Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

1 - Army transformation: imperatives and innovations


In an uncertain and still dangerous world, a key challenge for Western states is to maintain their military edge. For the United States, the challenge is to stay ahead of rising state competitors and new non-state opponents. For the main European powers, the challenge is as much to catch up with the US military, as it is to meet a range of regional and global military commitments. These past two decades, Western militaries have been operating in an environment that has been characterized by profound strategic and socio-technological change, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of networked computers, as well as continuous expeditionary operations. This, in turn, has produced powerful imperatives and opportunities for Western militaries to transform themselves.

The major Western states ended the Cold War with a surplus of military power. Armies, navies and air forces constructed to fight a global war against the Eastern bloc suddenly were left without peer competitors. Western policymakers and their publics soon found new things to worry about, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, ethnic civil wars and failing states. These new challenges concern less the amount of military power, and more military agility; i.e. the ability of military forces to adapt to meet new risks and requirements.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
“adaptable strategic posture”: Securing Britain in An Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review, Cm 7948 (London: TSO, 2010), pp. 9–10
Adamsky, Dima, The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010)
Biddle, , “Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us about the Future of Conflict,” International Security, vol. 21, no. 2 (1996), p. 176
Symposium on the Gulf War and the Revolution in Military Affairs,” International Security, vol. 22, no. 2 (1997)
Shimko, Keith L. reasonably concludes, “it strains credulity to argue that there was no evidence of a possible RMA” from the Gulf War. Shimko, The Iraq Wars and America’s Military Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 90
Cohen, Eliot A., “A Revolution in Warfare,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 75, no. 2 (March/April 1996)
Krepinevich, Andrew F., “Cavalry to Computer: The Patterns of Military Revolutions,” National Interest, vol. 37 (Fall 1994)
Knox, MacGregor and Murray, Williamson, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Smith, Rupert, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Penguin, 2006)
Demchak, Chris, “Creating the Enemy: Global Diffusion of the Information-Technology Based Military Model,” in Goldman, Emily O. and Eliason, Leslie C. (eds.), The Diffusion of Military Technologies and Ideas (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 307–347
Gordon, Michael and Trainor, Bernard, The General’s War: The Inside Story of the Gulf War (Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1995)
Tomes, Robert R., US Defense Strategy from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom: Military Innovation and the New American Way of War, 1973–2003 (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 111–122
King, Anthony, The Transformation of Europe’s Armed Forces: From the Rhine to Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)
Cebrowski, Arthur K. and Gartska, John J., “Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origins and Future,” Proceedings of the Naval Institute (January 1998)
Owens, William, High Seas (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995)
Lifting the Fog of War (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Murray, Williamson, “Clausewitz Out, Computer In: Military Culture and Technological Hubris,” National Interest, vol. 48 (Summer 1997), pp. 57–64
Cogan, Charles, The Third Option: The Emancipation of European Defense, 1989–2000 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001)
Howorth, Jolyon and Keeler, John T. S. (eds.), Defending Europe: The EU, NATO, and the Quest for European Autonomy (London: Palgrave, 2003)
Cohen, Elliot A., “A Tale of Two Secretaries,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2002)
Pfeiffer, Holger, “Defence and Force Planning in Historical Perspective: The Case of NATO,” Baltic Security and Defence Review, vol. 10 (2008), pp. 103–120 at p. 112
Gordon, Philip H. and Shapiro, Jeremy, Allies at War: America, Europe and the Crisis over Iraq (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004)
Korteweg, Rem, The Superpower, the Bridge-Builder and the Hesitant Ally: How Defense Transformation Divided NATO, 1991–2008 (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2011)
Farrell, Theo and Rynning, Sten, “NATO’s Transformation Gaps: Transatlantic Differences and the War in Afghanistan,” Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 33, no. 5 (2010), pp. 673–700
Grissom, Adam, “The Future of Military Innovation Studies,” Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 29, no. 5 (2006), pp. 906–907
Snyder, Jack, “Richness, Rigor and Relevance in the Study of Soviet Foreign Policy,” International Security, vol. 9, no. 3 (1984–85), pp. 19–28
Mukunda, Gautam, “We Cannot Go On: Disruptive Innovation and the First World War Royal Navy,” Security Studies, vol. 19, no. 1 (2010), pp. 124–159
Dombrowski, Peter and Gholz, Eugene, Buying Military Transformation: Technological Innovation and the Defence Industry (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006)
Terriff, Terry, “Warriors and Innovators: Military Change and Organizational Culture in the US Marine Corps,” Defence Studies, vol. 6, no. 2 (2006), pp. 215–247
Sapolsky, Harvey M., Green, Brendan Rittenhouse and Friedman, Benjamin H., “The Missing Transformation,” in Sapolsky, Harvey M., Friedman, Benjamin H. and Green, Brendan Rittenhouse (eds.), US Military Innovation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009), p. 6
Rosen, Stephen Peter, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 2
Huntington, Samuel in his classic study, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil–Military Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957)
Hampson, Fen, Unguided Missiles: How America Buys Its Weapons (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989)
