Gregory R. Copley

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Gregory Copley at an earlier RUSI of Western Australia lecture.

Clausewitzian Friction and the New Cold War: How Population Growth, Urbanization, and Globalization are Defining the Shape of the Second Great Cold War

By Gregory R. Copley

A report published in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 6-2007, and based on Addresses to the US Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, and the Royal United Services Institute of Western Australia, in May and June 2007 respectively.

The overwhelming strategic phenomenon of the recent Cold War period and into the first half of the 21st Century has been the doubling of the human population between 1950 and the turn of the century.2 The ramifications of this continuing population growth on all aspects of life on the planet are enormous, and will continue to dominate all that we do over the next century. 

We are reluctant to discuss this continuing phenomenon of compounded human growth because its implications are substantially negative for our own situation and for nature generally. If we were zebras or elephants or kangaroos, devouring more and more of our surroundings, humans would cull us to sustain our balance with nature. 

However, nature itself will, it seems, in a century or so, reduce this spike in human population numbers. Declining population growth rates are already evident, and the prospect for what could be termed �neo-Malthusian adjustments� in population levels, and in the quality of human life, no longer seem far-fetched. In the meantime, the remaining surge of population growth and movement is the strategic reality which will drive social formation and actions for the coming few decades. It will be the spur of growth and collapse over coming decades. It will create new forms of society and therefore new forms of competition and warfare. But trends, including several generations of sustained population growth, will pass, and reverse, or change. There is, in history, no uninterrupted chain of development. 

The phenomenon of combined population and technological growth, the hallmark of our epoch, will define itself in profound competition or polarization between traditional society and urban society. This will be exemplified in global tensions which will have similarities to the last Cold War. It is already forming as a New Cold War. We cannot yet fully see the shape or all of the components of this New Cold War, because Cold War is actually a process through which strategic blocs form and solidify, deliberately obfuscating much of their nature and activities, to compete and maneuver. It is only rarely about direct, materialized clashes, either physical or political. 

No significant nation or society will be able to avoid this New Cold War, just as none could fail to have been impacted by the last Cold War which led directly to the present period of globalization and the New Cold War.  

This New Cold War is shaping up with 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 current hot wars 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. 

It is difficult to say how long this New Cold War will continue; the last dragged on for 45 years. This one may, or may not, be decided by economic or political collapse in the People�s Republic of China, for China is fast approaching several potentially explosive strategic catalysts, perhaps within the next decade. There are many variables in the equation, but the fate of China is an important one. 

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, in this maelstrom, seemed to lose its definition and hierarchical order. The world, however, is now crystalizing starkly defined as an urban-dominated world, driven by technology. 

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 and birth of 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 crato- metamorphosis

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. 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, however, much still hanging on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in Somalia and Sudan, and on 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 in the New Cold War, combating formal military 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 � mostly psychological � means of achieving their goals in the face of experienced, entrenched, weal- thy adversary states. 

The playing fields of human destiny are far broader than direct military conflict, which is just one part of the context of competition. Consciousness of this contextual process is what 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. 

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, these surges carry with them the prospect of more clashes because, at the same time, the tensions build as we atoms of humanity move, through urbanization, into closer and closer and more frictional contact. 

Friction in Cold War 

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.�4   

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 normal battle, although � again as I said in The Art of Victory � all modern conflict is indeed �total war�: war between whole societies. This applies as much (if not more) to cold wars as to hot ones. 

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 or three-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.�5 

Underlying, driving human psychological factors, including logic, and personal and societal imperatives are 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. Recognizing the great schism between urban and non-urban mindsets is key to understanding how sovereignty and power will change over the course of the 21st Century. It is also 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. 

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 true �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. 

So if the bulk of humanity is concentrating into urban groupings, then much of future hot conflict � short of strategic warfare � will, then, be urban warfare. That would imply an evolution for at least a period in the process of IED (improvised explosive device) weapons and doctrine.  

The New Cold War, however, is the arena in which true success will be either obtained or denied. Many feel that all rides on victory in Iraq, or victory in Afghanistan, but, despite the billions spent and the lives lost, Western leaders � and, I suspect, the jihadist leaders � have not yet adequately defined victory. In reality, at some point, Western 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 to this day. But will the wars of this decade, in Iraq and Afghanistan, change human society? 

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 (as Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey did with the Gallipoli campaign), or another society wallows in the negative reflection of those same icons. In many respects, it is struggle which defines individual and societal identity. 

