Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
We're delighted to welcome Max Boot, who is the Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He is also a weekly foreign affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Foreign Affairs. Before joining the Council on Foreign Relations in 2002, Max spent eight years as a writer and editor at the Wall Street Journal. And from 1992 to 1994 was an editor and writer at the Christian Science Monitor. Max holds a BA in History with high honors from the University of California at Berkeley, and an MA in History from Yale University. His previous book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, was selected as one of the best books of 2002 by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing him speak about his new book, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today. Please join me in welcoming Max Boot. Thank you very much, Nancy. It's a pleasure to be here with all of you. The World Affairs Council does such tremendous work, so I'm happy to be a part of your programming, and of course it's a special pleasure for me to be back in the Bay Area, in San Francisco, one of my very favorite cities, and not only back here, but back here a few days after the Cal football team displayed what is its no-longer remarkable prowess on the gridiron, but pretty remarkable to me for my memories of the Cal footbal team when I was a student. We didn't win a lot of games, and now we seem to win every game, this is quite an astonishing development, and one that I'm happy to see occur. Well, I'm here to talk about the book over there, as Nancy mentioned. War Made New. And it's essentially the story of four great revolutions in military affairs that have changed the world over the course of the last 500 years. Now the question I often get asked as an author is, How did you get interested in this topic, and I guess the more important question from your perspective is, why should you be interested in it? The answer is the same. Which is that we are in the middle of one of these periods of major military change right now. The information revolution. Which has been changing everything in the world, from business to the social scene to military affairs And this is something that really became evident I think to most people around the world in 1991, in the Gulf War, that showcased a lot of these amazing information technologies which had been developed in the previous several decades. Technologies such as the first use of GPS devices, to make possible the famous left-hook through the deserts of Iraq. Or amazing surveillance aircraft, such as the JSTORS or the AWACKs. Stealth fighters. And in some ways, the most amazing development of all: precision-guided munitions. I mean, this is something we take for granted, but you have to put it into historical perspective, which is that from the dawn of the gunpowder age 500 years ago, up until fairly recently, once a projectile left a gun barrel, or later a bomb bay, it was pretty much on its own. It wasn't terribly accurate, because it was guided by nothing more than gravity and sheer luck. So it was very hard to predict where it would fall. In World War II, when my wife's grandfather was flying B17s over Europe, they were lucky if they got a bomb within half a mile of the target. So if you wanted to take out a German war plant, you had to send a thousand B17s, 10,000 crewmen, you'd place many of those at risk, and you still might not take out the target. And instead you'd wind up devastating the entire neighborhood around it. Well, by 1991, one airplane one pilot, one bomb, could achieve the same results that had taken a thousand airplanes to achieve in World War II. And these days, really since the Gulf War, not only do air force officers think about hitting a target, I mean it's well-beyond that now, and these combined operation centers are thinking about do they want the bomb to come in from the east, or the west, and impact the second floor or the third floor, they may well have a predator drone flying overhead to provide live video imagery of the bomb as it impacts, and do damage assessment on the spot. All these things have become a routine part of warfare as waged by the United States military. We sort of take it for granted today, but it really has been something very unusual and very different from the way warfare was waged in the past. There's been a lot of talk, of course, about these developments going back 15 years or more but I try to do in the book, to look not only at this revolution but others To think about where we are and where we're going. The first revolution I look at is the gunpowder revolution, which began around 1500, and included much more than just cannons and muskets, it was also sailing ships and other associated technologies. Then I look at the first Industrial Revolution, which really made its impact felt on war from about 1850 to 1914, from the Crimean War, to World War I. Then I look at the second Industrial Revolution, driven by internal combustion on airplanes, radios, and all the rest, which transformed warfare in the 20s and 30s, with the full impact being felt in World War II. And then I look at the information revolution, driven by advances in microchip technology since the 1960s. This is obviously a big story to tell. 500 years of change across the world. And so to try to make it a little bit more digestible, what I do is, I tell the story through a series of battles that illustrate the larger trends going on in the world, beginning with the French invasion of Italy in 1494, and concluding with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. And along the way I try to show different kinds of battles, battles on land and at sea. In the later stages, battles in the air. Battles pitting Europeans against Europeans as well as Europeans against non-Europeans. And what I try to always keep in mind as I go along is the human factor, the importance of soldiers and their commanders struggling with the