McNaugher, Thomas, New Weapons, Old Politics: America’s Military Procurement Muddle (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1989)
Brown, Michael E., Flying Blind: The Politics of the US Strategic Bomber Program (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992)
Farrell, Theo, Weapons Without a Cause: The Politics of Weapons Acquisition in the United States (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997).
Posen, Barry R., The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984)
Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. (eds.), Military Innovation in the Interwar Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Kier, Elizabeth, Imagining War: French and British Military Doctrine Between the Wars (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997)
Johnson, David E., Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the US Army, 1917–1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998)
Mahnken, Thomas G., Uncovering Ways of War: US Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1919–1941 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002)
Evangelista, Matthew, Innovation and the Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988)
Demchak, Chris C., Military Organizations, Complex Machines: Modernization in the US Armed Services (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991)
Zisk, Kimberly Martin, Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955–1991 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993)
Avant, Deborah D., Political Institutions and Military Change: Lessons from Peripheral Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994)
Rhodes, Edward, “Do Bureaucratic Politics Matter? Some Disconfirming Findings from the Case of the US Navy,” World Politics, vol. 47 (1994), pp. 1–41
Shulman, Mark, “Institutionalizing a Political Idea: Navalism and the Emergence of American Sea Power,” in Trubowitz, Peter, Goldman, Emily O. and Rhodes, Edward (eds.), The Politics of Strategic Adjustment: Ideas, Institutions, and Interests (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), pp. 29–104
Checkel, Jeffrey T., “The Constructivist Turn in International Relations Theory,” World Politics, vol. 50, no. 2 (1998), pp. 324–348
Finnemore, Martha, National Interests in International Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996)
Wendt, Alexander, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
Goldstein, Judith and Keohane, Robert O. (eds.), Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions and Political Change (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993)
Katzenstein, Peter J. (ed.), The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)
Farrell, Theo, The Norms of War: Cultural Beliefs and Modern Conflict (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005)
Johnston, Alastair Iain, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995)
Sondhaus, Lawrence, Strategic Culture and Ways of War (London: Routledge, 2006)
Meyer, Christoph O., The Quest for a European Strategic Culture (New York: Palgrave, 2006)
Rynning, Sten, “Peripheral or Powerful? The European Union’s Strategy to Combat the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” European Security, vol. 16, no. 3 (September 2007), pp. 267–288
Legro, Jeffrey W., Cooperation Under Fire: Anglo-German Restraint During World War II (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995)
Mahnken, Thomas G., Technology and the American Way of War Since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008)
Farrell, Theo, “Professionalization and Suicidal Defence Planning by the Irish Army, 1921–41,” Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 21, no. 3 (1998), pp. 67–85
Hull, Isabel V., Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005)
Ward, Thomas, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001)
Price, Richard M., The Chemical Weapons Taboo (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997)
Tannenwald, Nina, The Nuclear Weapons Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
March, James G., The Ambiguities of Experience (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010), p. 58
Farrell, Theo, Osinga, Frans and Russell, James A. (eds.), Military Adaptation in Afghanistan (Stanford, CA; Stanford University Press, 2013)
Russell, James A., Innovation, Transformation and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005–2007 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011)
Serena, Chad C., A Revolution in Military Adaptation: The US Army in the Iraq War (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011)
Ucko, David H., The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the US Military for Modern Wars (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009)
Doubler, Michael, Closing with the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944–1945 (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1994)
Carafano, James Jay, GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology, and Winning WWII (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2006)
Bickel, Keith B., Mars Learning: The Marine Corps’ Development of Small Wars Doctrine, 1915–1940 (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2001)
Russell, James A., “Innovation in War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005–2007,” Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 33, no. 4 (2010), pp. 595–624
Farrell, Theo, “Improving in War: Military Adaptation and the British in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006–2009,” Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 33, no. 4 (2010), pp. 567–594
French, David, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War against Germany, 1919–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
Habeck, Mary R., Storm of Steel: The Development of Armor Doctrine in Germany and the Soviet Union, 1919–1939 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003)
Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army’s Art of Attack, 1916–1918 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994)
Boemeke, Manfred F., Chickering, Roger and Forster, Stig (eds.), Anticipating Total War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)