Geneva Guest: Technology and War, Obsolescence and Decline

| October 28, 2011
Renowned author on military and strategic security affairs

Martin Van Creveld spoke at Webster Geneva on technology's influence on war.

Author Martin van Creveld gave a guest lecture at Webster University’s Geneva campus on the topic of “The Defense Industry and the Rise of the West.”

He argued that the constant increase in the size, weight and cost of armaments is not a technological improvement, but a symptom of obsolescence and decline. Van Creveld gave such examples as the Greek warships –triremes– or the European Medieval knights, the dreadnought battleships or main battle tank, not to mention the contemporary “fifth generation” stealth combat aircraft.

As each of these weapon systems developed, they progressively lost their flexibility and became “too expensive, too fast, too indiscriminating, too big, too maneuverable and too powerful” (EFIBUP).

Today’s tanks require over 40 tons of armor to allow them to resist simple, handheld antitank weapons. Modern nuclear powered aircraft carriers require tens of patrol and combat aircraft, and half a dozen warships, to protect them against relatively simple torpedoes and sea mines.

Since 1945 and the advent of the atomic bomb, weapons have become so powerful that they have made total war virtually impossible; and the largest States have avoided going to war with one another. With weapons that have become so costly, and therefore so scarce, their owners cannot afford to loose or risk them in combat.

Warfare therefore has taken a more limited and indirect path, taking place mostly between marginal or weaker States. Asymmetric and irregular warfare have emerged as a countermeasure to the power of modern weapon systems, which, under these circumstances, are seldom employed.

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A military historian and theorist, van Creveld was born in the Netherlands, but has lived the majority of his life in Israel. He has written over 20 books and numerous articles, and taught at such institutions as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem or the US Naval War College. His best-known topics of discussion are the decline of the nation-state, the evolution of leadership and logistics in war, as well as the evolution of weapons and the influence of technology in war.

This report was contributed by Matt Goulding, IR Department Assistant, Webster University Geneva

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