Clausewitz and WW IV (PDF File)

Enter Alan Beyerchen, distinguished historian at Ohio State University. He's adopted a fundamentally different approach and by doing so has captured the intellectual high ground in the battle to amend theory in light of modern war's realities: Beyerchen would embrace rather than replace the master. Beyerchen has developed a taxonomy of war in the modern era in terms of four world wars. Each war was shaped by what he calls "amplifying factors." Amplifiers are not "multipliers" or "enablers" in that their influence on the course of war is nonlinear rather than linear; amplifiers don't simply accelerate the trends of the past, they make war different.

For example, World War I was a chemists' war in that the decisive strategic advantage on the battlefield was driven in large measure by new applications of chemistry and chemical engineering. The war should have ended for the Germans in 1915 when their supplies of gunpowder nitrates exhausted. But the synthesis of nitrates by German scientists allowed the war to continue for another three horrific years. World War II was a physicists' war. To paraphrase Churchill, the atom bomb ended the conflict, but exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum in the form of the wireless and radar won it for the allies. "World War III" was the "information researchers'" war, a war in which intelligence and knowledge of the enemy and the ability to fully exploit that knowledge allowed the U.S. to defeat the Soviet Union with relatively small loss of life.

Beyerchen's idea is that the human and social sciences will change Clausewitz's perception of the constancy of the human influence in war. In effect, he argues that we are beginning the tectonic shift into World War IV, the epoch when the controlling amplifier will be human and biological rather than organizational or technological. From his theory we can postulate a new vision of the battlefield, one that shifts from the traditional linear construct to a battlefield that is amoebic in shape; it is distributed, dispersed, nonlinear, and essentially formless in space and unbounded in time. This war and all to follow will be what I would call "psycho-cultural" wars.

On my first read I think it starts of strong, but several of his conclusions have weak foundations and seem to suggest that future war will resemble Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall very thought-provoking and makes me want to read more about this Beyerchen fellow.