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Western Way of War

Western Way of War

A collection of discussions with those in the Profession of Arms that tries to understand the issues around how to fight, and succeed, against adversaries in the 2020s. We pose the questions as whether a single Western Way of Warfare (how Western militaries fight) has been successful, whether it remains fit for task today, and how it might need to adapt in the future? It is complemented by the ?Adversarial Studies? project that looks at how adversaries fight.

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So What Did We Learn, if Anything?

WWoW groupie Emilie Cleret from France?s École de Guerre challenges podcast host Peter Roberts over his methodology, principles and the basic idea that a Western Way of War really exists. There is a final (really final ? the very last) bonus episode for RUSI members on the RUSI website.

2021-12-23
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Ben Wallace: Not Tinkering Around the Edges

UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace talks to Peter Roberts about spending trends, allies, terrorism, campaigning, budgets and reforming the military (and the strategic headquarters of defence). Do we know him any better after this chat? You be the judge.

2021-12-16
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Dr Matthew Harries: Matters of nuclear weapons

There is a lot going on with nuclear weapons at the moment - from UK and German announcements, changes in the way China is thinking about nuclear doctrine, and US recapitalisation (including some spoilers about what to expect from the US Nuclear Posture review due out in January 2022). Who better to discuss all this with than RUSI's own doyen of WMD, Dr Matthew Harries? He and Peter try to avoid theological questions and stick to the reality. Find out if they succeeded.

2021-12-09
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Joann Robertson: Rethinking Logistics

From Sun Tzu to Admiral Hyman Rickover, great military leaders really understood logistics and supply. Yet by outsourcing so much to industrial partners, have Western militaries introduced disproportionate risk to their operations? By rethinking these variables, Joann Robertson talks to Peter Roberts about how logistics could become the elusive advantage that Western militaries have been seeking.

2021-12-02
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Sam Cranny Evans: Chinese Ground Forces

Peter talks to the latest RUSI recruit and People?s Liberation Army researcher Sam Cranny Evans about the professionalisation and modernisation of the Chinese ground forces since 1980, their doctrine of strategic attrition and defeat-in-detail, the new Combined Armed Brigade structures, and whether Chinese electronic warfare is as good as that of the Russians.

2021-11-25
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Natia Seskuria: Russian Borderisation Tactics

When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, Moscow annexed 20% of Georgia's sovereign land space using traditional military force. Over the subsequent 13 years, however, Georgia has been subject to constant political, economic and societal coercion as Moscow tries to steer Tbilisi into the Russian sphere of influence. The tradecraft used by Moscow might simply be an evolution of what we previously knew as 'active measures', but ? as Georgian analyst Natia Seskuria tells Peter Roberts ? it certainly feels new.

2021-11-18
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Alessio Patalano: The Evolution of Warfare at Sea

Peter Roberts talks to Professor Alessio Patalano, doyen of the development of naval warfare and strategy at King?s College London. They discuss combat experience at sea, the value of corporate memory, the formation of alliances, naval diplomacy, economics and the fragility of life at sea.

2021-11-11
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Kafia Omar: A Deadly Decade for Children

The experience of children in war is getting worse, from mental abuse to physical torture, kidnap, rape and being forcibly inducted into militaries. Peter Roberts talks to Kafia Omar from the charity War Child about what can be done so that states can live up to their legal and moral obligations to stamp out such practices.

2021-11-04
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Sarah Ashbridge: Are We Proud of the Contract Between the Military and Society?

Veterans, families, casualties, death and the repatriation of casualties? remains feature as key themes in a discussion between conflict archaeologist Dr Sarah Ashbridge and Peter Roberts. The key question: is the reverse of the current implicit contract between service personnel and the nation ? namely society?s obligation to people in uniform, both living and dead ? something we should be proud of or slightly ashamed of?

2021-10-21
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Justin Bronk: An Unhealthy Dependence on Air Power

Peter Roberts talks to RUSI Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology Justin Bronk about the realities of aircraft availability for contemporary operations, and the risk that Western air forces may ?design themselves into irrelevance? because of a flawed set of assumptions about force generation for peacetime duties that just don't work in combat.