impact of this new technology. Because the real story here is not just about the technology, but about how various armies have adapted or not adapted to this new technology, and about these commanders struggling with innovations. Whether it was Sir Francis Drake in the 1580s trying to figure out how to take advantage of artillery to defeat the Spanish Armada. Or Curtis LeMay struggling in 1944, 1945, to figure out how to use long-range B29 bombers to defeat Japan. That's the real story of this human struggle with technology. Not just with the technology per se. What I try to do in the book is to tell some good stories, to tell a good narrative, but I think there's more here than just history, I think there's also a lot here that bears on the present day and the dilemmas we think about when we think about the future of American power. Now I draw a lot of lessons toward the ends of the book, and to get the full array of lessons, you're going to have to plunk down your 35 bucks or whatever it is and turn to the back of the book, but let me kind of give you the Cliffs Notes version here. In the next few minutes. I'll try to do like 500 years in the next ten minutes or so, so you can figure out how many years per minute that is. I'm just going to go over a few basic lessons that I draw from all this history The first major lesson is just how incredibly important these revolutions in military affairs have been in making the world as it is. There's a tendency in academia not to focus these days on military factors, but to focus on other instruments of change, whether it's sexual roles or germs or demography, environment, all these other factors. All of which are important. But we can't lose sight of how incredibly important military skill has been, and especially military skill and taking advantage of changing conditions of warfare, how important those have been in reshaping the world in the course of the last 500 years. Starting with the very first revolution I talk about the gun powder revolution. I pick up the story around 1500 or so, when gunpowder was starting to become dominant on the battlefield. But if you go back a few years before that, to around 1400 or so, and you ask yourself, well who was the most powerful military force on the planet around 1400? It wasn't the Europeans. It was probably the Chinese or the Mongols. In 1450, the Europeans controlled about 14% of the world's land surface. By 1914, they controlled 84%. From 14% to 84%. And in many ways, that's the big story of the past 500 years. The rise of the West. The European takeover of the world. And how did that happen? Well if you'd asked a European in the 19th century, they probably would have told you it was because we're pre-destined to rule or are a superior race, all this other kind of stuff, which in retrospect just seems like hogwash. It was a contingent set of historical circumstances that allowed Europeans to dominate the world, and those circumstances were that Europeans were more adept at harnessing gunpowder technology and industrial technology than anybody else around the world, including the Chinese, who invented gunpowder but couldn't take very good advantage of it. And so Europeans were able to go everywhere around the world and conquer pretty much everybody they met. But not everybody in Europe was equally successful in taking advantage of the gunpowder revolution. When you look at what happened, some of the early movers, Portugal and Spain in particular, countries that were very important very early on in the gunpowder age, couldn't keep innovating, and they faded out. By about the 18th century, by the time Industrialization was occurring, the Iberians were on the sidelines, and you saw the emergence of this Northern European tier of great powers. Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, Russia, those became t the new super powers of Europe and of the world by the end of the gunpowder age. Then the Industrial Age comes around, and certain powers are able to Industrialize effectively and others aren't. And those who aren't pay a catastrophic price on the battlefield. By the end of World War I, the major conflict of the first industrial age, you see the collapse of ancient empires. Ottoman, Hapsburg, Romanov, all able to generate a fair amount of military power in the gunpowder age. But not able to compete effectively in the Industrial Age. So they collapse and we see the rise of new superpowers: Germany and Japan, which are adept at industrial warfare. Then the second Industrial Revolution comes along, and once again, certain powers are able to adapt, others are not, and what you see is most of the great powers of the past being swept off the board. Not only the vanquished Germany, Italy and Japan, but also the winners, Britain and France, cannot compete in the second Industrial age with the two superpowers that emerge. We'll skip ahead a few decades and come to the mid-eighties and early nineties. The period when Secretary Schulz was in office and presiding over these momentous changes that occurred in the world, and ask yourself, why was it that the Soviet Union collapsed when it did? I mean, there's obviously a lot of reasons for that having to do with the inefficiencies of the Communist system going back decades, but what precipitated the collapse when it occurred? Again, there are a lot of reasons, which have been much debated, but I would submit too that a good part of the explanation has to do with the fact that we had a Silicon Valley and they didn't. They could not integrate the information technology into their economy or their military as effectively as we did. And by the early 1980s, they saw themselves falling further and further behind. They tried to reform, they failed, they collapsed. Now, that's about a ten-second version of the fall of the Soviet Union, about which you can write books and books have been written. That's obviously a bit oversimplified, but nevertheless I think there's a large grain of truth to it. Our mastery of information