Optimism has made wars likelier and bloodier

The Future of War: A History. By Lawrence Freedman. PublicAffairs; 400 pages; $30. Allen Lane; £25.

THIS is not really a book about the future of warfare, with all that might imply in terms of exotic technologies that will transform not only the character of war, but, some believe, even its very nature. Lawrence Freedman does indeed discuss the impact of cyber-attacks, artificial intelligence and machine learning on the conflicts of the future. But that is not his main purpose. The clue is in the title. The author, arguably Britain’s leading academic strategist, examines how ideas about how future wars could be fought have shaped the reality, with usually baleful results.

In the middle of the 19th century, a generation after Waterloo, the classical ideal of warfare, seemingly epitomised by Napoleon but derived from the ancient Greeks and the Romans, still held sway. Wars would be short and victors would achieve their (usually) limited political…Continue reading

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