October 18, 2010
THAT, TRAGICALLY, AND HOCKEY ARE ALL THE USSR GOT RIGHT:
From Russia With Blood: C.J. Chivers talks with Foreign Policy about the Kalashnikov, the world's real weapon of mass destruction. (INTERVIEW BY CHARLES HOMANS, OCTOBER 15, 2010, Foreign Policy)
FP: The Gun includes a chilling account of the use of the Kalashnikov by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, where the gun's durability in a harsh environment has prolonged the guerrillas' activities and its ease of operation has enabled the deployment of child soldiers. How responsible is the weapon for the nature of the protracted, de-professionalized wars that have torn apart so much of east and central Africa over the past two decades? Are there conflicts that we likely wouldn't have seen but for the proliferation of Kalashnikovs?
CC: I like these questions, so let me riff on them. Let's be clear: Without Kalashnikovs, there would still be war, and plenty of it. It would be naive, even foolish to think otherwise. But let's also be clear about the Kalashnikov's role: It would also be naive, even foolish, to think that the costs and consequences of many wars would not be lessened if automatic Kalashnikovs were not so widely distributed, and so readily available.
Once or twice I have heard very accomplished Western soldiers say, "Hey, the AK is not very accurate, and it's not very well-used by many of the poorly trained people who fight conventional forces; therefore it's influence on war today is less than what it might seem." In this view, the improvised explosive device (aka, the IED) or the suicide bomber is the greater threat to many troops in the field, and military small arms are of less importance than they used to be. I reject this latter view, that the rise of one weapon in two wars signifies the decline of another. They are complements. What do I mean?
I won't downplay the role of the improvised bomb, which in recent years has become the dominant cause of wounding to Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a broader view is essential to understanding war and how it is waged. We need to get past the lenses of the most robust and well-equipped forces in the world because (outside the Kalashnikov's early advantage against the early variants of the M-16 in Vietnam) the experiences of Western troops against Kalashnikovs is not where this weapon is at its best, or most influential, at least if measured by body counts. The fuller and more important measure of the automatic Kalashnikov is not how its users perform in head-to-head combat against the current generation of Westernized forces, who have body armor, armored transport, updated weapons with updated optics and night sights, extensive fire support, and medical treatment both immediately (within most patrols) and beyond (via medevac helicopter crews, forward hospitals, and then the infrastructure of the home nation). Of course a network of lightly trained, lightly resourced fighters with Kalashnikovs faces material and tactical disadvantages in many head-to-head gunfights of this sort, and so they have adapted other weapons to match the fight. Thus, the IED.
Let's do the fuller measures. Casualties are not the only yardstick. A weapon can have an enormous effect without wounding anyone at all because it limits the other side's movements or the choices made each day about where and how to go. It can reduce an enemy's mobility and increase the costs of his operations by encouraging him to wear or ride in armor. It can redirect the direction and ambitions of operations -- from campaigns to patrols, in many, many ways. And even this is not enough. The fullest measure of the Kalashnikov is its effects on the vulnerable -- on civilians, on weak governments, on lower-performing government forces, like, for example, the Afghan police or, as you allude to, the Uganda People's Defense Force. Entire areas of many countries are beyond their governments' influence because local anger is coupled with automatic Kalashnikovs, which engender lawlessness and provide a means for crime, rebellion, insurgency, and human rights abuses on a grand scale. The Lord's Resistance Army provided a telling example. It descended from an insurgent organization that had few Kalashnikovs and was short-lived -- its precursor was, in a word, routed. Then came the LRA. It acquired Kalashnikovs. Almost 25 years later, it's still in the field, and the territory it operated in is a social and economic ruin. That was a different war before Joseph Kony got his AKs. And there are many other examples.
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2010 6:52 AM