2021-10-14
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Malcolm Davis: Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkey

In facing down China, Australia is having to make some audacious decisions. Australian defence expert Malcolm Davis from ASPI talks to Peter Roberts about how Australia has been dealing with economic and political coercion from China?s Communist Party, and what this has meant for military capabilities, alliances and postures as Australia has become a hemispheric actor of significance.

2021-10-07
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Prof Jim Holmes: There is a Problem with Western Navies

US Naval War College Professor of Strategy James C Holmes contends that navies are going to have to fight for command of the sea over the coming decades because of China's adoption of a Mahanian strategy and approach to contests. Peter Roberts challenges Jim over whether Western navies have the intellectual capacity to ?reset? in time, inviting the retort that it might just be the mavericks in the US Marine Corps that will save the US Navy.

2021-09-30
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Katarzyna Zysk: Russian Creativity and Risk-Taking

Russian theories of war and warfare have never been one-dimensional. In conversation with Peter Roberts, Norwegian researcher Prof Katarzyna Zysk talks about Russian industrial innovation, military modernisation, power projection and political control. Unscrambling some of the nonsense spouted about Russia, Katarzyna deciphers the subtleties of the Sino-Russian military relationship, tensions in the Arctic and Russian activities abroad.

2021-09-23
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Anant Mishra: Street Smart Warfare

As Western militaries transition their forces towards a posture of great power contests, there will be a temptation to gloss over the last 20 years of combat experience as irrelevant to future fighting. Peter Roberts talks to Indian scholar Anant Mishra about why this would be dangerous. Not only will the combat experience from Afghanistan and Iraq remain highly relevant, but in learning from campaign-level failure, we might identify advantages that we can leverage in order to prevail in the coming decades.

2021-09-15
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John Spencer: Urban Warfare as the Great Leveller

Peter Roberts talks to the doyen of urban warfare research, Prof John Spencer, about why strategies of 'avoid and bypass' for urban conflicts just don't work, and why fighting in urban areas is so much more than close-quarters battles and house-clearing drills. It seems Western militaries are going to have to break out of their single-minded focus on manoeuvre warfare if they are going to contest vital spaces in the coming decades.

2021-09-08
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Heather Venable: Gen Z - The Best Tacticians in History?

Dr Heather Venable, associate professor at the US Air Command and Staff College, offers advice to students in professional military education courses and discusses the challenges of turning great tactical operators into people with useful skills in operational design and grand strategy. The conversation with Peter Roberts also covers the mythology of the Taliban as experts in manoeuvre warfare, whether 'helpful fiction' is even vaguely useful, and why air power theory is stuck in a ditch.

2021-09-02
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Minogue and Haines: Education in Conflict Zones

More than 110 states have now signed the Safe Schools Declaration about protecting educational establishments, students and teachers in war zones. Orlaith Minogue from Save the Children and Professor Steven Haines from Greenwich University talk to Peter Roberts about what this means for operators, commanders and political leaders.

2021-08-26
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Rory Stewart: Failure, and the Villains of the Western Campaign in Afghanistan

Politician, scholar, diplomat and sometime soldier Rory Stewart joins Peter Roberts for a post-mortem of the West's failed campaign in Afghanistan. Rory laments the approach of Western leaders (political and military) in perpetuating untruths about the art of the possible, as well as the US-led withdrawal under the Biden administration. An extremely sobering analysis.

2021-08-19
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Tarak Barkawi: The Vocation of Arms

In analysing the myths of a Western way of war, historian of colonial warfare and iconoclast Professor Tarak Barkawi from the London School of Economics talks to Peter Roberts about commonalities in the vocation of war between militaries. Using examples as diverse as the battles of Isandlwana and Kunu-ri in Korea, Tarak explains how others might view the Western way of war ? specifically, through the prism of defeats rather than victories.

2021-08-12
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General James McConville: Not Fighting the Last War Better

In co-operation with the Irregular Warfare Initiative of the Modern War Institute, Peter Roberts sat down for a conversation with Chief of Staff of the US Army General James C McConville, Laura Jones and Kyle Atwell on where and how the US Army is adapting to new challenges, why land forces are poorly funded between wars, and whether armies of more limited size can walk and chew gum (that is, fight the sub-threshold and prepare for high-intensity combat operations).

