This just in — military force not that useful any more

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.”

2 thoughts on “This just in — military force not that useful any more

  1. Great article Chet. I’ve been preoccupied studying the F-35 Program disaster.
    Good argument here, that it’s not effective, the trouble is,
    as we see with the F-35 program, it’s just such big, big business,
    with so many vested interests. Flirting with an economic
    collapse, The country may actually choose to cut social
    security pensions, and let grandma’s starve, to keep this insanity

    What does that really say about America ?

    It’s tragic ! And makes you ashamed of your country.

  2. You’d think that military planners might learn from nature. Where we see viruses
    and bacteria mutating, to mitigate and usurp the effectiveness of modern antibiotics.
    So it is with technology, tactics, politics, communications and the realities of
    the world we live in.

    George H. Bush, was right in that sense, when in abject arrogance and hubris, he declared “a new world order.” Trouble is, as your article makes the point so well, he was also dead wrong, which might almost be laughable, from the perspective or irony, if not for the tragedy of the current conditions. As he was thinking ridiculously, in terms of an extension, and return to more or less, to outcome of WW-2, But sans the Soviet Union. Where by the USA would have completely free reign across the world to spread “democracy” and yes of course, “Freedumb !
    Yeah, right ! (sic)

    The United States is currently paying a steep and further escalating price for all these
    this follies, across the board of social cohesion, national esteem, economics,
    all at grave threat even to it’s very survival. It remains to be seen, if it might even manage to emerge intact.

    That seems very bleak I’ll admit, on the other hand, there’s also a chance
    to muddle through.

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