Armed Conflict: The Lessons of Modern Warfare

Armed Conflict: The Lessons of Modern Warfare

by Brian Steed

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What challenges will America face in armed conflicts of the future and how will we prepare for them? National security depends upon the ability of the military to “predict” the future nature of war. Despite the difficulty in making such predictions, one must remember: nation states and other countries will continue to use armed conflict as a means to


What challenges will America face in armed conflicts of the future and how will we prepare for them? National security depends upon the ability of the military to “predict” the future nature of war. Despite the difficulty in making such predictions, one must remember: nation states and other countries will continue to use armed conflict as a means to further their aims, and these aims will, at times, run contrary to American interests. As a result, the United States will continue to be confronted with armed conflict in the days and years ahead.

A military theorist and experienced armor officer, Brian Steed provides insights into the future of armed conflict by focusing on what has occurred in the past–not because the past repeats itself, but because it reveals timeless principles of warfare. Five battles, one each in Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, the Persian Gulf, and Somalia are analyzed historically, geographically, and strategically. Steed’s analysis of these engagements clearly demonstrates that the key to victory on the battlefields of the future is the small unit. In refreshing layman’s prose, the author focuses on why the events occurred as they did, and explores the significance of each battle in terms of its political and military ramifications. He concludes with lessons learned that will greatly benefit future American ground combat commanders.

Armed Conflict informs the reader about the historical trends of combat operations and the realities of war–today and into the future. It will also serve to guide a new generation of military and civilian leaders as they prepare to face the inevitable conflicts in the new century.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An Army Captain stationed at Fort Knox, Steed makes a concise and cogent argument for larger and simpler armed forces. He begins by arguing that U.S. combat power is dangerously thin on the ground and the country's advanced weapons are like a Ferrari in a bad neighborhood-one must spend more time protecting them than using them. He then cites five modern battles to prove his point, one each from Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, the Gulf War and Somalia. In the Falklands, the British won by superior small-unit training, while in the Gulf War, U.S. armored cavalry beat an Iraqi army that gave away every possible advantage including terrain. In the other three actions, the U.S. forces inflicted more damage than they received-but not more damage than the opponent could accept. The author goes on to advocate not only more numerous ground forces with better training and better small-unit leaders, but a basic all-purpose fighting vehicle as versatile as the World War II Sherman tank. This proposition will make some readers cringe, as will Steed's attacks on the media, but the whole is a reasonable presentation of a thesis that is not new, but is still deserving of serious consideration by military professionals and concerned civilians. Maps and illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Every four years, the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) evaluates the roles, missions, and organization of each service. This "food fight" provides the foundation for budget submissions, especially in the area of major equipment purchases. Steed, a mere army captain, has the audacity to wander into this fray. What results is a blunt appraisal of American military strategy. Using case studies from battles throughout the 20th century (Korea, Vietnam, Somalia), Steed projects future challenges for American ground commanders and provides a convincing case that the United States must balance its preparation for future conflict between costly high-tech systems and cheaper multifunctional systems. He also reveals the need for lighter forces to fight in the restricted environments of cities, jungles, and mountains. Perceptive and yet accessible, this is essential reading for political and military leaders. Highly recommended for larger libraries with military and political science collections and for military libraries.-Lt. Col. (Ret.) Charles M. Minyard, U.S. Army, Mt. Pleasant, MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

This chapter provides the framework that demonstrates the alteration in the very nature of ground conflict. This is to say that the context in which any ground conflict may be conducted is significantly different from such conflicts fought in the pre-World War II era—the era of industrial-age warfare.

First, to explain the evolution in warfare: During the period
1795-1945, the world witnessed a series of struggles among the great powers. Most of these wars were fought with alliances and coalitions and covered several regions of the globe. This period culminated in two major world wars. The last two wars clearly demonstrated the concept of total war,
in which a nation invests all of its resources to achieve its war aims. In the early part of this period, during the
Napoleonic era, the world saw the growth of the army from a relatively limited structure of wealthy nobles and their retainers to one of large, conscripted land forces numbering in the millions. The combination of total war and massive armies required long, drawn-out struggles that sought to exhaust the abilities and assets of the opposing nation. These three concepts—
total war between nation-states, massive armies, and protracted conflict—have become, for the current time and into the foreseeable future, less likely than anytime in the post-World War II era.

