of our battles depend on understanding the nature of the overarching conflict, and our broad search for continued victory, and seeing the place of the battlefields of Iraq, or Afghanistan, or where-ever, within that context. This means that not only do you, as officers going back in many instances to fight again in Afghanistan or Iraq, need to understand the specific nature of the victory you seek to gain and uphold, but the politicians and leaders in Washington, and all of the capitals of the Coalition powers, need also to define and to understand and to explain the goals of the victory which all humanity requires.

Moreover, we need to see that the conflict and challenges are multi-dimensional, and that the psychological factors are, in Napoleon’s maxim, two-thirds of the equation. This means that the fight for victory needs not necessarily the vanquishment of the principal alliance standing behind the jihadists and guerilla fighters of Iraq and Afghanistan — that is, Iran and its allies — but rather in helping to transform the realities of the world so that the Iranian people and others do not see the need to fight.

And who can say that the US, and the West, and even the Iranian people, are not up to undertaking such a challenge?

Not I; not I.


1. Gregory Copley is Editor-in-Chief of Defense & Foreign Affairs publications, and the Global Information System (GIS). This speech was written for delivery to the US Army Command & General Staff College course at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, on May 21, 2007.

2. Improvised explosive device.

3. Copley, Gregory R.: The Art of Victory: Strategies for Personal Success and Global Survival in a Changing World. New York, 2006: Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions. ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-2470-0, or ISBN-10: 1-4165-2470-3.

4. Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. The book is actually a work of fiction with little intent to portray the real Zarathustra or Zoroastrian beliefs.

5. found in Clausewitz’s On War, published originally in German as Vom Kriege in 1832.

6. Copley, Gregory R.: The Rise and Fall of 21st Century City States, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 11-2006, pp 2-15.

7. Associated Press report of May 15, 2007, datelined Moscow.

8. High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

9. Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP).


Copyright � 2007, Gregory R. Copley. All rights reserved.
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