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Through the Glass Darkly. The Unlikely Demise of Great-Power War

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Journal article

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The former secretary of defenses comment about the state of armored vehicles in Iraq captures a critical, if sometimes forgotten, truth about the future force structure of the US military the choices we make today affect how the nation will fight tomorrow. Additionally, radical changes in the structure of the armed forces could influence the types of adversaries the United States would be willing to confront in the future. In the face of the ongoing struggle in Iraq it is easy to lose sight of these truths and, instead, focus on the immediate situation. Nonetheless, hidden among contemporary arguments about numbers of troops or types of weapons needed to fight and win a counterinsurgency are unexamined ideas about the nature and future of warfare, and while it is impossible to predict with certainty the nature of a specific future conflict, it is possible to understand the assumptions that underlie such visions. In fact, much of what we read and hear about the future of war rests on a belief that tomorrow will be a repeat of today. That is, small numbers of highly deadly, very capable US forces will take on smaller, largely out-gunned opponents either in conventional combat or in battles with terrorists or insurgents. There is truth to these observations, but they might be truer if the caveat for the time being had been added. The truth is, we cannot bet on fighting only todays enemy in the future, particularly when we extend the future out 25 or 50 years. What we do know about the future is that states have often misgauged it. We are told, for example, that there is no finer example than that of Great Britain in the nineteenth century. A force of just 331,000 and a budget that amounted to only 2.4 percent of the British gross national product GNP safeguarded an empire that covered 25 percent of the globe.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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