The Weaponization of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War by Mark Galeotti

 By Dr. Anuradha Oinam

Book Review

The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War by Mark Galeotti published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2022

       By Dr Anuradha Oinam

States in the twenty-first century are witnessing an undeclared and simmering war as it is fought without a gunshot or military confrontation. It blurs the line between peace and war and cannot describe a state’s victory clearly. For this reason, winning states cannot guarantee everlasting peace anymore due to covert transpiring wars. In this vein, Mark Galeotti, an expert and writer on transnational crimes, offers fresh insights in his book The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War to look extensively at how states in contemporary times weaponise every possible medium from lifestyle to business to information to use it against their enemies or influence allies. For instance, ‘weaponisation can be from information to bizarrely football hooliganism’ (p5). It is a new trend of warfare, according to Galeotti.

The book has twelve chapters clubbed under four parts, excluding chapter 1. In the first chapter, titled ‘The Renaissance of Weaponisation’, the author details the emergence of new ways of fighting conflict or war, which he puts under different terminologies: hybrid war, grey zone warfare, asymmetric war, tolerance warfare, unrestricted war, non-linear warfare and so on. Under this new fashion, states use culture and credit, faith and famine and fake news disinformation attributing in narrative warfare (p14-16), etc., as new weapons of modern war.

Part I of the book ‘Ain’t Gonna Study (Shooting) War No More’ comprises Chapters 2 and 3. In this section, the author highlights the complexity of contemporary warfare. For Galeotti, ‘wars aren’t what they used to be; they are rather more expensive’ (p28). He opines that the post-ideological age brings more complex rivalries and competitions between states. States find neither real enemies nor real friends as everyone (even allies) competes for trade deals or technological advantage for their national interest. For the author, such constant competition is a new way of warfighting without violence. He addresses that inter-state wars and significant conventional conflicts are rare in the contemporary epoch; however, proxies and information such as hashtags, memes and selfies become new weapons and play a pivotal role in narrative warfare.

Further, he stresses the critical role of non-state agencies in preserving government institutions, from espionage to warfare. Besides, Galeotti emphasises the appearance of gig economies that shape states’ economies by outsourcing or offshoring ‘individual freelancers and temporary workers, sometimes recruited directly, or through online platforms or third-party matchmakers’ (p59). He points out the importance of outsourcing and the crucial roles of contractors in shaping today’s battlefield.

Part II of the book’ Business and Other Crimes’ encompasses Chapters 4 to 6, which explains how states use economic statecrafts such as sanctions and embargoes, and other crimes such as cyberattacks, currency manipulations, flooding a country with counterfeit money and other covert or deniable tricks’ (p78) as weapons in which the author terms as ‘economic guerrilla warfare’. It can quickly weaken, infuriate, demoralise or destabilise through myriad paper cuts and pinpricks (p78) other states. According to the author, a new imperial hegemon emerged because of this economic warfare.

On top of this, states weaponise money to ‘buy a voice or to swing a vote, to muzzle a newspaper or to hype a project (p90) and further influence the targeted states’ narratives to achieve political goals. States’ use of gangsters to control the movement of drugs, guns and even migrants has become the latest fashion in the new geopolitical conflicts, according to the author. Another test case is states’ economic penetration with the help of criminals. Using crime as a helpful instrument by hostile/fragile states can be a new method of war. A case in point is gangsters help pariah states to break sanctions and raise funds (p106).

Part III, ‘War is All Around Us,’ comprises Chapters 7 to 10; the author illustrates that war is ubiquitous and an inevitable part of life and states weaponise life’s necessities as a new war trend. It weaponises humanitarian aid, water, and medicines, like the weaponisation of migrants in an undeclared political conflict (p131). Thus, humanitarianism becomes a means to wage covert warfare for the author. He exemplifies the role of the Marshall Plan or the European Recovery Plan to rebuild Europe shattered by WWII. Besides, states use health as an instrument of soft power.

In this part, Galeotti mentions the misuse of lawfare for national gain emerges as a decisive new battlefield (p147) for states in global affairs.  Most states, especially authoritarian regimes, seem comfortable exploiting national and international law to suppress criticism and persecute political enemies (p149). The author also highlights the emergence of the ‘media mercenary’ age due to overflooded information, disinformation, misinformation and propaganda of falsehood. For Galeotti, diplomats, spin doctors, journalists, pundits and writers, lobbyists, scholars, think tanks, NGOs, and GONGOs (Government NGOs) are info warriors and have revolutionised the weaponisation of information (p163). One remedy the author suggests is to have media literacy and ‘information hygiene’. The best way is to provide the people with the skills and understanding of the demerit of information warfare. Culture is another mounting arena that states use as a weapon as it can spread subversive values or undermine national will, according to the author.

Part IV, ‘Welcome to the Future,’ comprises Chapters 11 and 12, highlighting how states should take advantage of or benefit from instability in the coming days. In the increasing global instability globally, it is the state’s choice to embrace or adapt to the new challenges. The author mentions that states can benefit from the flexibility of an unstable order as it is a unique opportunity. The author asserts that since wars are fought with covert, undeclared, unacknowledged proxies, concepts such as war, enemy, and victory must be rethought (p. 209). Besides, existing international bodies such as Interpol, the ICC, WHO and the International Telecommunication Union need to adapt and work to overcome these new challenges in international order (p211).

The book conveys a crucial message that war is inevitable, and states fight a new war without violence. One key concern is how states should normalise those uncertainties and challenges. The book also highlights the need for a new definition of power and victory as conflict involves influence, connectivity, economic muscle and covert manipulations; new power indices will become more critical (p223). It also offers a holistic view of how contemporary states (great powers) weaponise every possible means against their enemies or influence allies.

It is a thought-provoking book that nuances the conventional way of understanding fighting wars by states. The author reviews exhaustive literature with relevant examples to justify how states, especially great powers, wage a modern war by weaponising every possible means. The book gives the readers a sense of the diminishing relevance of conventional wars until the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, when Russia and Ukraine used conventional and non-kinetic methods in fighting each other.  Another point the book could have included is how middle-power or small countries should prepare themselves. Galeotti misses out on narratives of the recipient states that still depend on humanitarian aid provided under the aegis of the United Nations (UN).

Nevertheless, the silver lining of the book is that the author covers several diverse aspects that successfully portray weaponisation. The book will influence its readers, especially the young scholars of today’s generation interested in security studies, war futurists, academicians, and war strategists, to put together manifold nuances of measures taken by competing nations to stay ahead.