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Western Way of War

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Western Way of War

The Royal United Services Institute

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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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show series
 
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 WM…
 
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 adv…
 
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 t…
 
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 s…
 
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, bo…
 
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…
 
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…
 
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…
 
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…
 
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…
 
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 …
 
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 …
 
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.…
 
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 extremel…
 
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 vi…
 
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…
 
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 rare…
 
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 s…
 
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 …
 
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 …
 
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 a…
 
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.By The Royal United Services Institute
 
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 e…
 
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 ho…
 
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.…
 
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 ac…
 
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…
 
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 …
 
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 …
 
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, loat…
 
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, star…
 
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 thes…
 
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 co…
 
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 abo…
 
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 …
 
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 fixati…
 
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 fo…
 
'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? …
 
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…
 
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 …
 
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 …
 
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