Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Postmodern Military: Armed Forces after the Cold War

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Postmodern Military: Armed Forces after the Cold War

Article excerpt

Moskos, Charles C., John Allen Williams, and David R. Segal, eds. The Postmodern Military: Armed Forces after the Cold War. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000. 286pp. $45

Ask a soldier or military analyst to describe the "postmodern military," and you are likely to get an answer that includes high technology, precision weapons, information operations, and possibly (especially if he or she is associated with the Navy) network-centric warfare. Much of the recent literature on military affairs concentrates on these technology issues, and an observer might be forgiven for believing that such operational and technical differences are what separate twenty-first-century military forces from their predecessors.

This collection of essays describing the current state of military affairs in the United States and twelve other Western-oriented democracies takes a very different and welcome approach. The editors, well known authorities in the fields of military sociology and civil-military relations, examine the nature of post-Cold War militaries from the point of view of how military forces are organized and how they relate to civilian society.

Some of the issues raised will be familiar to anyone who has followed the debate in recent years over a possible crisis in civil-military relations in America. This book, however, goes well beyond that issue to posit a general model of how militaries in Western democracies are changing in the post-Cold War world.

As distinct from the "modern" military organization, which the authors trace from the French Revolution to the end of World War II, and the "Late Modern" military that prevailed from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, the "postmodern" military is described as one in which military forces undergo a loosening of ties with the nation-state. Postmodern military forces are characterized by an erosion of traditional martial values, a decrease in their sense of an identity separate from civil society, and a change of purpose from fighting wars to nontraditional missions, often involving, or authorized by, international and multinational entities. Kosovo is described as "the first Postmodern war," while the Gulf War, involving a conventional military invasion and state against state conflict, is seen as a "throwback" to the late-modern (Cold War) era.

On the basis primarily of the American experience, the editors describe trends in postmodern militaries, including several hot-button topics. What are the missions of militaries today? What is the relationship between the military and the media, and what is the public attitude toward the military? How fully are women and homosexuals to be incorporated?

The virtue of this book is that it is not just another rehash of the arguments concerning familiar issues. The essays, all by prominent sociologists, review how well militaries in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom reflect the postmodern model. The essays thus provide useful overviews of how those countries are adapting to many of the same forces that are shaping the American military. They may provide cautionary lessons for military officials and decision makers in the United States by underscoring, for instance, how terribly wrong things can go in "military operations other than war."

In one extreme example of modern military disaster, the Dutch military still has not fully recovered from the failure of the Dutch 3d Air Mobile Battalion to defend the "safe area" of Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995. …

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