2021-08-05
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Eliot Cohen: Industrialised Precision Warfare

Professor Eliot Cohen, the doyen of grand strategy, talks to Peter Roberts about how the Western idea of war and warfare has changed to one with a 'purposive' nature, reflecting a society unaccustomed to the destruction and chaos of combat, and dissects the important questions that political leaders should be posing to military commanders, but rarely do.

2021-07-29
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Dr Jennifer Cole: Convergence and Civil Defence

Dr Jenni Cole, biological anthropologist and public health policy guru, talks to Peter Roberts about pandemics, climate change and civil defence. The discussion covers the psychological barriers of the 'Dragons of Inaction', as well as why the military must learn to include better CivPop participation in their exercises. A must for those starting staff college soon.

2021-07-22
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General Jim Mattis: Reality is a Terrible Adversary

Opening Season 3 of the podcast, Peter Roberts talks to General (retd) James Mattis, US Marine Corps, former US Secretary of Defense, about the military as guardians of values, war as a chameleon, celebrating mavericks, and attitude as the primary weapons system of successful militaries.

2021-07-15
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Highlights Season 2: More Optimistic Than Expected

WWOW host Peter Roberts covers the five big themes of Season 2: The American Way of War ? what went wrong and course corrections; continuity of concepts rather than radical change; systemic challenges in constructing concepts of fighting; how adversaries are preparing to fight wars; and the problems in ending conflicts. There is more optimism than you might expect and, with some of the most popular bits from the last six months, this smash-up of ?everything warfare? might go down a little bit like marmite.

2021-06-10
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Jack Watling: Special Forces in Great Power Competition

RUSI Land Warfare scholar Jack Watling talks to Peter Roberts about the conclusions from his paper on the challenges facing Special Forces over the coming two decades. With the threat from state competitors now exceeding that of non-state actors, he explains that Special Forces will need to adapt their ways of operating, missions and tasking. This is backed with lessons from history and an analysis of alternative force models, offering new solutions to decision-makers.

2021-06-03
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Elsa B Kania: Catalysts for Change in the Chinese Military

Many governments watched the display of US military power in 1991, and again in 2003, and were awestruck. For some, this was a wake-up call that had far reaching consequences. Elsa B Kania, China military expert at the Center for a New American Security, explains the significance to Peter Roberts in terms of People?s Liberation Army modernisation across fighting arms, as well as how we need to understand potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses based on the slower accompanying cultural change among those in uniform in China.

2021-05-27
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Michael Kofman: We Got It (Mostly) Right

The Russian military?s build-up around Ukraine between February and April 2021 was the topic of much media speculation. Russia analyst Michael Kofman and Peter Roberts pull apart the military timelines and deployments, drawing insights to better shape the Western way of war for the future.

2021-05-20
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Emma Sky: Fighting without winning

Emma Sky, Political Advisor to US Generals Odierno and Petraeus between 2007 and 2010, talks to Peter Roberts about what we need to learn from our experiences of endless wars in the Middle East and how to utilise that in an era of strategic competition with China.

2021-05-13
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Archer Macy: How Do You Know?

As modern military systems increasingly rely on software coding to achieve virtual effects, the question of how one knows whether these weapons work becomes more difficult to answer ? at least when compared to the old physical testing that validated weapons systems. Retired US Navy Rear Admiral Archer Macy talks to Peter Roberts about testing and evaluation, the pathological state of machines and our need for evidence.

2021-05-06
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General Martin Dempsey: Failures of imagination

The 18th Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, talks to Peter Roberts about how to deal with tensions and friction in civil?military relations within alliances. The discussion starts with why status quo powers are not as effective in using their power to shape conflict as revolutionary ones, and  turns into a lament on how any compromise has become regarded as a failure.

2021-04-29
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Michèle Flournoy: The Enemy Went to School

Former US Under Secretary for Defence for Policy Michèle Flournoy talks to Peter Roberts about technology, concepts, young minds and competitive spaces in warfare. The conversation is predicated on the idea of obeying the just war principles until deterrence fails. Thereafter, we (the West) want a distinctly unfair fight.