technology gave us a tremendous advantage over our adversary, and the fact that the Soviets could not adapt to the information age ultimately sealed their doom. So by the mid 1990s, you had the US standing alone atop the world. Our major rival disappeared. Our military had just shown its prowess in the Gulf War. We were this unrivaled hegemon. But of course what we've discovered in the years since then is that hegemony is not all it's cracked up to be. Great power has its discontents. I'll come to that in a minute. But first let me ask you this: how do you become one of these great powers? How do you become one of the victors in the struggle for global primacy and avoid being one of the vanquished. Now you might think that because I'm talking about military technology and because technology is in the subtitle of my book that the answer I would give you is, develop really awesome technology. Develop better weapons than your adversaries. In fact, that's very seldom been the answer, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most of the important weapons systems, or most of the key technologies that have changed warfare over the course of the last 500 years, have not been military technologies per se. They were not invented in any government RND lab, they were not invented by any ministry of defense, they often came out of left field, starting with gunpowder itself, which came out of China, nobody knows who invented it, and it made its way westward. Then you had the three masted sailing ship, tremendously important again. Nobody knows who invented it. The steam engine. The railroad. The steamboat. The internal combustion engine. The automobile. The airplane. The radio. The telegraph. The microchip. These are some of the most important inventions for military affairs over the course of the last 500 years, and none of them was invented for purely military purposes. The Wright brothers weren't thinking, "We need to come up with a new way to kill millions of people." They were thinking, "It would be really cool to fly." But out of that basic impulse, it would be cool to fly, they came up with a weapons system that wound up killing millions of people. It's very hard to control that kind of creativity, it's very hard to say to somebody, come up with this invention that will change the world upside down. That's like saying, you know, write a great novel by 5pm, or compose a great symphony orchestra. It doesn't work that way. Creativity is very hard to harness. And on those rare occasions when you can harness it, it's very rare that you can hold onto the fruits of your creativity for very long. The great example being, of course one of the most successful government-directed RND projects of all time. The Manhattan project. We spent billions of dollars to develop the atomic bomb and boom! Within four years and I do mean boom within four years, the Soviets had the exact same thing. This has been the experience time and time again, we're seeing it now. When you think back a few years to, what were the most highly classified information the US government. The products of overhead imagery. Satellite reconnaissance photos, which we spent billions of dollars to develop Well now anybody can go online and go to Google and get satellite reconnaissance imagery. It's out there for anybody to see. Our advantage is vanishing. Or our technology's being disseminated, which is what happens when you have something successful. It gets out there. You can't hold onto it for very long So the key to being successful in this race for global mastery is not necessarily developing the best technology. It's making better use of technology than anybody else. And what that comes down to is bureaucracy, organization, management. Not terribly sexy, but that is in fact what I found time and time again to be the key difference between winning and being defeated. Is, do you have an effective organization for harnessing military power, for harnessing the technology of the day? The great example of that, being one of the most famous revolutions in the military affairs, the Blitzkrieg. How was it that the Germans were so successful in the Spring of 1940 in overrunning France and the low countries? It wasn't because they invented the tank. It wasn't because they had more tanks, or better tanks, than the Allies. In fact, if you looked at the equipment on the two sides, the Allies matched up very well. The French actually had better tanks than the Germans, paradoxically. If there was any technological advantage that the Germans had it was simply the fact that they put two-way radios into most of their tanks and airplanes so they were able to communicate much more effectively with their forces in the field, and were able to maneuver them much better than the allies. But again: the radio was not a German invention. It was invented my Mark Honey, an Anglo-Italian. Everybody in the world had radios in 1940. But only the Germans thought that they would be important and utilized them very effectively. And why is that? It was because the Germans came up with a plan for a fast-moving war of maneuver. Being able to communicate with your forces in the field would be incredibly important. Whereas the Allies were still stuck in the static, trench warfare mindset of World War I. So the key German advantage was not technology per se, it was how they utilized technology. It was the fact that they were able to out-think their rivals, and after that were able to out-fight their rivals. And if you look at, what was the German advantage, it wasn't the Panzer or the Schtuka, as much as anything, the German advantage was the German general staff, which was a very effective instrument of military organization, integrating new technologies and planning for military purposes, going back to the mid 19th century. The Germans, in other words, at least early on in the war, not later, not by the end of the war, but early on, they had a more effective organizational structure, a more effective bureaucracy than