THE REVOLUTION IN MILITARY AFFAIRS AND CONFLICT SHORT OF WAR

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Clausewitz saw war as multi-dimensional and "chameleon-like," composed of subjective and objective natures. The former consisted of war's means which, since they varied according to time and place, Clausewitz considered subjective. The latter, on the other hand, encompassed the elements of violence, uncertainty, chance, and friction; and, while they embody numerous varieties and intensities, remain a constant part of war regardless of time and place.

Moreover, because war was not an autonomous activity, but a social and human event, it possessed two tendencies, escalation and reciprocation, which, without the moderating influence of policy and the debilitating force of friction, tended to push warfighting itself towards a violent extreme. Thus, for Clausewitz, war might change its color like a chameleon, but its essential nature remained constant—violent, unpredictable, and prone to escalation.

Technology, in fact, resides in all three elements of the trinity without altering their basic relationship within it. Military technology, for example, might be defined as that used by a nation's armed forces for military purposes. While items like tanks and missiles fall under the military corner of the trinity, their component technologies e. Indeed, some types of technologies, namely, communications and transportation technologies, have broad application in all branches of the trinity, defying pat labels. The point is that the basic interdependency of the various components of the trinity will remain unchanged, despite revolutionary advances in technology itself.

In fact, the RMA's continually evolving information and communication technologies will merely expand the immediacy—shorten the response time and heighten the sensitivity—of each component of the trinity in its interaction with the others. To be sure, information technology will require an increase in the intelligence level of soldiers and civilians alike, or at least demand that they process more information in less time.

But it will not change the fact that ruling bodies, whether they be recognized governments, revolutionary cells, terrorist leaders, or drug lords will make or attempt to make decisions regarding when, where, how, and why to apply military power.

The Revolution in Military Affairs and Conflict Short of War

These decisions will in turn be influenced by political forces such as the power relationships provided by alliances and treaties whether perceived or real , the effectiveness of key institutions involved in the decision-making process, and the general assumptions, beliefs, and expectations of the decision makers. But decision makers will continue to receive that vast quantity of information through subjective filters; hence, the decisions they make will remain largely a matter of judgment, and that judgment will in turn be shaped by political forces.

Paradoxically, new military technology both increases and decreases violence, chance, uncertainty, and friction in unforeseen and uneven ways. New weapons systems make it possible for both sides to observe and strike simultaneously throughout the depth of the battlefield, thus eliminating "safe" areas. The five-dimensional battlefield means that commanders must consider defeating an attack or counterattack from any number of directions and at any time. A general "lack of immunity" will prevail as units at all echelons of command and control will endure greater risk.

Hence, new technology alone will not prove decisive in future war; it will require a harness of sorts—a flexible and comprehensive doctrine that fully integrates the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. Thus, the objective nature of Clausewitz's concept of war will remain relevant to future war. Even the development of nuclear weaponry, the so-called absolute weapon, has not meant the death of Clausewitz, as some have claimed.

The evolution of US nuclear strategy from "massive retaliation" in the s to "flexible response" in the early s, for example, reveals how Politik continued to influence war even in a nuclear environment.

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Policy and politics have clearly conspired to force the avoidance of nuclear war. To be sure, the destructive power of nuclear weaponry, the prospect of runaway escalation, and the concept of "superconductivity"—the elimination of friction by reducing the chain of events that must occur between the decision to launch and the actual launch of a nuclear strike—will reduce or negate entirely the influence that policy makers can have on the conduct of actual nuclear war should it occur. But these realities are merely products of the times. They constitute what Clausewitz, in his historicist approach, would have called the subjective elements of war—the means selected for its prosecution—in the nuclear age; and they serve to distinguish nuclear war from other forms.

It may be going too far to say that such means constitute the ultimate expression of the remarkable trinity in terms of absolute war, but not by much. Once again, we should bear in mind that Clausewitz's mature thought does not insist that warfare serve either a purely rational or purely political aim. In any case, the definition of a rational political aim is largely subjective.

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Terrorist groups sometimes launch suicide bombings which they consider completely rational. Indeed, the current "world order" makes it possible to imagine a limited nuclear exchange occurring between states or groups possessing relatively small arsenals. In fact, nuclear weaponry will not render irrelevant the intelligence of the government, the skill of the military, and the emotive force of the populace, as some believe. Rather, the advent of such weaponry along with its attendant strategies only reveals that each of the components of the trinity has changed over time.

Diplomacy has become more aware that military action of any sort might generate unintended consequences and runaway escalation, and has developed systemic checks and precautions to prevent them.

