Tag Archives: martin van creveld

Martin van Creveld explains why our armies are becoming pussycats

Summary: Martin van Creveld’s new book asks hard questions about America’s ability to defend itself as our society undergoes revolutionary changes (mostly undesired by its citizens). It’s provocative reading for those who like analysts that color outside politically correct lines.

“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong!’”
— Joel 3:9-10.

“{Since WWII}, almost the only time Western countries gained a clear military victory over their non-Western opponents was during the First Gulf War. …This episode apart, practically every time the West …fought the rest, it was defeated.”
— Martin van Creveld in “Pussycats”.


Disagreeing with Martin van Creveld’s predictions feels like arguing against tomorrow’s sunrise. His successful forecasts are legion. The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1991) reads like a future historian’s analysis of our misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Around 1995 Martin van Creveld told the CIA that Mexico would become the greatest threat to America’s sovereignty. They thought this was delusional; I suspect events since then have changed their minds.

So his new book deserves close attention: Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West. It discusses issues of great importance and covers a wild field of vital questions.

Van Creveld warns that social changes are eroding away the West’s ability to defend itself — reducing its once powerful armies to pussycats. This is probably false as an explanation for the defeats of conventional armies since WWII when fighting non-trinitarian (aka 4GW) armies in foreign lands. It looks prescient as a warning about the future. Let’s examine both perspectives.

About past counterinsurgencies since WWII by foreign armies

The dynamics of war changed after Mao brought 4GW to maturity (details here). The resulting inability of foreign armies to defeat local insurgencies shaped the post-WWII world. It’s a lesson our military refuses to learn (it would reduce the need for their services). Van Creveld clearly explains this in The Changing Face of War (2006).

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

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Martin van Creveld introduces his new radical book: “Pussycats”

Summary: Martin van Creveld has published another book, perhaps his most controversial yet (however difficult to imagine). He tackles the great enigma of our wars since 9/11: how western armies — certainly the most powerful every fielded by almost every metric — have been unable to defeat poorly trained, poorly equipped, almost unfinanced armies of the jihad.


Just published: Pusscats

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 28 April 2016

Posted with his generous permission


In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left most of the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet since at least the end of the Korean War back in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw without achieving their objectives. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islam keeps spreading into Europe, as it is doing right now.

What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers, who between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their control, turn into pussycats? Readers of this website will recognize some of my earlier attempts to answer these questions; now those answers have been extended and put together in a single book.

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Martin van Creveld looks at our military white elephants

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld looks at one of the most exceptional aspects of US defense policy, our weapons. A naïf would describe it as quite mad, unaware of the lavish salaries and great corporate fortunes created by tapping the almost limitless flow of taxes from the apathetic and credulous citizens of America.

“In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3-1/2 days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.
— One of Augustine’s Laws.

Augustine Law of aircraft costs


White Elephants

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 28 April 2016

Posted with his generous permission


At least since 9/11, and possibly since the First Gulf War back in 1991, it has been clear that the most immediate threat facing developed countries is not other developed countries. It is terrorism, guerrilla, insurgencies, asymmetric war, fourth generation war, war among the people, nontrinitarian war (my own favorite term), whatever. Follows a list — a very partial one, to be sure — of expensive new American weapons and weapon systems, now in various stages of development, all of which have this in common that they are not relevant to the threat in question.

The USAF’s new bomber

America’s last bomber, the B-2, was an absolute disaster. Originally the program, which went back to the late 1980s, was supposed to result in a fleet of 132 aircraft. That figure was later reduced to just 20, plus one used for all kinds of experimental purposes. The machines cost $500,000,000 each, which is far more than almost any conceivable target. Some sources, taking development costs into consideration, provide a much higher figure still. Yet so vulnerable are the machines that, when they are not in the air, they need to stay in air-conditioned hangars. That in turn means that they can only be operated from the Continental US and take hours and hours to reach their targets.

Nevertheless, fixated on bombers as the USAF has been for so many years, none of these problems have prevented it from going for an even more ambitious program. This is the so-called Next Generation Bomber of which 175 are planned. Suppose, which in view of past experience seems rather unlikely, that anything like this number is in fact produced at a cost of God knows how many dozens and dozens of billions. The contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.

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Martin van Creveld looks at the experience of women in the Israel Defense Forces

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld looks at the revolution in military affairs (the real one) — the integration of women into western armed forces. The Israel Defense Forces has the most experience with this, and their experience can help us understand our future. These are scraps of data, useful only because we have so little. What have been the roles of women in guerrilla forces? What are the comparative injury and disability rates of women and men in front-line units and jobs? Their comparative costs? Eventually we will get answers.

The Karakal Battalion of the IDF

The Karakal Battalion of the IDF, 13 November 2007. Published by the IDF under a Creative Commons license.


By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 7 April 2016
Posted with his generous permission

The recent celebration of “international women’s day” gave the Israel Defense Force (IDF) an opportunity to publish some figures as to the number of women serving in its ranks and the Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) in which they do so. What makes the question important is the fact that the IDF is the only army in the world to conscript women. Consequently it has more of them, proportionally speaking, than any other. From 1949 to about 1970 it was also the only one which gave them weapons training, albeit one that was purely symbolic. Foreigners attending the annual Independence Day parades, or happening to meet the women as they went on route marches, marveled to see the combination of cleavage and Uzi submachine guns. One which, for reasons Freud might explain, few could resist.

