The BBC ran a feature yesterday morning with the provocative title: Spent force: Are Wars still winnable? Their answer:
As America’s decade of conflict draws to an end it’s a time for reflection about the utility of force; can modern warfare within societies ever bring the tidy outcomes that policymakers strive for? It’s a question that should have been asked in Iraq and Afghanistan; and it is as relevant in Mali and across much of sub-saharan Africa today. There may be no more decisive battles like Gettysburg.
I know you’re shocked unless, by chance, you read General Sir Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force (2005), which opened with:
War, as most cognitively known to most noncombatants, war as battle in a field between men and machinery, war as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs: such war no longer exists.
Or Martin van Creveld, who in The Transformation of War (1991) concluded that:
Thus the effect of nuclear weapons, unforeseen and perhaps unforeseeable, has been to push conventional war into the nooks and crannies of the international system … The United States, for one, has only been able to employ its conventional armed forces in cases where its vital interests were not at stake.
Or even Tom Barnett, in The Pentagon’s New Map (2004):
Meanwhile, state-on-state war has gone the way of the dinosaur. [CR note: Although doesn’t “and promoting the global spread of that security set through our use of military force overseas (e.g., preemptive war against regimes that openly transgress the rule set) is our most important long-term goal in this struggle” seem quaint today?]
And I guess the article answers the question of whether anybody read my own If We Can Keep It (2008), where I intone:
Which raises the obvious question of whether military force is useful for solving any of these problems, or whether we continue to use it only because we have it.
To which I give the obvious answer:
Although war has passed from the human scene, except where one participant is very weak, its name lives on, applied to a variety of struggles and conflicts for which it is neither appropriate nor useful. [It’s not too late — download a PDF from our Articles page.]
Oh well, I guess this is a point that we can’t make too often, particularly with certain politicians whining that we can’t reduce the budget for their favorite Cold-War-era weapons because “there’s a war on.”