Max Boot Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Revolutions in Military Affairs
and the War on Terror: Conversation with Max Boot, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; November 6, 2006, by Harry Kreisler

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Spinoffs from War Technology

You're also suggesting that the evolution of bureaucracy and of the state are a very important element. You mentioned Elizabeth. Part of what we're witnessing is the rise of the English state and then the empire.

There's been a very close relationship between the nature of the state system over the course of the last 500 years and the nature of warfare. The demands of the battlefield have driven the growth of the state consistently from about 1500 to the mid-twentieth century. With the rise of gunpowder armies it was no longer enough to be a feudal lord. You needed much greater resources in order to harness gunpowder technology and put thousands of men with muskets and cannons into the field, and navies armed with artillery. Those kinds of resources required a super-lord, and so this became a powerful impetus for the growth of centralized states in Europe, nation states usually led by absolute monarchies.

Those areas which were not able to grow nation states tended to be overrun by their neighbors, Italy being a classic example, where you had the Italian city-states. They didn't have unity, so they weren't able to generate as much power as they needed to protect themselves from gunpowder armies. So, they were overrun for hundreds of years, and Italy didn't become a unified nation state until the mid-nineteenth century. Others -- Britain, France, Russia, and others -- were more successful in centralizing authority and harnessing the gunpowder revolution.

So, there's been a very close relationship through the industrial era where the demands of industrial warfare provided a powerful impetus for further growth of government and the development of giant welfare and warfare states that can mobilize millions of men, send millions of men to their deaths, but also had the capacity to pay pensions to those who survived.

Now the trend for the last four hundred fifty years or so, or more, has been towards centralization, however, in the information age, I would argue, the trend is going the other way towards decentralization. So, this is a reversal from many of the things we've seen previously in warfare.

We recently had on our program the Nobel laureate from Harvard, Robert William Fogel, who's done a lot of work on the illness through the life cycle, and the source of his data is the data that was collected on the Civil War veterans, so exactly what you're saying with the spin-off domestically. [/people4/Fogel/fogel-con3.html]

The very idea of bureaucracy, of organization, which we all take for granted was a military invention. The first modern bureaucracies were military, and in fact, some of the very terms we associate with business life come from the military, for example, "company." The original "companies" were collections of mercenaries in Italy in the fifteenth century. That's where the term comes from. Or "freelance" – those were individual soldiers, mercenaries who were for hire by states, and the fact that they all came together led to the rise of these bureaucratic structures not only in government but in business. This is the origin of the way modern life is organized.

One of the themes that we're hearing in current affairs is the notion of privatization of the military. Throughout this history is there any conclusion we can draw about who more successfully can implement innovations, whether it's private militaries and private entities or the state that can embrace technology for warfare?

Since 1700 or so, the primary driver of change in the military sphere has been the state, and you've seen the decline of mercenaries and private companies which were incredibly important up through the mid-eighteenth century. Now, along with the declining power of the state you're seeing the increasing power of private companies, and I would argue mercenaries are probably more important in the world today than anytime probably going back to 1700 or so. The U.S. military, for example, relies on private companies to a very large extent. It couldn't operate in places like Iraq or Afghanistan if it didn't have the logistical infrastructure provided by KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, doing many of the jobs that the military would have done itself fifty years ago, but now the state is getting out of those businesses and turning it over to the private sector. And so, in Iraq, for example, you have something like 20,000 private contractors with guns running around. There are many more private contractors -- just the armed ones are about 20,000 -- which actually makes them the second largest troop contingent after the U.S. military. So, this is kind of "back to the future," back to the early modern period, in terms of the importance of the privateer on the battlefield.

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