Prominent journalist Matt Gurney published an editorial in the National Post entitled “The Last Big War” (http://natpo.st/11iKemY) in which he argues that a massive military campaign (a “big war”) like the 2003 invasion of Iraq will no longer happen. Conflicts will now be moreas a result of insurgencies, which will be opposed by smaller, specially-trained military units that follow up drones to overcome opposition forces. Many other experts, including noted generals and military theorists, have argued this thesis as well.
Call me cynical if you will, but I cannot help believe that such a dramatic forecast stretches the lessons of history too far. War has been with us for as long as history has been recorded. We would hope we have learned lessons sufficiently that we would not engage in massive conflicts in this modern age. Weapons now are more deadlier than ever, not even considering the terrible thought of using nuclear weapons. But politics and conflict are the outcome of human interaction and drives, and human psychology is little changed. Hate, fear, anger and lust for power still burst out when leaders are blinded by their inner impulses.
Forecasts of the end of war were common at the end of the 19th century. The most famous book on this subject was perhaps Is War Now Impossible? By Ivan Bloch, published in 1899 (http://bit.ly/15qygo2 ). Bloch argued very rationally that the industrialization of European society and the development of weapons of great destructive power at that time would make future wars impossible. He believed that the power of weapons developed at the end of the 19th century would make it impossible for armies to achieve decisive results, and stalemate would occur. Despite his confident analysis, a massive war did break out fifteen years later, and it was followed by others throughout the 20th century.
Yes, we are in an era where insurgency or unconventional warfare is effectively challenging conventional forces. Revolutionary changes are taking place in weapons, technology and communications that have made past tactics obsolete. So modern military forces must adapt their training and methods to deal with both asymmetric warfare and the tools of war. However, power politics and national ambition have not gone away. Author Dan Gardner, in his book Future Babble, (http://bit.ly/15qNXeT ) has nicely shown how forecasts in all spheres of life (besides the military) have proven to be false – the more confident the forecaster, the more unlikely that he has not got it right.
So what to do? We still have to analyze and use our best estimates of what kind of conflict is likely to take place on the international stage, and what role Canada can usefully play within the international community. For now, asymmetric warfare is the most obvious type of conflict taking place. But one must remain prepared for something bigger and more conventional; the 21st century still has a long time to play itself out and large areas of the world are very unstable now.
The conclusion: we still need a Canadian Armed Forces that is well trained, agile and ready to serve against whatever challenges arise. Semper Paratus, if you will.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history