The Transformation of War

The Transformation of War

4.5 2
by Martin Van Creveld, Martin Van Creveld

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At a time when unprecedented change in international affairs is forcing governments, citizens, and armed forces everywhere to re-assess the question of whether military solutions to political problems are possible any longer, Martin van Creveld has written an audacious searching examination of the nature of war and of its radical transformation in our own


At a time when unprecedented change in international affairs is forcing governments, citizens, and armed forces everywhere to re-assess the question of whether military solutions to political problems are possible any longer, Martin van Creveld has written an audacious searching examination of the nature of war and of its radical transformation in our own time.

For 200 years, military theory and strategy have been guided by the Clausewitzian assumption that war is rational—a reflection of national interest and an extension of politics by other means. However, van Creveld argues, the overwhelming pattern of conflict in the post-1945 world no longer yields fully to rational analysis. In fact, strategic planning based on such calculations is, and will continue to be, unrelated to current realities.

Small-scale military eruptions around the globe have demonstrated new forms of warfare with a different cast of characters - guerilla armies, terrorists, and bandits—pursuing diverse goals by violent means with the most primitive to the most sophisticated weapons. Although these warriors and their tactics testify to the end of conventional war as we've known it, the public and the military in the developed world continue to contemplate organized violence as conflict between the super powers.

At this moment, armed conflicts of the type van Creveld describes are occurring throughout the world. From Lebanon to Cambodia, from Sri Lanka and the Philippines to El Salvador, the Persian Gulf, and the strife-torn nations of Eastern Europe, violent confrontations confirm a new model of warfare in which tribal, ethnic, and religious factions do battle without high-tech weapons or state-supported armies and resources. This low-intensity conflict challenges existing distinctions between civilian and solder, individual crime and organized violence, terrorism and war. In the present global atmosphere, practices that for three centuries have been considered uncivilized, such as capturing civilians or even entire communities for ransom, have begun to reappear.

Pursuing bold and provocative paths of inquiry, van Creveld posits the inadequacies of our most basic ideas as to who fights wars and why and broaches the inevitability of man's need to “play” at war. In turn brilliant and infuriating, this challenge to our thinking and planning current and future military encounters is one of the most important books on war we are likely to read in our lifetime.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Most wars since 1945 have been low-intensity conflicts and, according to the author, incomparably more significant than conventional wars in terms of casualties suffered and political results achieved. Citing the dismal record of regular forces vs. irregulars in Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere, he suggests that as small-scale wars proliferate, conventional armed forces will shrink and the burden of protecting society will shift to the booming security business. Van Creveld, who teaches history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, argues that the theories of Karl von Clausewitz, which form the basis for Western strategic thought, are largely irrelevant to nonpolitical wars such as the Islamic jihad and wars for existence such as Israel's Six-Day War. In the future, he prophesies, wars will be waged by groups of terrorists, guerrillas and bandits motivated by fanatical, ideologically-based loyalties; conventional battles will be replaced by skirmishes, bombings and massacres. Weapons will become less, rather than more, sophisticated and the high-tech weapons industry (which ``supports itself by exporting its own uselessness'') will collapse like a house of cards. A bold, provocative, frightening book. (Mar.)

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Free Press
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6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.10(d)

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Transformation of War 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first reaction to this book upon finishing reading it is to commit suicide (just kidding of course). The author's reasoning is quite brilliant tracing the tribal warfare through the antiquity and its armies and motivations for war through the Middle Ages,then to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th century,the Peace of Westphalia (1648) then the birth of modern states and professional armies,Napoleon followed by the Clausewitzian construct of war and thence to the rise of technology and the rise of the killing machines called modern wars culminating in Hiroshima. It is the rise of the low intensity conflicts of today on which the author bases his general prediction of the demise of the Clausewitzian world of division of society in to Government,Army and People.According to the author the world in the longer view will be confronted with the demise of states,boundaries and organized armed forces. Instead we are looking forward to informal organizations based on beliefs,and individual interests and motivation of groups.For short a chaos resembling sort of 'high tech' Dark Ages. This would bode very poorly for our world and humanity. However the author also states that future is hard to predict at any given time in history. As an example he cites that the rise of national states and armies would have been difficult to predict for a historian living in the high Middle Ages before firearms were invented. Nor would a historian living in the world of Roman Empire at its height have predicted the collapse of Rome and advent of Dark Ages. One thing which I found somewhat iffy in the author's logic was the same that I found wanting in reading Clausewitz's 'On War' was the inability to predict technological advance.Creveld's predictions of technological advances are somewhat restricted to tracking and monitoring devices-important as those are to waging low intensity conflicts.Long range predictions of technological advances are notoriously difficult. Could 18th century men have predicted the computer and subsequent communication explosion, the biological and medical advances, space travel or even simple airline travel?Not to say anything about nuclear science? While I think low intensity warfare is here to stay for some time to come, I think to predict the breakdown of states is somewhat premature. It may however be possible that an expansion of states into federations of the like minded equally progressive states is more possible. For example the European Union after all springs from Shuman's,Adenauer's and Spaak's European Coal and Iron Community of yore (1948). Conversely there is a long range possibility of the 'consolidation of the weak' such as the Islamic countries. Where all of this is headed it is difficult to predict. However Creveld's world and logic based on the author's long time association with things exclusively military allows for the inescapable conclusion of this book. Will it come to pass this way? God I hope not!I hope we are better than this. The author fogets that most men who were in combat grow to hate it, (I know I did). Other than a few man like Patton,Guderian,Rommel, Napoleon, Conde or Frederick and such do not secretly or overtly love war. Believe it. Battlefield high or low intensity is a sure fire cure for any 'love' of armed conflict.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago