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Is offensive war becoming redundant?

  1. Jul 8, 2007 #1
    Just thinking about the rather hypothetical NK vs France thread.

    Ok let's take the 20th and 21st century and the Western involved wars of this period, have most of the offensive wars actually achieved a victory? Or have most of them been a waste of manpower and resources ultimately.

    Let's debate the pros and cons of invasive war. Is it becoming redundant due to the technology and tactics of modern warfare, or is it still a viable way to enforce your will on a country? After all people don't meet on the battlefield slay one side and then reep the spoils of war from a country as they did in the past.

    I'll say no for the sake of debate, I have yet to see an offensive large scale war achieve anything in the long run in this period, so it begs the question have we learnt our lesson yet or is there one to be learned? It's not a simple issue, and it's not a simple answer yay or nay, but what do you think?
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  3. Jul 8, 2007 #2
    This is a weird question. You specified 'large scale' in your last paragraph, which is kind of interesting. There were a very large number of 'wars' in the 20th and 21st century wherein a very large power (i.e. US, China) warred with a very weak power, and these all ended with significant gains on the part of the invader (the large power). There were, in fact, very few large scale wars in the last century or so.

    An example of a large scale conflict that ended well for an offender is Italy, world war one. Wasn't nearly as bad for them as it was on the French/Russian fronts, and they even switched sides half way through and got some Austrian territory.
  4. Jul 9, 2007 #3
    China is part of the West now is it, they must be very proud :smile:

    It's not 100% clear but I'm talking about the big powers in the West when I said looking at western wars of x period, not the say the tribal wars in Africa.

    I think it's like I thought, no it has never worked, since perhaps the Boer war.

    I disagree Italy lost all it's gains and much of its wealth and even more importantly many of its people, you had to milk that one to see any real benefit.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2007
  5. Jul 9, 2007 #4


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    Grenada? Panama?
  6. Jul 9, 2007 #5
    Grenada? Why not Nicaragua :smile: not really major at all, more a light skirmish followed by brunch and surfing in the afternoon.

    Panama was coup d'état and a rather minor one in terms of a war.

    I mean something that lasted more than the morning or a few months. Like I said a offensive large scale war or major conflict, like Iraq I&II, Korea.

    It's not easy, in fact I don't think there is one, I think it's a self evident point in the last just over a hundred years the West has gotten nowhere by implementing wars of invasion. So therefore is it becoming redundant? In the long term is only defensive war viable? Or diplomacy.

    I will concede though that an urgent and quickly made strike followed by withdrawal can be very effective, but that is not really what I asked.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2007
  7. Jul 9, 2007 #6


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    War should be left as a last defence for western countries. I think we intefere too much in other countries policies for our own gains. We'd have less war if we had a policy of non-interference.
  8. Jul 9, 2007 #7
    I think all wars are invasive. Typically the larger force invading the smaller. If the intent is to conquer and assimilate then an aggressive invasion is required.
  9. Jul 9, 2007 #8
    well it depends on the goals of the war. in some cases, the gains can be the losses of the other side. take gulf wars 1 and 2 for example. iraq is no longer a threatening presence to the allies of the usa (namely israel, saudi arabia and kuwait.

    the area is becoming less and less stable, but is that such a bad thing for western interests? sure there are more terrorist threats but now that most intelligence agencies have been modernized, they have much more capability to conduct covert and 'black bag' operations. if the CIA wanted to practice assassinating people in north korea, they now have europe as a training ground.
  10. Jul 9, 2007 #9


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    Your question is very poorly phrased. All wars are defensive as well as offensive. Offensive is a strategic stance, not a type of war. Since there are always 2 sides to a war, one side will be on the offense while the other is on the defense. So any war is as much defensive as it is offensive.

    Then there is the word "redundant" What in the world do you mean by that? Are you asking if a offensive strategy is ineffective? How is that redundant? The phrase "offensive war" can be seen as redundant since all wars offend me. But I do not think that is how you are using the word.

    Before you can conduct a meaningful discussion you need to have a meaningful question. Yours needs some work.
  11. Jul 10, 2007 #10
    Why limit it to the west? In fact why limit it to modern days? And why limit it to large scale wars? So you want to debate whether a particular kind of war, between a small group of countries, within a small time frame, is beneficial?

    It's kind of like those argument about how two democracies have never gone to war. Whatever.

    To add to integral's points, we're not sure what you mean by large scale war either. I assume you're thinking of the world wars when you say this, but the reason the world wars were so bad wasn't because they were big, it was because both sides were so evenly matched. If it wasn't even it would have been over in a year or two and with much fewer casualties even if the scope was the same. Historically, almost all wars are one-sided.