That, indeed, is the essence of survival: the preservation of identity, which gives meaning and purpose � and therefore will � to existence. 

In essence, this present fight in Afghanistan and Iraq is symptomatic of a deeper conflict between actors who do not regard themselves as equal in terms of wealth or other power resources. That is why the parties � in this case, Iran, North Korea, the jihadist Caliphate movement, and even China to a degree � which recognize, or feel, their strategic impotence, are forced to fight a strategic Cold War, and to engage in direct, 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. As a result, they engaged heavily in proxy warfare, manipulating the frustrations of elements of essentially �trapped� societies around the world � and they, as well, manipulated 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. 

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 or which are engaged in inevitable competition with them. China is, with some ambiguity, part of this, but Iran and North Korea are of key significance, and they have sought openly to build a new bloc of states opposed to the US. [Of course Iran�s clerical leaders and the DPRK are heavily dependent on China, strategically.]  

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�6. That Cold War is indeed over, even though Dr Rice herself and the US State Department 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 and European 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. 

In early 1991, at the end of the last Cold War, I noted: �It would be a mistake to assume that the traditional composition of world blocs, which have been in recognizable shapes for many years, will continue � The global powers of the 1990s will continue to have great economic leverage, but limited willpower, or possibly even limited real power, to control the growing anomie � lawlessness � in many states.�7 

And, in May 1992, in Defense & Foreign Affairs, I pointed out the reality that the start of the �New Cold War� began with the ending of the old Cold War: �It will be impossible for the global community to contain itself within a single, harmonious family. The very fact that � China is now able to start welding together a bloc of states hostile to, or disaffected from, the concept of Pax Americana shows that the world will once again start to re-form into camps.�8 

That report also noted: �Virtually all solutions considered today [1992] for the containment of subnational or informal conflict have the effect of either worsening the long-term problem or creating a situation where animosities and aspirations remain unresolved. We are today not solving problems, but creating bigger problems for the future.� 

So it was to be for the West in Iraq in the 21st Century. 

Abstract War 

In cold wars, states triumph, implode, or seek to break out of the stalemate imposed by abstract war � which is what cold war is � by moving to hot war. Success in cold wars lies in forcing the collapse � the implosion � of the adversary state or in neutralizing and containing it, possibly even by absorbing it into the suc- cessful bloc without resort to direct hot war. Disadvantaged states or societies engaged in a cold war seek to use the breathing space which such an abstract conflict provides to build in power and substance. 

This is exactly what the USSR attempted to do in the last Cold War, and failed, leading to its implosion. This is also what the People�s Republic of China (PRC) sought to do, and almost failed, but for the reprieve granted by the death of Mao, the collapse of the USSR, and the spread of globalization. The PRC then began moving toward the creation of true substance in its strategic complexion, but still requires the framework of either a cold war or a peace in which its freedom is guaranteed in order to complete its goal. 

Iran, certainly, requires the time and competitive tension afforded by a cold war to build its power and the survivability of its leadership. But the New Cold War has already imposed such constraints on it � in the form of embargoes and strategic isolation � that it must resort to hot war, either directly or by the use of thinly-veiled proxies, in order to ensure that its population base does not rise against the clerics. There are parallels in the case of the DPRK. 

Meanwhile, the West could have been spared much of the pain in the fight against jihadist terrorism had it allowed Russia to re-emerge as an ally. Russia could have shared, as it wished to do, its own experience in the Caucasus jihadist conflict, and we would today not be facing to the same extent the complex network of anti-modernist forces which spread from Central Asia and across the Middle East into Europe. 

Success in cold wars, then, is very much the result of psychological strategies, rather than purely military strategies, although the marriage of the physical and psychological is critical and symbiotic. 

But if the clarity of a war won or a war lost is not always immediately apparent, then the clarity of a conflict � hot or cold � when it is underway is even less apparent. In the embattled fortresses of war, the focus is short, and few raise their heads above the parapets to view the horizon.  

Today, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought less in the streets of Baghdad and the plains of Kandahar Province and more between Washington�s internal �warring camps� where the combat is psychological and political. It is in Washington, as the Iranian leadership knows, that the outcome of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be determined. This reality � that wars are determined by politicians, the media, and polling, as we saw with the Vietnam War � should be sufficient to emphasize the reality of Napoleon I�s maxim that psychological factors are two-thirds of the strategic equation, and physical factors (such as military conflict) are 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, but also the immediate 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 Iranian clerics and their allies understand it; Western leaders and populations do not. 

