Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Contemporary Revolution in Military Affairs: A Theoretical Perspective on Its Contribution to Solving Sub-Saharan Conflicts (*)

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Contemporary Revolution in Military Affairs: A Theoretical Perspective on Its Contribution to Solving Sub-Saharan Conflicts (*)

Article excerpt


A Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) refers to fundamental changes in organising concepts, doctrines and the use of technology that in turn lead to dramatic new ways how states prepare themselves and their militaries to fight future wars. These changes are of a military as well as a non-military nature, although the final outcome thereof is most visible in military strategies and policies. A weakness of the current RMA-debate is the extent to which conflicts short of war (CSW) are acknowledged but not addressed, or even deliberately avoided. CSW refer to hybrid forms of warfare where the classical notion of inter-state warfare conducted by conventional militaries are largely absent and the participants and their tactics show unconventional features.

Sub-Sahara Africa is a region where present and future conflicts do not readily fit into current RMA-views on future war. The RMA may hold some promise for classical conventional and combined-arms inter-state warfare, but its relevance to CSW, such as those dotting the sub-Saharan landscape, is unclear. With reference to CSW, it is quite likely that the positive dividends of the current RMA-debate may be ignored or lost. This article concludes that the RMA is not irrelevant to CSW. It outlines how sub-Saharan decision-makers and their national militaries can use the idea of an RMA to address the conflicts they are dealing with.


The aim of this article is to show how the ideas of the current RMA-debate influence military thought and to determine whether this phenomenon can contribute to peace in the sub-Saharan region. From a future-orientated perspective it is necessary to obtain some clarity on the RMA, war and peace. The reference to Africa is neither about proposing "high-tech" solutions or external dependence, nor is it about abdicating African responsibilities to foreigners or regarding current African approaches as inappropriate. It is about whether the RMA somehow contains ways and means to assist sub-Saharan militaries in preventing or successfully terminating conflicts.

As a point of departure it is essential to gain some insight into current thinking on the idea of a RMA and explore its possible role in addressing conflicts in the sub-Saharan region. It is also necessary to examine current RMA-thinking to determine its contribution to peace in the region. The assumption is that RMA-thinking can advance the optimal use of African militaries, possibly in conjunction with extra-regional forces, to strengthen the pursuit of peace.

In conclusion, various opinions on the anticipated contributions of the RMA are discussed. The probability that the sub-Saharan outcome may rather produce a hybrid type of RMA or a conflict environment where RMA-thinking is of limited use, is considered. Contemplating the RMA along more evolutionary lines may therefore be a more suitable approach to determine its possible contribution to the termination of future sub-Saharan conflicts.


To pin-point a RMA presents its own difficulties. One approach is to link it to the major changes in warfare, for example those that occurred during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Reference can also be made of the infantry revolution, artillery revolution, naval warfare and Napoleonic warfare that involved more than mere military-technical matters. (1) Similar revolutions in mechanisation, aviation and nuclear technology took place during the twentieth century. In this respect Galdi identifies ten previous RMAs (2) It is, however, not surprising that several alternative interpretations of previous military revolutions and the scope of change involved, exist. These revolutions and their interpretation point to developments on land and at sea, while aviation joined later to be followed by what some analysts consider to be the only revolution of this century, namely the introduction of nuclear weapons. …

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