    You could, I suppose, argue that that's becoming even more-so recently because of the development of nuclear and long-range missile technology. But that's old and well known.
  12. Jul 10, 2007 #11
    Obviously I mean that the defensive side always wins, and the reason I say the west is partly because we know most about these wars and partly because the West almost always has a technological advantage and almost always(particular in recent years) Out powers the opposing force and yet it still loses as the aggressor, this makes our wars all the more interesting, why with our advantages can we still not win, we haven't won any large scale conflict for over a hundred years? Unless you want to call Iraq a victory( I certainly wouldn't call it that personally) The face of war has changed, and it's patently obvious that it is becoming redundant to invade and then try to force your will on a country, at least to me.

    If you can't understand or don't like the way the question is phrased, fine , I genuinely don't understand what's wrong with it, makes perfect sense to me, I'm simply asking if there is any success any more to instigating offensive war, I also use the phrase invasive, are you telling me you can't understand what the word offensive means in that context? How do you want me to rewrite it so you can give an answer? *shrugs shoulders*

    Smurf I'm limiting it to the limits I gave, wars that last more than a few months, that's all. And the west is not a small group of countries. It's borders no longer are limited to just those countries in one side of the hemisphere. I accounts for the wealthiest, most technologically advanced, and warlike part of humanity.

    I thought it would be interesting not just to assert that our record is distinctly poor, but to try and reason out why we have such a bad track record. After all it's hard to make a case that modern warfare is particularly effective, and if that is the case why not?
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  13. Jul 10, 2007 #12
    :rofl: Okay, I like that question. Much more to my preference.
    The defensive side always wins! Okay, well let's start by having some examples for discussion. I'm thinking you probably have Iraq, Vietnam, maybe world war two, on your mind? Can't really think of any others at the moment. Any others in particular your thinking of?
  14. Jul 10, 2007 #13
    Korea, Russia vs Afghanistan (Particularly interesting because the same thing that happened the first time appears to be happening again, and I predict the same result) I'm stretching it a bit as well as Russia technically isn't the West, but more for what's happening now really, as well as the more obvious WWII, and WWI: the ironically titled war to end all wars.

    Can't really consider civil wars as such as, the country who wins is also the country who loses.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  15. Jul 10, 2007 #14


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    OK, now that we are starting work our way around your poor choice of words we are beginning to get an idea of what you mean.

    Imperialist wars of conquest do not work. I would pretty much agree with that. However it is not as clear to me, as it is to you, that Vietnam is a good example of that. If you look at it, in reality it was the North Vietnamese on the offensive. In many respects it was a very well fought war on their part. The best possible strategic position is to advance into enemy territory, then take a tactical defensive stance, forcing the 'home' army into a tactical offensive position to force you out. The VietCong did a very good job of this. In this sense the offensive side won a war of conquest in Vietnam.

    Now, as far as successful offenses vs wars of conquest, how can you deny the success of the offense in both of the wars with Iraq? Stormin' Norman's offense in the 1st war was brilliant and absolutely successful. The offense conducted in the 2nd war was equally successful. Of course they had a dolt for an opponent, so the outcome of the offence was pretty certain.

    It also seems to me that WWII counters your claim. The allies conducted a massive and quite successful offensive, while recapturing Europe from a defensive Hitler.

    Are you starting to get a handle on these concepts?
  16. Jul 10, 2007 #15
    I think the problem is your not getting a handle of what I mean in the first gulf war Iraq was the aggressor it invaded Kuwait, in Vietnam it is a civil war therefore Vietnam both won and lost, also we could say if we felt the need that the US was an invader of the North of Vietnam it convincingly lost. In the second gulf war the US was the aggressor, and it's cost much more in manpower, financial expense than we could ever hope to recover, if you want to suggest that Iraq II is a victory though we'd best take it to another thread, because I would strongly disagree personally with that, in what sense have we achieved anything except throwing a country into a conflict that could last for a decade and may then still result in civil war.

    This about sums up my opinion


    Obviously you define success only in strict strategic terms, I define it in a country gaining an advantage from such a move, that is where we differ.

    In WWII Germany was the aggressor/invader we were on the defensive, we may have had to then go on the offence to regain our lost ground, but this is irrelevant, I'm genuinely surprised this concept is so hard to understand, I've had this discussion before with my friends and no one failed to grasp the simplicity of the argument, I can only suggest as you patently can't be stupid, that your deliberately trying to avoid the question or your not interested in answering the question until I put it into a form that suits you and that you can contest.

    Here is the argument in simple terms

    We have an initial antagonist, attacker who invade another country/s

    We have an initial defender, who defend said country/s

    Which in the 20th century of these two is the usual winner in the Western countries.

    Bearing that in mind what conclusion can we make about wars of invasion.

    Bearing that in mind why do we think that we have such an appalling record when it comes to invading other countries, bear in mind the word other, a country cannot invade itself.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  17. Jul 10, 2007 #16


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    It seems to me the first necessity is to define what is meant by 'winning a war' especially large scale wars as opposed to military strikes which tend to have very limited objectives.

    One could measure success by the achievement of one's stated war goals but in that case arguably Britain and France lost WW2 as their stated reason for declaring war on Germany was to liberate Poland and as Poland ended up under the Soviet yoke for the next 50 years they patently failed in achieving their goal.

    In Vietnam success was measured by body counts by which metric the US won hands down and yet is universally perceived to have lost the war and so clearly this isn't a very good measure either.

    A formal surrender could perhaps be used as a decisive indicator but what about wars such as the current one in Iraq or again Vietnam or even Korea where there were no formal surrenders?

    Territorial gains could be another measure but once more if this was the case then Britain lost heavily in WW2 as it led directly to the loss of her empire.

    Even economic advantage is an unreliable measure as Japan and Germany though beaten in WW2 went on to become amongst the strongest economies in the world.

    In conclusion victory in war is most often a very intangible concept often only recognised in 'the eye of the beholder' and it is only with the benefit of historical hindsight that the true beneficiaries, the real 'winners', of a conflict can be known.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  18. Jul 10, 2007 #17
    I agree, but then if we do a comparison with England's wars of acquisition of 1300 on wards up till 1900, I could clearly make a case that we got an enormous benefit from many of our wars of invasion, wealth unparalleled, technological advances that put us at the fore front of the world and gave us the largest most lucrative Empire in the world. However this is not the case from 1900 onwards, so it begs the question what about war has changed to make it dramatically less successful or appealing an option, if of course you accept that it is a dramatically less appealing option. But then as yet I haven't seen a war which I could point to as a success given the criteria of advantage listed above, The War with India, we gained massive amount of wealth from this country and control of a trade route to the East. I could easily point out the military successes of our golden age, but could you as easily point out our successes now, or for that matter the US's?

    I'm fine with analysing what we mean by success, but my criteria are fairly simple.

    Land or resource acquisition=>than the expenditure of money and or resources
    Growth in terms of trade and influence
    Technological advance

    There are no doubt a few I've neglected.

    I'm not really expecting to make any hard and fast points here, as the area is very grey, but the simple point is fairly clear, we appear to be doing very badly in the 20th/21st century, unless you want to argue that we're actually very successful in our offensive campaigns, which I think would be very hard to do. If you agree with this then why do you think war has become so much more difficult to win or ultimately gain any real success from, given that many wars are very unbalanced in terms of tech vs tech, strength vs strength particularly, and this is why I single out the West in this case.

    Vietnam's objectives were clearly for it's communist govt to overthrow the French and then later the US and gain a single communist country for it's own people, success in terms of a civil war, maybe? I think even though the US killed many more people than they lost, it would be extremely hard to see it as a victory for them as all their objectives failed, or even a draw for that matter, it is widely accepted as a loss. Although the reasons for it are complicated.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  19. Jul 10, 2007 #18


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    Prior to the mid 20th century most wars were colonial in nature and were characterised by attempts to redefine borders and or grab and occupy new lands and so consequetly military success was fairly easy to ascertain, i.e. do you now control the lands you set out to conquer, though again whether military success was followed by economic success and thus long term victory could only be determined by future historical economic analysis.

    In the latter half of the 20th century following the fixing of international boundaries by the UN and the introduction of peaceful processes to arbitrate disagreements most major conflicts have been battles of ideology, capitalism vs communism, christian democrats vs muslim autocrats etc. By their very nature such wars are nebulous in nature and so victory is equally nebulous as ideas are notoriously hard to kill.

    One recent exception would be the Falklands war precisely because this was an old-fashioned colonial style war thus leading to a clear military victory (whether it will also be an economic victory will depend on whether Britain can hang on to it long enough to expoit the mineral resources in it's territorial waters)

    In the future I doubt there will be many major wars as the high political and economic cost of waging war coupled with advances in computer modelling and analysis will lead gov'ts to pursue the 'butterfly effect' thus eliminating the need for 'total war'. A few buttons pushed at the right time in the right places can achieve every bit as much and more as a major conflagration at a minisule fraction of the cost.

    As an example if the west had simply assassinated Saddam back in 2001 then the current 5 year conflict could have been avoided or if Hitler had been assassinated before the outbreak of WW2 then millions of lives could have been saved.

    The problem todate has been accurately forecasting the result of 'small' interventions with the law of unintended consequences holding sway but that is where I see technology playing more and more of a role in the future providing far greater predictive ability and I think the policy of targetted assassination currently practiced by countries such as Israel and Syria, albeit in a clumsy manner, is evidence of the shift in this direction and will become the norm.

    Interestingly 'terrorists' could be said to be leading the field in this approach as although lacking in technology to assist in the forecasting of the outcomes of their actions, resulting in some spectacular own goals, their modus operandi has always been to try to influence major issues with relatively small operations.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  20. Jul 10, 2007 #19
    Schroedinger... did you sleep? You didn't did you.
  21. Jul 10, 2007 #20
    Huh? What do you mean?
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