The Iranian clerical leadership truly understands that this is a war with vital, life-and-death consequences. 

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 significant 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 German nazi leadership and the War Cabinet in Tokyo. 

Similarly, although Iran�s clerics and DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il have defined themselves the great enemies 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� Khomeini did in 1982 in the war with Iraq, the clerics 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 occurring against the clerics� proxies and their Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran) fighting in Iraq; mostly it is a battle conducted in the hearts and minds: in the US, Iran, and around the world. 

In speaking in June 2007 to the Royal United Services Institute of Western Australia (RUSI), I said � to emphasize the more complex make-up of the New Cold War � that Australia�s position in the New Cold War would differ from its r�le in the last. It will side with its traditional Western allies in combating the proxy, symptomatic warfare, but will nonetheless have the ability to act as a bridge between the factions. Australia will, of necessity, be a more active participant in the New Cold War than the previous event. It cannot afford, for example, to let China collapse, or India to become distracted by renewed conflict with Pakistan, or the Persian Gulf and Red Sea regions to become strategically unstable. Such occurrences, far more than in the previous Cold War, will seriously affect Australia, and so Australia�s strategic influence must therefore be of a greater and more flexible reach. 

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 East Timor or the Solomons, must be seen within that context. 

Moreover, we need to see that conflict and challenges are multi-dimensional, and that the psychological factors are, in Napoleon�s maxim, two-thirds of the equation. That means that the West�s defense capabilities will require a broad strategic force of both military and non-military capabilities.  

And so it is for many countries. The need to re-think the global strategic context will cause all states to redefine the way defense and strategic planning and structuring occurs. 

In Conclusion, some main points: 

1. Global population growth remains the profound driver in strategic issues, particularly involving the rapid movement of the majority of the world�s population to urban centers, which creates a changing set of priorities and a disassociation from the sources of food, water, and raw materials;  

2. The changing nature of global society means that entire populations now feel a great angst which is attributable in part to globalization, but also to a Clausewitzian �friction of war� which will, in some senses, demand a release in some forms of outbursts or conflict; 

3. Societies, after conflicts, inevitably begin to rebuild, so it is no surprise that a new set of power blocs began to build after the end of the last Cold War. And, because of strategic asymmetry, these states cannot, and do not necessarily at this point wish to confront each other titanically. So a New Cold War arises naturally to allow states to develop their postures and alliances, and to begin to compete without resorting to hot war, except in isolated areas. Thus, the conflicts we see emerging are symptomatic of, and also often important fronts of, the New Cold War, and need to be seen in that context.


1. This study was drawn from an address to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) of Western Australia, on June 12, 2007, and also from an address by the author to the US Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, USA, May 21, 2007.

2. According to the US Census� August 2006 statistics, the global population stood at just more than 2.5-billion in 1950, and at some six-billion in 1999. It noted: �The world population is projected to grow from six-billion in 1999 to nine-billion by 2042, an increase of 50 percent that will require 43 years. The world population growth rate rose from about 1.5 percent per year from 1950-51 to a peak of over two percent in the early 1960s due to reductions in mortality. Growth rates thereafter started to decline due to rising age at marriage as well as increasing availability and use of effective contraceptive methods. Note that changes in population growth have not always been steady. A dip in the growth rate from 1959-1960, for instance, was due to the Great Leap Forward in China. During that time, both natural disasters and decreased agricultural output in the wake of massive social reorganization caused China�s death rate to rise sharply and its fertility rate to fall by almost half.�

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. von Clausewitz, Karl: War, Politics, and Power. Translation by Col. Edward M. Collins, USAF. Chicago, 1962: Regnery Gateway, Inc. pp 131-2. The text is also to be found in Clausewitz�s On War, published originally in German as Vom Kriege in 1832.

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

6. Associated Press report of May 15, 2007, datelined Moscow.
7. Copley, Gregory R.: Global Geopolitics in the 1990s: An Era of Instability. In Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, Jan.-Feb. 1991.

8. Copley, Gregory R.: The Global Strategic Outlook: A New Era of Conflict. In Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, May 1992.

9. Copley, Gregory R.: The Global Strategic Outlook: A New Era of Conflict. In Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, May 1992.

10. High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.


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