2021-04-22
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No Neat Battlefields

Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, sees no distinction between how the West and other belligerents wage war. In discussion with Professor Peter Roberts, Dr Maurer evinces a grimmer reality in which the cumulative effects of climate change, poverty and poor governance combine with the ?democratisation? of access to sophisticated weapons, which are now held by a multitude of actors. The result is a modern battlefield torn asunder by precision weapons, one which more resembles Armageddon than ideas of the beautiful ?surgical? use of force that are often rehashed by military and political leaders. Sobering stuff. 

2021-04-15
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Revolutions Of War

The cycle of "old wars" between nation states, followed by revolutionary wars and culminating during the 20th century into wars between communities was graphically described and codified by Professor Mary Kaldor in her "New Wars, Old Wars" theory. In this episode, she reflects with Peter Roberts on how this cycle works in contemporary politics. The dialogue then moves into a discussion on human security and the individualisation of conflict, and wraps up with some thoughtful conclusions about what this might mean for today's militaries. Top tip: it is not about increased lethality.

2021-04-08
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Evolving the Western Way of War into (and out of) COIN

The truth universally acknowledged is that Western militaries seem to deliberately discard useful experience faster than they can accumulate it. Changing such a process in a way that builds better military capability requires leadership, not management. Such lessons can be learned faster under fire, according to Ben Barry in this conversation with Peter Roberts.

2021-04-01
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Using the War Law to Assert Legitimacy

Western military personnel often feel that laws restrict the way they can undertake warfare. Dr Janina Dill, Oxford University's expert in war law and ethics, explains why this restrictive view is wrong and how law can empower tactics on the battlefield. Peter Roberts explores with her how law can enable more than it already does on operations, in ways currently more familiar to Russian and Chinese military commanders than to Western ones. This is as much a philosophical conversation as it is a legal one. Be prepared to grapple with your conscience.

2021-03-25
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Distinctions in war

Since war is a reciprocal relationship with the enemy, the idea of a Western Way of Warfare which is detached or abstract from the human adversary is nonsense, argues Sir Hew Strachan.  In conversation with Peter Roberts, one of Britain's foremost military historians discusses 'Carnage and Culture', decisive battles, mobilising societies, fear, loathing and death as a choice on the battlefield.  Sobering stuff.

2021-03-18
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Just War Theory and Not Just War

If the Greeks invented a national style of fighting (according to Herodotus), which the French followed (with élan and martial virtues), and the British deviated from (with the indirect approach), whatever happened to the idea that democracies favour defence over offence? That question, posed by Professor Beatrice Heuser of Glasgow University, starts a fast-paced conversation with Peter Roberts that culminates in a rejoinder that a good peace treaty does not necessarily make for a good peace. Interested in these juxtapositions? Grab your notebook.

2021-03-11
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Fighting for the soul of Western militaries

Manoeuvre warfare, the manoeuvrist approach, and manoeuverism as military concepts have been revered by Western militaries for half a century, while their lesser-known brethren concepts such as positional and attrition warfare have long been forgotten. Peter Roberts and Amos Fox, a US military theorist, reflect on contemporary conflict against these paradigms and draw some interesting and unexpected conclusions.

2021-03-04
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Rose Roth, language and youth

Peter Roberts talks to veteran Welsh politician and former President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Madeleine Moon about her reflections on two decades of handling political-military relations, and on the challenge of answering the desire for engagement by younger generations.

2021-02-25
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Hybrid is Everything and Everything is Hybrid

Since the Ukraine war of 2014, most Western governments have classified any hostile challenge as 'hybrid', 'sub-threshold', or as actions belonging to the 'grey zone' space, be those of 'little green men' seizing a TV station, or mechanized divisions invading another country. Why is the West so surprised, confused or bamboozled by the actions of competitors? Peter Roberts talks to UK psychological operations expert Ewan Lawson about lazy language, the digital revolution, and the struggle to find coherent responses (and not solely military ones).

2021-02-18
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The Fluidity of Nuclear Doctrine

It is common to consider nuclear doctrine as a fixed, unmoving and largely successful element of the Western Way of War. Dr Heather Williams talks to Peter Roberts about why this just isn't the case. The pair also debunk some myths about the nuclear domain including the myths surrounding the 'escalate to de-escalate' doctrine, allaying concerns about third party nuclear weapon proliferation. They also address the question of whether AI might bring stability to nuclear decision-making in the future.

