Toward a Revolution in Military Affairs? Defense and Security at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century

By Thierry Gongora; Harald Von Riekhoff | Go to book overview

2
"Military Revolutions" and
"Revolutions in Military Affairs":
A Historian's Perspective

Clifford J. Rogers

A few years ago I edited a collection of essays entitled The Military Revolution Debate ( Rogers 1995a), which dealt with various aspects and interpretations of Michael Roberts's famous thesis on the radical changes in European warfare that took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I was a little surprised when the first review of the book came out in a journal that usually does not emphasize the military history of that era--Airpower Journal. Not long thereafter, the volume was also reviewed by Eliot Cohen in Foreign Affairs, another publication that usually has a somewhat more contemporary focus ( Cohen 1995; Petersen 1995).

The reviews themselves made it pretty clear why airpower historians and students of current foreign policy have taken such an interest in the book: because of the vigorous ongoing debate about the putative "revolution in military affairs" or "RMA," which many believe we entered with the Gulf War, when stealth technology, precision-guided munitions, and other military applications of advanced computer technology seem to have made a fundamental change in the very nature of warfare. Mindful of Thucydides' observation that the future will resemble the past, even though it will not reflect it, political scientists have therefore been eager to find historical precedents for this RMA, the study of which ought to bring valuable insights to the analysis of the military present and future. Since some of the best historians in the business have now spent more than four decades investigating "the Military Revolution," which Michael Roberts argued took place between 1560 and 1660, and have produced an extensive and important body of scholarship on the subject, it is only natural that this material has generated so much interest from people not otherwise much concerned with the geometry of the trace italienne style of fortification or the tactical reforms of Maurice of Nassau. 1

Some military historians with an interest in twentieth-century developments, like Andrew Krepinevich, have also made significant contributions to this discourse. Building in part on my idea ( Rogers 1995b) that the development of Western military

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