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date: 23 January 2021

Revolutions in Warfarelocked

  • Emily O. GoldmanEmily O. GoldmanDepartment of Political Science, University of California, Davis


The term “revolution in warfare” refers to a pronounced change or discontinuity in warfare that radically alters the way a military operates and improves relative military effectiveness. Revolutions in warfare emerged as a subject of considerable debate in the 1990s in the wake of the United States’s resounding victory over Iraqi military forces in the Persian Gulf War. These debates highlight three different concepts: military revolution, military-technical revolution, and revolution in military affairs. During this period, the idea of an “information technology” revolution in military affairs became deeply embedded in American defense planning and evolved into a call for “transformation,” or more precisely transformational innovation. Two lines of critique have been leveled against the revolution in warfare concept and the revolutionaries themselves. The first, advanced by Stephen Biddle, claims that an RMA is not currently under way. Rather, what we are witnessing is the continuation of a century-long increase in the importance of skill in managing complexity. The second insists that the RMA as a policy direction is a risky path for the United States to pursue because it will undermine the country’s power and influence. There are also two schools of thought that explain the causes of revolutions in warfare: the “economic determinist” school and the “contingent innovation” school. A number of questions remain unanswered that need further consideration in research, such as whether the United States and its allies should continue to prepare for a “long war” against violent extremists, or whether transformation is dead.

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