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The military has gradually altered its age-old warrior ethos to prize, rather than eschew, intelligence and technical expertise. The populace, too, has changed, becoming more educated and more politicized, growing increasingly sensitive to the fact that its future rests in the hands of a few chosen officials. Such developments do not invalidate Clausewitz's trinity, but speak instead to its lasting durability and intrinsic dynamism.

Of course, not all of Clausewitz's military thought has remained relevant. His vision of war did not include its economic, air, sea, and space dimensions, for example.

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But his conception of war, his remarkable trinity, and his grasp of the relationship between Politik and war will remain valid as long as states, drug lords, warrior clans, and terrorist groups have mind to wage it. John E. Sheppard, Jr. See also: Hans Rothfels, Carl von Clausewitz. Politik und Krieg. They saw politics as a Social-Dawinistic struggle for national existence that demanded war waged to the utmost. These and other essays can be found in English translation in Carl von Clausewitz, Historical and Political Writings , ed.

Robert B. McCalla, Uncertain Perceptions: U. Of course, the development of US nuclear strategy does not end there. Donald M. Martin's Press, ; Henry S.


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Thomas C. Stephen J. This article originally appeared in Joint Forces Quarterly , Winter It is reproduced here with the permission of JFQ. Those that follow must either embrace the change too, find the means by which to negate its advantage, or, if neither is possible, face decline. While it is still early days, it is now becoming increasingly likely that we are on the cusp of another Military Revolution. Its effect promises to offer both opportunities and dangers, and it will produce winners and losers.

US thinkers believed that RMAs held the possibility of fundamentally altering the way the military did business. Knox and Murray identified just five Military Revolutions in the modern era. Appropriately, they are characterised by the sweeping effect they had not simply on the military in war, but on the organisation and operation of human society as a whole.


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  • They are:. Most of the people who lived through Military Revolutions would have been unable to predict their outcome with any degree of precision. At best, those that took the lead would only have recognised that the opportunity for something new was taking shape, not its final form. For example, prior to the Industrial Revolution it would have been impossible to foresee that the people who lived in the then backwater known as Europe would soon dominate the world.

    Yet, while prediction remains fraught with challenge, contemporary defense thinkers have the advantage of a theoretical framework through which to consider the approach of a Military Revolution.

    Thanks to Roberts and others, our understanding of Military Revolutions gives us an analytical lens through which to scrutinize their potential effect and a language to share and debate ideas. While identifying and describing future Military Revolutions must necessarily remain difficult, at least the theoretical means now exists to do so. Since the Industrial Revolution, parts of humanity have enjoyed an unprecedented period of economic growth and general improvement in well-being, though much of this has been shared unequally. In recent decades less fortunate parts of the world have begun to catch up; some, as in the case of China, dramatically so.

    This growth required the voracious consumption of raw materials, especially cheap energy, which has enabled our species to avoid the population collapse predicted by Thomas Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Population , while supporting a seven-fold increase in numbers since This period of growth cannot continue indefinitely. Adding to the coming crisis will be the predicted movement of three billion people into the middle class, who in doing so will aspire to more intensive Western styles of consumption.

    The forecast for water availability is especially grave. Official US predictions suggest demand for this precious commodity will continue to outpace supply, which will have a flow-on effect of decreasing food production and increasing costs for the food that is available, accompanied by worsening public heath risks. Food shortages are likely to result in greater political instability in affected areas.

    This in turn requires commensurately more inputs — particularly water and energy — to produce it. As unceasing demand confronts resource constraint, humanity will face a harsh reality. We live on a planet in which physical limits do apply. As a species we have only been able to escape this reality by harvesting resources that were laid down over millions of years and which we have consumed in only a few hundred.

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    For example, much of the water used for irrigation today comes from ancient aquifers that cannot be replenished. When the tyranny of limits takes hold, the effect this will have on societies and states will be profound and the necessity for change inescapable. The imposition of limits on human endeavour will create a world different to the one we know. It will create challenges which will place many states under huge civil stress, possibly causing them to destabilise and collapse into civil war or prey upon weaker neighbors.

    The Arab Spring may prove a mere harbinger of what is to come as fragile societies try to cope with rising food costs, resource shortages and the ensuing social unrest. So far this article has not mentioned climate change. This is neither to ignore nor minimise its threat to global security and stability.

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    Instead, it is out of a belief that climate change is a further amplification of the coming Revolution of Limits. Atmospheric warming, sea-level rises, shifts in rain fall patterns and more frequent and stronger storms will affect resource availability, especially that of food and water. In addition, the international community may impose limits on the consumption of resources in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. As with all the previous Military Revolutions, the threads which define the fabric of contemporary society will come under strain and some will break as the tyranny of limits takes hold.

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