The myth of victory: Are Americans’ Ideas about war stuck in WWII?

Mark Kukis in Aeon:

WarSince the early 1980s, conflicts have generally become more fragmented, meaning they involve more than two warring parties. The spread of internal conflicts has led outside nations to become more involved, which tends to prolong hostilities. In the 1990s, few internal conflicts drew outside powers. By 2010, almost 27 per cent of internal wars entangled outside nations. The causes of these fragmented internal conflicts are complex, varying from region to region. In parts of Africa, especially parts of West Africa in the 1990s, diamonds and other easily looted resources have helped drive conflict. In other parts of Africa, such as the eastern edge of the DRC, disease and environmental degradation have shaped regional fighting. An unrelenting appetite for narcotics in the US has stoked violence in many Latin American countries. Globally, a booming arms trade has helped give rise to Kalashnikov politics, ie politics practised with either an overt or implied threat of armed violence by competing factions. For the world’s aggrieved and malcontent, making war is easier than ever; making politics more violent and dangerous. So when the US goes to war today, it typically becomes a party to internal conflict instead of a combatant against another country.

Military triumphs against other nations – for example Iraq in 2003 – offer only fleeting victories and serve as preludes to the actual war. In these internal, fragmented conflicts, victory is elusive for any party involved…Statistically, the odds of the US coming up a winner in a modern war are perhaps as low as one in seven.

Superpowers and hegemons are also winning less frequently these days than they once did. From 1900 to 1949, strong militaries fighting conventionally weaker forces won victories about 65 per cent of the time. From 1950 to 1998, advantaged military powers claimed war victories only 45 per cent of the time. In the first part of the 19th century, superior powers won wars almost 90 per cent of the time. For hundreds of years, nations with the will and the means to raise strong militaries have wagered that the extraordinary investment of time, treasure and lives would yield rewards in war when the moment came. For hundreds of years, that was a safe bet – but not any more. For 21st-century superpowers, war is no longer likely to be a winning endeavour.

Read the rest here.