Nations are constantly preparing for war, and a major part of that preparation is predicting what the next war will be like. An expert in military strategy provides a detailed look at how that process has evolved.
Freedman (Emeritus, War Studies/Kings Coll. London; Strategy: A History, 2013, etc.) focuses primarily on British and American approaches, beginning in the mid-19th century, when a consensus arose that wars were decided in decisive battle, on the model of Waterloo. This encouraged military planners to aim for a knockout blow, preferably at the beginning of hostilities. Despite ample evidence of its flaws, this doctrine held sway for more than a century. With the arrival of the Cold War and its persistent theme of nuclear stalemate, Great Power wars became unthinkable. New technology that would avoid nuclear involvement became the holy grail of military thinkers. Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, local civil wars began to dominate the landscape. Western involvement—e.g., in Kosovo—became common, with results that often disappointed. Especially after 9/11, it became clear that traditional military methods were inadequate to win the new kind of conflict. The importance of cyberwar and the introduction of remote ways of killing—drones, in particular—came to the forefront, while grinding civil wars and terrorist action dominated the landscape. To show how contemporaries viewed future war in various eras, Freedman cites novels such as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach along with more official military texts to show how the brass was thinking. More often than not, everybody guessed wrong, especially as they fell under the “decisive battle” illusion. Freedman consistently brings the discussion down to real cases, covering a wide range of history and geography. The final section, which considers the place of gang warfare and civil unrest in many parts of the world and the likely role of China in future conflicts, is especially thought-provoking. The author’s lively style adds to the interest for general readers.
A valuable book for anyone interested in international affairs.