Revolutions in strategic perspective (RSP) and military affairs (RMA)

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Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2011) Tags: Revolutions in strategic perspective RSP military affairs RMA Blitzkrieg Napoleon Alexander the Great Ottoman Ming Empire

Dale Walton

Dale Walton

Dale Walton book cover

Dr. C. Dale Walton is a Lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Hull.

His research interests include strategic relationships and security in Asia, geopolitics and the changing geostrategic environment, and U.S. military and strategic history.

This interview is about Dr. Walton’s most recent book, “Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: Multipolarity and Revolution in Strategic Perspective”. It focuses on the decline of U.S. unipolarity and the emergence of eastern Eurasia.

He also is the author of “The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam” and a co-author of “Understanding Modern Warfare”. His forthcoming “Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War, and the American Role in the World”, will be released in early 2012.

More information on his work can be found here:

Website of Dale Walton

The world order II – revolutions in military affairs and strategic perspective

What is a revolution in military affairs (RMA) and how can it affect the world order?

“Colin S. Gray’s definition of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) — ‘a radical change in the conduct and character of war’ — might be the best.”

Many different RMA definitions have been offered, and they all have virtues and drawbacks.

However, Colin S. Gray’s definition—”an RMA is a radical change in the conduct and character of war”—might be the best, because it is, as he says, “truly minimalist.”

RMAs are often associated with technology, and some RMAs (such as the ‘nuclear RMA’ or, as I prefer to call it, the ‘First American RMA’) certainly are technologically driven. However, changes in military organization and tactics, socio-political changes, and other factors can all be drivers for an RMA.

“An RMA can shake a world order to its foundations, or even conceivably destroy it.”

An RMA can shake a world order to its foundations, or even conceivably destroy it. What often is called the Napoleonic RMA — which reflected an interlocking set of socio-political, military organizational, and tactical developments — very nearly destroyed the multipolar European great power system, and with it the existing world order.

Over a century later, the ‘Blitzkrieg RMA’ effectively did destroy the multipolar world system—though not with the results that the RMA’s originators intended.

“Both the Napoleonic and German examples illustrate a very important caveat: RMAs do not make a polity undefeatable.”

Both the Napoleonic and German examples illustrate a very important caveat: RMAs do not make a polity undefeatable. Given time to adapt, clever enemies can adapt to the changes unleashed by the RMA, adapting to, and even improving upon, new tactics and technologies.

What is a revolution in strategic perspective (RSP) and how can it affect the world order?

“Successfully adapting to a Revolution in Strategic Perspective (RSP) requires policymakers to radically alter the way that they think about politics.”

Revolutions in Strategic Perspective are a much rarer event than are RMAs. Successfully adapting to an RSP requires policymakers to radically alter the way that they think about politics. In my view, the last RSP occurred because of the European breakout and the Age of Discovery.

“Rather quickly after their realization that the Americas existed and that the entire globe was navigable using existing technologies, the leaders of the Western European seapowers came to think about politics in a truly global fashion.”

Rather quickly after their realization that the Americas existed and that the entire globe was navigable using existing technologies, the leaders of the Western European seapowers came to think about politics in a truly global fashion.

With the possible exception of outliers such as Alexander the Great — who may well have hoped to conquer the entire world — they were the first leaders do so in a systematic manner, asking how they could further their interests by acting globally.

Most of the powerful polities that existed in c. 1500 never made that transition. In the book, I take particular note of the Ottoman and Ming Empires, both of which were enormously powerful, populous, and wealthy political — but neither had a policymaking class that made the transition to seeing strategy as global enterprise.

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