June 9, 2023 – An Assortment of Meticulous Attention to Detail

The Impact of the ‘Long Peace’ on Modern Military Capabilities

Fireside Returns: Ollie the Research Assistant Cat Ponders the Long Peace

Background on the Long Peace

The term ‘long peace’ is applied to the period since WWII which has had a low and falling level of war, both inter-state and intra-state. Contrary to what many may believe, the data is actually quite strong – violence has been falling worldwide for nearly 80 years. According to Azar Gat, the long peace is a consequence of the changing incentives created by the industrial revolution and nuclear weapons. Prior to the industrial revolution, war was the best way to get rich (if you won) because land and conquered subjects were more valuable than any kind of capital investment. The industrial revolution changed this, making war a lot more destructive while massively raising returns to capital investment.

The Misconception of the Long Peace

Due to rising connectivity and information movement, wars are both fewer and smaller, but we hear about more of them. This has created the misconception that there is no long peace. Steven Pinker’s version of the argument is based on changing cultural mores. However, cultural values have lagged, resulting in countries launching counter-productive wars out of cultural inertia.

The Dismal Performance of the Russian Army

The Russian military appears far less capable than we thought it was; frankly, it seems incapable of even some of the basic tasks of modern industrial armies engaged in conventional military operations. The odd thought is this: what if Russian incompetence isn’t exceptional, but in fact, the new normal in warfare? What if most militaries are similarly incapable of the basic tasks of industrial warfare? Being good at war imposes a lot of costs, even if a country doesn’t go to war.

Impact of Modern Economies on State Survival

Take a modern country like Venezuela as an example. Prior to the long peace, there’s little question what happens to a country like Venezuela, which is essentially a giant pile of barely guarded wealth: one or several of its neighbors would move in, oust the government and seize the territory and its valuable resources. But because the leaders of a country like Venezuela know that, they may well try to avoid developing their country into such a weak state in the first place. The reason that doesn’t happen is that it no longer makes economic sense to do so. The value of the oil and other resources would be less than the cost of maintaining control of the country.

Impact on the Traditional Mission of Most Militaries

In a world where most invasions are self-deterring, for countries that do not have revanchist neighbors who might launch a stupid war of conquest out of pique, the bar to reach that kind of deterrence is extremely low. The traditional mission of most militaries stops being a major concern. This impacts all of the difficult decisions a state has to make to retain a military capable of conventional warfare.

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