Trends of modern warfare
Lukas O'Donnell | Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Since World War II and the start of the nuclear age, the world of state diplomacy and relations has drastically changed. Before, world superpowers fought on a nearly constant basis about pitifully small things, from love interests to the cutting off of a naval captain’s ear. Now however, it seems like even very large international situations do not warrant military action. Take for example Russia and the Crimea. Russia has obviously invaded the territory of a sovereign nation, and yet no military action against them has been taken. In contrast, when Germany invaded Poland, the international community almost immediately began to gear up for war. One must ask the question: why the drastic change in world reactions?
The answer to this question is multifold. First, we must look at the development of the modern military complex, namely the advent of nuclear weapons. After the United States dropped the atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on Japan, forward-thinking observers could have guessed that the world had drastically changed. Observers saw that very little could be done to protect against a weapon capable of obliterating an entire city in seconds. Soon, other nations of the world began to develop their own nuclear weapons, and the age of nuclear proliferation arose.
With this age began the modern era of neutrality between super powers. Through the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction, whereby neither side could strike the other without massive retaliation, if one nation were to launch its missiles, all other nuclear nations would respond with catastrophic results. Instead, these countries picked smaller and more finessed ways of fighting each other. One of these was to fight smaller hot wars through different countries, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars. The other, more lasting, change to inter-country aggression came in the form of economic sanctions in lieu of military force.
Instead of employing bullets and missiles, much of today’s modern ill-will between countries manifests itself through economic sanctions. Take Russia and Ukraine again. As the United States has denounced Russia’s actions in Ukraine, it has placed economic sanctions on both the country of Russia and on specific individuals within the government’s inner circle. In retaliation, Russia has responded with economic sanctions against the United States and certain members of the United States government, including senators and presidential advisors. The majority of the western world also backs the United States in these actions, including the G-7 (the original G-8 minus Russia).
While many often question the effectiveness of these economic sanctions, compared to the alternative options of going to war or doing nothing, they usually make up an infinitely better option. They have also been shown to work over time, such as the recently released reports that the Russian car industry is suffering because of the current sanctions. Although this outcome does not specifically hurt the government, it can aid in making a people question the rationale of their government’s decisions when these decisions hurt the country. Eventually, the collective voices of the people might persuade the government to change its strategy.
All that said, many wars still occur today. However, a closer look at these specific wars show just how much different they are from the widespread wars of the past. Take the war in Iraq. Instead of governments fighting governments, it is a government fighting a guerilla group. Because of the very nature of their small hit and run tactics, it makes them incredibly difficult to eliminate. The same principles apply to almost every war since WWII, most visibly seen in the war in Vietnam.
All together, these wars also had something very important in common; one or more of the parties did not have nuclear weapons. Taking this into account, I believe that it is possible to predict the future of international relations and conflicts. When two superpowers come into conflict, such as today with the United States and Russia, or possibly in the future with the United States and China, war will not break out, but rather economic sanctions and pressures will be implemented. However, when one or more of the parties does not have nuclear weapons, there is a much higher change of war breaking out, as can be seen today in Iraq and possibly seen in the future throughout Africa and South America. With its position in the world, the United States would be wise to continue on the forefront of this new type of international diplomacy, simultaneously affirming its economic dominance and keeping the world safe from wide-scale wars.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.