2021-02-11
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No More Walking Away: No More Policy Vacuums

Peter Roberts talks to former US Ambassador to Iraq Paul Crocker about the foreign and security policy assumptions of the current Biden administration, and comes to some surprising conclusions.

2021-02-04
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The Future Rules of Warfare

Technological change is creating an inflection point for Western states that will have radical implications on how they will fight in the future. Even if such rates of change are not so radical, the gap between how the West and adversaries are behaving on the battlefield nonetheless continues to diverge at an alarming rate. Norms and behaviours in contemporary conflict are markedly different to our expectations and it is not clear that the West is adapting in the appropriate way. What does it tell us about the future? Dr Paddy Walker, principal investigator in a new project on 'The Future Rules of Conflict', talks to Peter Roberts about the scope of his important work and where this trend might lead us.

2021-01-28
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Is the West Developing Innovation Fatigue?

Acknowledging the power of innovation as a driver for building a competitive edge in warfare, new defence policies in the UK and US since 2015 began elevating military innovation as the chief development goal above all other processes. Laura Schousboe from the Royal Danish Defence College explores with Peter Roberts the possibility that this fixation has resulted in ?innovation fatigue? in Western militaries, and tests the idea that the faddism over such a language may make innovation itself a toxic subject for future generations.

2021-01-21
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It Was The Surge In Ideas That Mattered Most.

In this bumper episode, General David Petraeus talks to Peter Roberts about handling national agendas in coalition management, command compression, the pol/mil relations facing a deployed commander and the task of raising your intellectual sights beyond the range of an M16.

2021-01-14
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Vapourwear, Transformations and AirLand Battle

Show host Peter Roberts picks some highlights from Season One of the show, with more than a nod to divergent thinking, challenging orthodoxy and listeners' comments. Too many quotable one liners across the series so far to do justice to it all, so browse the back catalogue and catch up with some myth busting lines from unusual quarters. Strap in for Season Two: Welcome to the WWOW 2021!

2021-01-07
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When Did We Stop Inventing Stuff?

'Disruptive technology' has surpassed 'innovation' as the de rigour buzzword for policy documents, and a mandatory phrase for successful funding applications. Militaries and defence organisations regard the concept as equal to climate change in their considerations about the future of conflict. Is all this nonsense? Whatever happened to invention? What makes a technology disruptive and not just helpful? Nick Colosimo talks to Peter Roberts.

2020-12-31
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Is the Era of Manoeuvre Warfare Dead?

US military power since 1980 has been one of historical significance. The doctrine of rapid manoeuvre in the deep battle space, by elite armies of professional all-volunteer forces has defined the Western Way of War.

Professor Tony King contends such an era is over, and the future portends one of positional warfare; endless and indecisive campaigns, in a geography that blends deep, close, and rear, requiring a new approach.

The lessons from contemporary conflict, particularly in urban warfare, will challenge the core assumptions on which the West has based its military theology. Heresy? Perhaps. Informed and evidenced analysis? Definitely.

2020-12-24
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Electronic Warfare and Cumulative Risk

Above all other competitors, Russia is the pre-eminent authority in Electronic Warfare. The US military is trying to catch up with their generational deficit in this domain but there is little sign that the rest of the West is taking it seriously. Decades of poor investment decisions, marginalisation of expertise, and presumptions of technological advantage have led the West to a most precarious position.

Peter Roberts talked to Dave Hewitt about SQEP, data, personalities, and whether the West can catch up. An important conversation, but not one that will leave you full of confidence.

2020-12-17
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Soothsaying, Prophecy and Luck

Historically, the British have been averse to funding a standing army, and perhaps that feeling endures today, in the belief that it is possible to raise and train an army to meet any threat in a short time. 

Allan Mallinson contends it takes a decade to generate an army, but a momentary decision to decimate the underpinning culture. 

If the British Way of Warfare has rested for a large part on luck, then the current fad for soothsaying and prophecy about the future of war will have to increasingly rely on it. Plus, the controversial view that stability has more to do with military success than radical change.

2020-12-10
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