In many respects this is not a new phenomenon. Immediately following World War II, the combination of total war,
massive armies, and protracted conflict between two rela-
tive peer nations was just as unlikely as it is today; however,
the Cold War struggle clouded our ability to see the change in strategic affairs with clarity.

The end of the Cold War further magnified the changes already taking place. The use of military force extends from support of domestic disaster relief to strategic nuclear war.
After the end of the Cold War, the preponderance of military deployments shifted from a war or near-war focus to what are often referred to as operations other than war (OOTW).
The reasons for the departure from the traditional view of conflict are the focus of this chapter.

In the 1990s, two terms seemed to dominate articles written about the future of the military or about national security affairs. These terms are Revolution in Military Affairs
(RMA) and Military Technological Revolution (MTR). These terms are nearly synonymous and focus on the technological changes that the U.S. military infrastructure has promoted.
The focus on newer, bigger, faster, and apparently better weapons has driven a technology-focused improvement rather than an idea-, threat-, or people-driven one.

The most dominant term in the national security arena was
RMA. One could hardly read an article about the future of national security or the military without running across this term. It is defined as "a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine,
and operational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of operations."

Are technological innovations changing the nature of warfare?
This question is at the heart of the views between this book and many writers in the national security arena. The details of the debate between definitions are beyond the scope of this book, but clearly RMA is too narrow a definition for the change in the overall context of military operations just described.

The definition of MTR is even more technically based. It is
"a technical development that when properly exploited through equipment, training, organization and doctrine provides a decisive (although temporary) advantage."
This de -finition focuses even more on technology and its impact on conflict and is even more narrow than that of RMA. Referencing the five levels of strategy outlined in the Introduction,
RMA and MTR focus more on the tactical and technical levels of strategy. RMA has been shown to improve capabilities at the operational and theater strategy levels, but not to the degree of changing the nature in which these strategies are conducted.

The Geostrategic Revolution is the phenomenon that most national security and foreign policy writers discuss when talking about the context of these rapid changes in policy and the global framework. In some respects this term is actually too large. It tends to focus on the diplomatic and economic elements of national power.

The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks combined with the geostrategic changes of the last fifty years should lead those who are concerned with national security and military issues to see the world in a completely different context (economic,
diplomatic, and military) in which future conflict will be conducted.

The world and military conflict must be considered in light of the changes occurring in national security and with an understanding that they are not limited simply to the technological changes of placing computers in armored vehicles or the use of satellites to assist in the improvement of situational awareness; nor are they just about the changing global framework. These are all useful developments and have the potential to create evolutionary change in the future of conflict,
but clearly they are not the main reason that conflict is now revolutionarily different.

A major part of the current national security environment is the fundamental shift in geopolitical alignment. Alignment has changed from multipolar (pre-World War II) to bipolar
(Cold War). Now the geopolitical alignment is becoming multipolar again. As is the case in any multipolar organization,
no two elements of power are dominated by the same nations.
In the evolving world situation, there are different dominant powers in each element. Here is a simple example of the various dominant nations:

Form of Power Dominant Nations economic power United States, Japan, China and the European Union diplomatic power United States, the European pow-ers (Britain, France, and Ger
Form of Power Dominant Nations the People's Republic of China,
and Russia military power United States (defined as global power projection ability)

The United States remains a superpower in that it is the only nation that is a leader in all areas of power and therefore wields the most influence. The diversity of power "is a unique phenomenon of [this] era [in] that economic and military might tend to be in separate hands." This statement is especially true when considering the current Russian economic position.

The economic revolution has taken the primary position among the elements of power: "Economic strength will become an increasingly important aspect of national power, and in many cases the decisive aspect, in what promises to be a more competitive global commercial and financial environment."

Meet the Author

U.S. Army officer Brian Steed holds a master’s degree in international relations from Vermont College of Norwich University. Armed Conflict is his first book. Captain Steed’s previous assignments include duty with the OPFOR at the National Training Center. He is currently stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

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