Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Our future: The Middle Ages

Professor Martin van Creveld, the expert on non-clauzewitzian warfare just published a new article on Defense and the National Interest

The past:
For a thousand years before 1945, the story of mankind had been one of political consolidation. To be sure, empires rose and receded, were created and fell to pieces. But however twisty the road, in the long run it always led toward larger and more powerful units. By 1914, virtually the entire Earth was dominated by just seven of them, six of them established by white men and five centered in Europe. Needless to say, they promptly fell to fighting each other on an unequaled scale and with an unequaled ferocity. By the time their struggle ended 30 years later, 80 to 100 million people had been killed.
The present and the growing power of transnational organisations:
From Indonesia to Scotland, and from the former Soviet Union to southern Africa, the process most characteristic of our age is political splintering, decentralization, even disintegration. Hardly a month goes by without some new state appearing on the map. And political transformation extends far beyond government. Each time a new user acquires a TV dish or links up to the Internet, the nature of politics undergoes a subtle change. Each time a new international organization arises, more states find themselves caught in its coils. The splintering process has led to vast increases in the power of organizations other than states, such as multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and the media. With each passing day these groups are a little more independent of government. With each passing day, the influence they exercise in world affairs grows.
It is true that the public is resisting the power of some transnational organisations dreamed up by the political class (EU), but other social units other than states are increasing their in the minds of the subjects they seek to control, as we can see in the struggle in Iraq between a transnational alliance of Western nations to create a nation that would do their bidding and a legion of non-nation groups that fight them and each other for dominance over populations and territories.

The future:
There will be continued political decentralization accompanied by massive population movements from one political unit to the next. These political units will vary widely, from sovereign states to international organizations that are not sovereign, and from those with large territories to those that have very little territory or none at all. Operating within a very loose framework of international law, from time to time they will go to war against each other. But compared with the titanic struggles of the years 1914-45, these wars will tend to be small and, except to those directly involved, harmless.
Martin van Creveld wrote "The Transformation of War" in 1990 in which he showed the waning power of nation states and the inability of these states to perform their core duty: physical security. Rereading the book in 2006 it is uncanny how prescient he was at that time.

Another seminal book by Van Creveld is: "The rise and fall of the State"

Read more of Van Creveld's article at


Ferdy said...

What a coincidence I just read the new book “War Made New” from Max Boot. In the book Boot described the history of transformations in warfare. Basically illustrating that RMA is noting new. His point is that we should transform the military to the new way of decentralized fighting now made possible by the new IT technologies. He argues, quite convincing I think, that failing to adjust to fighting these ‘small’ wars can be very lethal for the West.

My short review of the book, in Dutch, can be found here:

Snouck said...

What is RMA?

Van Creveld's critique of Clauzewitzean war is very fundamental. IT is mostly useful for Command, Control and Comms (C3). Non-Clausewitzean forces such as Hizbollah use C3 with great deftness. Technology does not give a western force and edge in the struggle.

I saw that "the sling and the stone" was on your booklist and look forward to your review.



Ferdy said...

The abbreviation RMA stands for Revolution in Military Affairs. A hip term for the new technological advances in military affairs that became popular after the enormously one-sided American victory in the first Gulf War.

You point out that IT does not give the West the edge in war far. I agree, it’s not about technology; it’s about adapting to the new paradigms that they offer. So far, the Islamic forces seem very much more adaptive that the West.

You wrote you looked forward to my "the sling and the stone" review. But I cannot guarantee that one. All those new books on my booklist look very interesting. If I only had the time for all of them ;-)

Snouck said...

A good explanation of how non-western forces counter American superior hardware is :

phantom soldier by H. John Poole.

An eye opener with regards to some aspects (battle field mobility, surprise) of Hizbollah's recent successes in South Lebanon.

It describes mostly Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese tactics in countering the Americans, but these tactics have succesfully been adapted by the Jihadists.