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The Future of War

By George and Meredith Friedman

The authors argue that tanks, surface ships, and piloted aircraft will become obsolete. Armed forces pour money into these systems to keep them viable, adding ever more costly defensive gear. Yet smaller, cheaper, longer-range smart weapons develop faster.


Cruise missiles now exceed 1,000 miles in range. American ships can allegedly shoot down missiles, but if an opponent fires hundreds of missiles at once, the defensive systems will be overwhelmed. Losing a $20 billion dollar task force and 8,000 men and women to $100 million in enemy missiles is an exchange only brazen admirals undertake. Adding complex defensive systems to ships is far more costly than building offensive weapons.


Tanks face similar prospects. Smarter infantry weapons, not to mention death from aircraft and missiles, slash the value of tanks.


Piloted aircraft increasingly lose advantages because training pilots is expensive and wears out aircraft. Pilots cannot withstand high g forces. Pilot physiology limits aircraft development. Anti-aircraft missiles and radar advance faster than aircraft, including stealth aircraft.


A better title for this work would be The Future of Conventional Weapons. The authors mistakenly dismiss unconventional weapons because they kill friend and foe. I am not reassured. Many evil individuals care little about friends. They have historically been willing to sacrifice friends and foes alike for glory, power, or ideology. Plus future bioweapons may distinguish among populations. Groups may develop the weapon and vaccines or treatments for friends. Evil creators can hide among hosts while unleashing a variety of unconventional weapons.


The distinctions among conventional and unconventional weapons that Westerners adhere to mean little to tyrants. The Geneva Convention is simply a piece of paper to them.


The authors point out that geography and trade have much to do with war. Mozambique and Costa Rica are unlikely to battle. Trade, no matter how "free," increases frictions rather than reduces them. The world economy was more global 90 years ago than now, yet that did not prevent World War I. And aggressors in World War I had much more to lose than many autocrats do today. Worth a look.


book review article by J.T. Fournier, last update June 12, 2009


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