the allies did which is why they overran much of Europe. That's my point. Organization really matters. And the kind of organization you need for each of these different ages has been different. The gunpowder age led to the rise of absolute monarchy and the first nation-states in Europe, because the feudal lords didn't have enough power, didn't have enough wealth, to field these very expensive new gunpowder armies. Those kinds of military forces required the resources of a superlord. An absolute monarch. And led to the rise of nation-states. Later on, in the first two industrial revolutions, we saw further growth in government with the rise of these giant welfare and warfare states that can mobilize millions of men, take the full resources of an industrialized society and utilize it for battle. Get millions of men killed, but also have the resources to pay old-age pensions to those who survived. So going back more than 400 years, close to 500 years, the trend in warfare has been ever bigger, more sophisticated, more complex, more hierarchical governments. The trend the last two decades has been going in reverse. Because information technology has been pushing organizations to be smaller, leaner, more decentralized. It is punishing old-style industrial bureaucracies. You see this in business. Where companies that were very successful in the industrial age, are not so successful in the information age if they keep the same kind of structures they used to have. When you think about companies like Ford, or GM, or US Steel, formidable at one point, no longer so formidable. And you see the rise of new challengers who are much more adept at utilizing the technology of the day, and have different organizational structures. Companies like Toyota, or Wal Mart, or Microsoft, or Ebay, or Dell, or so many others, and for most of them, their key comparative advantage is not that they have better technology, but they have better ways of utilizing technology, which is available for anybody. The same thing is absolutely true in the realm of international security affairs. And unfortunately when I look at international security affairs today, it's hard for me to be very sanguine, because what I see is that in many ways our enemies are more adept at utilizing information technology than we are. In many ways, the US government is kind of the GM or Ford of governments, this old-style industrial bureaucracy that used to work extremely well, and no longer works so well. Whereas the enemies that we face are very decentralized, very networked. They're sort of the Ebay of terrorism. They in many ways have a better infrastructure for the information age than we do. I was making this point at Annapolis a few weeks ago, and one of the officers there said to me, Well you know sir, what's the big advantage that Al Quaeda has over the US Armed Forces? It's that they don't need travel orders to go outside their AOR, their area of responsibility. I mean, in a microcosm, that's it. We have all this bureaucracy and they don't. And there's kind of a humorous element to it, but there's also a deadly serious element to it,when you look for example at what's going on in Iraq. Where for the last 3 ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ years, IEDs, improvised explosive devices, have been the number one killer of American troops. Now, by and large, this is not terribly sophisticated technology, especially early on, it was as simple as an artillery shell wired together with a garage door opener, or a cell phone. This is not the kind of thing we would spend billions of dollars to develop as a weapons system. But if it's so stupid and simple and it is stupid and simple! - why can't we defeat it? We have tried. We have spent billions of dollars, thousands of man hours, trying to defeat these IEDs, and we can't do it. We failed at some effective technologies. I mean, if you go to Iraq and ride around in a Hum-V, most of them these days have something called a Warlock, which is this jamming device developed by the Pentagon at great cost to jam certain ID frequencies. And those things work And yet, we're still losing two soldiers a day. IEDs are still as effective now as they were 3 ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ years ago. And why is that? It's because when we employ something like the Warlock, the insurgents don't say, "okay, we give up. We've had it, you guys win. See you later, have a good life." That's not their response, unfortunately. Their response is, "okay, you've taken away one way to kill infidels, we're going to come up with 20 other ways to kill infidels. Okay, you're jamming certain cellphone frequencies. We'll go to other frequencies, or we'll use pressure plates, or trip wires, or" there's a thousand different ways to set off IEDs and they're finding them all, unfortunately. And what we're finding is that we're usually about half a step behind. Because when we're trying to develop defenses, we have to get an appropriation with Congress, have to go through a bureaucracy, get sign offs from twenty lawyers of command. They don't have any of that stuff. They just go out and do it. If they're not successful, they die, and that's the end of that, if they are successful, they kill Americans and they start replicating that kind of organically by a process of trial and error. And by the time we field one defense, they're onto something else. And this has been kind of the story the last 3 ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ years. We're kind of half a step behind, I would argue, because part of it is of course the inherent difficulties in fighting a guerrilla foe, but part of it is of course the fact that we don't have the right kind of structure for dealing with the problem that we face. We have this overly rigid, bureaucratic structure designed for a different era of warfare. And this is a major major issue to think about because guerrilla warfare and insurgency is growing in importance, largely because of what we ourselves