The Future of War

In their stimulating and important book THE FUTURE OF WAR: POWER, TECHNOLOGY & AMERICAN WORLD DOMINANCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY, George and Meredith Friedman make a series of informed predictions about the direction of military affairs as we enter a new century. The authors believe that the United States has taken the first steps in a military revolution as consequential as the invention of firearms. Central to the Friedmans’ thinking is the experience of the Gulf War of 1991. There the United States swiftly crushed a formidable Iraqi army. American losses were only a small fraction of the casualties in this war. What gave the United States its decisive edge in this conflict were its so-called “smart” weapons, such as cruise missiles, which out-classed and overwhelmed the Iraqis’ more conventional armaments. Indeed, for the Friedmans, Desert Storm launched a new epoch in military history—the age of precision-guided munitions.

The Friedmans maintain that the military revolution centered on precision-guided munitions promises to open an era of unprecedented American military dominance. The United States leads the world in new military technologies. It is also poised to control the increasingly vital military frontier of space. However, the military transformation underway also poses challenges for the United States. New weapons are rapidly rendering obsolete the mainstays of the American military—tanks, warplanes, and carrier groups. American policy-makers will have to carefully manage the necessarily gradual transition from a military based on massed firepower to a leaner force built around precision-guided munitions and the command of space.

The Friedmans’ thought-provoking book deserves to be widely read. They raise issues every American citizen ought to ponder.