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Military Learning and Evolutions in Warfare in the Modern Era  

Nathan W. Toronto

The way militaries learn has evolved over time, and the first two decades of the 21st century once again see military learning on the cusp of change. Since the start of the modern era in the early 18th century, military learning has evolved from a focus on technical, tactical skills relevant to specific combat branches to a generalized study of war and warfare that blends theory and practice. These changes have come about in response to developments in human capital, battlefield technology, and warfare, or how military forces fight. The early 21st century has witnessed a new shift in warfare, from networked warfare—in which information is synchronized across location, targeting, and precision guidance systems to find, fix, and destroy the enemy with deadly efficiency—to unconventional information warfare—in which non-state actors have access to many of the same information resources and, combined with cyber capabilities that rely on anonymity and occasional state support, negate many of the advantages of networked warfare. This portends a change in how militaries learn, to patterns of learning that can cope with a battlespace that is potentially omnipresent, where states must incorporate all elements of national power coherently in order to achieve success in war. These changes are evident not only on the battlefield, but also in military schools. The theories of Napoleonic warfare born at the dawn of the modern era seem increasingly inadequate for the realities of modern combat. This calls for the generation of new bodies of knowledge by military officers and other specialists in the field. The notion that war itself is politics conducted by other means is increasingly under threat. Likewise, curricula at military schools bear an increasing resemblance to curricula at academic civilian programs in security studies, leadership, and international relations, and more and more civilians are sitting side by side with military officers in the classroom. Since the end of World War II, the bounds of the battlefield have bled into the traditionally civilian space of information, so the study of war and warfare is no longer the unique province of the military officer. This process has accelerated in the 21st century, and a range of defense analysts, scholars, and policymakers have commented on how military forces prepare to fight.

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Communication Technology and African Politics  

Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen

From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change. Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism. A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.