have done. I mean it used to be that European armies would go on campaign against guerrillas whether on the northwest frontier, or the Sudan, the Philippines, lots of other places around the world, and this was really marginal stuff. This was what officers would call ankle biting wars This was of very little consequence to the national security back home. That's no longer the case. Guerrillas are no longer isolated. They're no longer confining their operations to one region or one country. They are for the first time, able to operate around the world, with Al Quaeda we're facing the first global insurgency, which is largely a result of our success in knitting the world closer together with technologies like jumbo jets, the Internet, cell phones, all this other stuff which has been such a great boon for American business, but it's also a great boon for our enemies. They're able to operate all around the world for the very first time in a way that would have been unimaginable to previous generations of Jihadists. And once they arrive somewhere, they're able to cause much more destruction than ever before. Just compare the two big attacks on American soil in he 20th century. On September 11th of 2001, 19 guys armed with box cutters and a budget that wouldn't buy you a single F-22 killed more Americans than the entire Imperial Japanese navy did on December 7th, 1941. This is part of a larger trend. More and more destructive capacity in the hands of ever smaller individuals. We've seen a proliferation of destructive technology around the world so that even the most backward guerrilla in the most godforsaken country in the world has access to rocket propeller grenades, AK47s, land mines, all these technologies that give far more destructive capacity than their ancestors had fighting Western armies in the 19th century. But it gets worse than that, because it's not only this kind of low-end destructive technology which is proliferating, so are weapons of mass destruction. We're seeing nuclear proliferation. We're seeing the proliferation of biotechnology. All of this stuff is based on scientific principles that are very readily understood, and with our success in promulgating Western science and technology, there are people all over the world who understand how modern science and technology work. This is no longer knowledge confined to a handful of Westerners. We've spread it all over the world. And therefore, we have given much greater capacity for destruction to our enemies. This is one of the unfortunate upshots of the information age and of the process of globalization, which so many celebrate. It has its dark side. And this could be catastrophic for us because we face the possibility of super terrorists, super guerrillas, with far more destructive capacity than an entire army a century ago. So what do we do about this threat, which is, I fear, growing? We can't get rid of our technology, we shouldn't get rid of our technology, because our technology can be helpful. But we also have to understand the limitations of our technology. We now have the capacity with precision guided munitions to essentially blow up any target on the planet whenever we want with an incredible degree of precision and accuracy. Well that's a very useful skill to have. That's a very useful capacity to have. The problem, of course, we face, is in the global war on terrorism. We don't know what to blow up. We don't know who to kill in order to win the war, because our enemies don't present an obvious target for our munitions. And in order to figure out how to win this war, we're going to need much more than smart bombs. We need smart people. We need people, lots of people, not only in the military but also in other agencies of government, who understand foreign languages, who understand foreign cultures, who understand information operations, counter insurgency, human intelligence, state building, all these skills that have been in such short supply in Iraq and Afghanistan. What it comes down to essentially is organizational culture. Can we change it. That's the big challenge that we face. You know I was struck not long ago reading a story in the Washington Post about how five years after 9/11, the FBI, out of something like 12,000 special agents, still has only 33 who speak Arabic. Only 33 Arabic-speaking special agents five years after 9/11. Now, is that because FBI agents are inherently incapable of learning foreign languages, or because the FBI's inherently incapable of recruiting among Arab-Americans or other communities? I don't think that's the answer. The problem is the organizational culture of the FBI, which clearly doesn't think that learning foreign languages is a high priority. And the same thing is true within the military. These are not the kind of traditional skills that our government bureaucracy select for. But those are exactly the kind of skills we need to win the global war on terrorism. So the challenge we face is, can we innovate organization? The technological innovation will take care of itself. I mean, we spend more on developing new weapons systems than any other country spends on its entire defense budget. So we are going to have the best technology, the best military technology, and the best technology period, at least in the short term, because of the work being done over here in Silicon Valley. That's not the issue. The issue is, can we harness that technology to actually defeat the kind of enemies that we face, and that in turn is going to require organizational innovation, which is very difficult to do. That's a huge challenge. I don't have a ten point solution for how we do that. It's very hard. What I've written here is basically a book of history analysis which doesn't purport to solve the problem What I try to do is to frame the issues, present the problem in a historical perspective, and hope to spark some much needed debate about these important issues. And I hope that some of that debate will come in the next few minutes. Thank you, Max.