Future War: Thinking the Thinkable

Um, no. The examples in the leading paragraph are the staid ones that have been disproved over and again. The only conflicts that are concluded “as planned” are those that are very short, such as Gulf I. Ultimately, the key to success in future conflicts isn’t envisioning how they will be fought, but envisioning how they must be responded to flexibly, not specifically. As soon as you get to “know” what the future holds, you stop being ready for what comes.



Thinking about future war is important. Very important. History is replete with examples of military organisations that became the unwitting authors of their own demise because they failed to adapt to the changing military environment in which they operated. The French were out-fought and out-thought in 1940 because of a stagnant military doctrine that shunned the revolutionary developments being made in the theory of armoured warfare. Likewise, American forces in Vietnam drowned in a strategic quagmire because its civilian leaders did not grasp the complex nature of the war on which they had embarked. Only a fool would underestimate the stakes at risk in drawing faulty appreciations about the future operating environment. Of course, military organisations have proven to be intellectually and organisationally flexible enough to adapt during the course of a conflict, as the British and German armies demonstrated during the bitter fighting on the Western…

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Planning for war in the North Sea 1912-1914

The Germans’ original plan was to nibble at the edges of the Grand Fleet until they reached some parity, but that failed to take into account that the British and her allies could outbuild Germany 2-1. The big sweeps might have worked, but only if the Germans were determined to have a big fleet battle close to the Bight. Wilhelm forbade that.



On the morning of November 3rd 1914 German battle cruiser bombarded the popular resort town of Yarmouth on the Norfolk Coast. The Daily Mail reported how the German ships ‘appeared suddenly out of nowhere, revealed in the dim haze of dawn to steam drifters five miles of Lowestoft, fired on a British warship, and dropped shells almost on the sands of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, and then disappeared again.’ A similar attack on Scarborough and Whitby the following month left 137 dead, the majority of them civilians. Coming on the back of accusations of German atrocities in France and Belgium, such brazen attacks on a non-military targets provoked the ire of the British public. Imbued with patriotic indignation, The Spectator struck a typically defiant tone. ‘There is no agreement as to what the Germans were trying to do’, the naval correspondent wrote;

to prove that German ships…

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Juilliard’s military tradition

Huh. Who knew?

The Strawfoot

My good friend Molly Skardon, who is the driving force behind the Oral History Project at Governors Island National Monument, has published a piece about military musicians in this month’s edition of the Julliard Journal. I encourage you to check it out. When we think of music and the Great War we inevitably and properly think of James Reese Europe and his jazz men. That is just part of the story, however. Many of the A.E.F. bands have their roots in a program started just before the outbreak of the conflict. Music has always been important to the military. At Governors Island military bands trace their roots as far back as the 1830s. John Philip Sousa led the U.S. Marine Band for years before striking out on his own. It’s difficult for people in the twenty-first century to grasp the cultural impact he still has today. Molly informs…

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I submit that “hybrid war” is a new theory in old folders. Warfare has always made its way into every aspect of human life eventually, but the Russians have gone into cyber warfare faster and more successfully.



Over 18 months into Russia’s not-so-very-proxy, proxy war in Ukraine, there remains a thriving and fascinating debate over the tools of conflict that Russia uses, how one describes those tools and where Russia’s next ‘target’ may be.

I was asked to respond to Rod Thornton’s recent blog on Russia.  In his excellent piece, Rod argued that Russia’s wars have focused attention on the concept of ‘hybrid’ war’, defining it as forms of attack generally used by one state actor against another.  He argued that hybrid war achieves its effect by the totality of the tools used, rather than any specific one.  He also said that hybrid war’s objective is to collapse a state from within, and that the Russian state’s autocratic structures enable control over a myriad of levers.  He finished by arguing that the Baltic will be Russia’s next target.

Whilst there is much in Rod’s…

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Thinking about the Present and Future of US Military Power Projection


This is the third in a series of posts from a recent research symposium organised by Dr Ellen Hallams on ‘The Reconfiguration of American Primacy in World Politics: Domestic and International Challenges.’ In this piece, Dr Jeff Michaels explores the role of the military in US foreign policy.


One of the great ironies of so much of the commentary about US defence policy, or that which deals with its global implications, is that so little is understood about what the US armed forces are, and are not capable of, much less what they are actually up to, despite the enormous amount of evidence available about them.  Whereas during the Cold War, the limited amount of evidence about the Soviet military, much of it highly suspect, forced scholars and intelligence analysts to develop critical methodologies for interpreting it, contemporary analysis of the relatively ‘open’ US military system suffers from a…

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As a student or even a scholar, you may be wondering why we study theory at all. Surely we can get along quite happily without abstract discussions, academic digressions and high-sounding jargon? What do these have to do with understanding? Academics in particular often sound like they are deliberately intending to mislead or to obfuscate. ‘Epistemology’? ‘Ontology’? ‘Social constructivism’? What on earth are those? It makes you think of the 1980s movie Crimson Tide, where the traditional old man of the sea played by Gene Hackman engages rather tentatively in an academic discussion of Carl von Clausewitz with the Harvard-educated Denzel Washington. ‘I studied engineering at the Naval War College’, Hackman tells Washington’s character, implying that he never much bothered with theory or with the musings of long-dead Prussian officers (by the way, the discussion of Clausewitz in the movie is highly inaccurate, but…

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