Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Revolution in Military Affairs outside the West

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Revolution in Military Affairs outside the West

Article excerpt

The military gap between the West--symbolized primarily by U.S. military capabilities--and the rest of the world has widened in the twilight years of the 20th century, due to the latest revolution in military affairs (RMA). This paper is about the response of the non-Western world to the ongoing revolution in military affairs in conventional warfare. Specifically, it will explore what non-Western military powers are writing about the RMA.

This, of course, presupposes that their strategic analysts and planners have an understanding of what the RMA really is. There is still debate on this, and no consensus has been reached. In fact, a large number of these non-Western nations are analyzing the current RMA by deriving political, military and technological lessons from the Gulf War of 1991, which was seen as a harbinger of wars to come.

There is also the issue of whether these countries believe that their armed forces can exploit and benefit from the RMA. This raises a number of complex questions that can only be tentatively addressed here. To begin with, do these countries have the technological infrastructure and financial resources to devote to the development of high-technology conventional arms? And if they do, do their armed forces have the flexibility to revamp their strategic cultures, organizational structure and doctrines in order to allow them to exploit the RMA? Finally, if most of these countries cannot undertake these tasks, what other kinds of military options do they have? Revolutionary breakthroughs in the military arena in one country or group of countries almost invariably generate responses from other countries. Responses could be symmetric, emulative or asymmetric (i.e., to attempt to deploy a different set of weapons/technologies or develop new ways of fighting in order to offset or bypass the new capabilities of the breakthrough state).

Examining the responses of other countries to the RMA is an interesting research problem, even if we are to conclude, as is likely, that much of the rest of the world does not "have what it takes" to make and implement revolutionary changes in their militaries. It is interesting for many reasons: first, we advance our knowledge about other armed forces and how they think about military power; second, it advances our knowledge of the role of military capabilities in the conduct of international relations among the world's leading powers, both in the Western and non-Western worlds; and third, because the United States needs to be aware of how others may try to challenge its otherwise unchallenged conventional military superiority in the post-Cold War era.

So far, in the United States, we are only beginning to explore the impact of the RMA on the rest of the world. Even then, the overwhelming majority of analyses written in the United States deal with the RMA in just two countries, Russia and China, the so-called near peer competitors. Since much of the world will not be able to exploit the RMA for a wide variety of reasons, I am not writing about the response of the non-Western world per se, but rather of a limited group of countries that see themselves as influential regional powers with serious armed forces. Clearly, try as they might, countries like Burkina Faso or Paraguay are neither influential regional powers nor do they have armed forces and budgets that can be considered as agents for innovative change. Thus they will never be candidates for the exploitation of the RMA.


The nature of war never changes; "war," after all, "is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will," as Karl von Clausewitz stated over a century and a half ago in his book On War. But the manner in which war is conducted has undergone considerable change over the course of human civilization. Sometimes these changes are so dramatic that war changes its form. In other words, a historical discontinuity, or revolution, occurs in the way war is fought. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.