As Western armed forces, with the American one at their heads, started expanding the role of women beyond administration (secretaries) and medical services (mainly nurses), from 1970 on, the IDF was left behind. Only in the late 1970s, owing to the vast expansion occasioned by the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, did an acute shortage of manpower lead to a reassessment. The next push was given by American-style feminism which reached Israel in the mid-1980s, not long after peace with Egypt was signed. Since then Israeli feminists have been loudly demanding women’s right to serve in any capacity, combat included. Now that the figures have been published we can answer the question, how successful have they been?

First, the background. The IDF active force, including both regulars and conscripts, numbers 176,000 troops. Of those about 30% (58,000) are female. The mobilized force, reservists included, numbers 600,000 (on paper). However, since women in spite of recent changes in the law rarely serve in the reserves, their percentage in it is much lower. According to the figures, the total number of female “fighters” in the regular force is said to be 1,593. All are volunteers; unlike men, who are assigned, women only serve in “combat” if and when they want to. In other words, under 3% of female soldiers serve in “combat” units.

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Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it)

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld gives a timeline of modern history for the “Holy Land” , putting present events in a larger context. While the struggle with jihadists has overshadowed that between Irsrael and Palestine, it remains a front line in the dispute between the West and East. We ignore it at our peril.

Protester with knife at Gaza

A masked Palestinian at a protest near the fence between Gaza & Israel (photo: REUTERS).

Turmoil in the Holy Land

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 22 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

The Holy Land is in a turmoil. Certainly not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last. For those of you who have forgotten, here is a brief timetable of the Palestinian-Jewish/Israeli conflict over the last century or so.

1860 –              Palestine, divided into three separate districts that also include parts of what today are neighboring countries, is governed by “the Unspeakable Turk.” Perhaps 80 percent of the population is Arab, mainly Sunni. But there are also some Christians—around 15 percent—and Jews. Christians and Jews are treated as Dimnis, second-rate people with fewer rights than Muslims.

1860 –              Following the Crimean War the Porte comes under pressure by the Western Powers. The latter demand, and obtain, concessions for their own citizens who live in Palestine as well a native Christians and Jews. As a result of the “Capitulations,”, as they are known, these minorities start drawing ahead.

1881 –              Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia, start arriving and establish some new settlements. Right from the beginning, these settlements come under attack by local Bedouin who have always lived by plundering the peasantry. Thus the immediate background to the clashes is not political but socio-economic.

1897                The First Zionist Congress is held in Basel.

1904-1914       The so-called “Second Wave” of Jewish immigrants starts arriving. Zionist activists buy land, often from absentee landowners who live as far away as Beirut. The local fellaheen, seeing the land on which they have lived for centuries sold from under their feet, try to resist.

1914                Turkey join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

1917                The Balfour Declaration, in which His Britannic Majesty’s Government recognizes the Jews right to a “National Home” in Palestine, is issued. As a result, the conflict, while still mixed up with economic, social, and religious issues, becomes political par excellence. Two peoples—“Arabs” (not Palestinians, a name that only gained wide currency during the 1960s) and Jews claim ownership over the same land. As they still do.

1918                The end of World War I leaves Palestine, along with Jordan and Iraq, firmly in British hands.

1920-21           The first Palestinian Arab Uprising, directed against the Balfour Declaration as well as the Jewish settlement.

1922                Winston Churchill, in his capacity a Colonial Secretary, arrives. He and his staff draw the borders between Palestine and the neighboring countries.

1929                Another Palestinian Uprising, triggered by a conflict over the Wailing Wall, breaks out. It is directed against both the British and the Jews. It is suppressed, but not before two Jewish communities, the ancient one at Hebron and the new one at Motza, right across the road from where I live, are wiped out.

1936-39           “The Arab Revolt” (note that people still speak of Arabs, not Palestinians). It, too, is directed against both the British and the Hews. It, too, is suppressed. But not before London makes important concessions. Those include 1. An end to Jewish land-purchases. 2. Limits on Jewish immigration, which from this point on is to bring in no more than 15,000 people per year for five years. 3. A promise of “evolution towards independence” within ten years.

1947-48           On 1 December 1947, a day after the UN decides to partition the country, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine go to war. By the middle of June, by which time the remaining British have withdrawn and the State of Israel has been official proclaimed, the Arabs have been substantially defeated. Armed intervention by the neighboring Arab states, aimed at assisting their brothers, also fails to achieve its purpose. By the time the war ends in January 1949 some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population west of the Jordan, have been turned into refugees. The State of Israel is an established fact. However, it does not include either the Gaza Strip, which comes under Egyptian military rule, or the West Bank, which is annexed by Jordan.

1967                The June 1967 Six Days War brings the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 500,000 people, and the West Bank, with an estimated 1,500,000, under Israeli rule. With the west Bank comes East Jerusalem which from this point on becomes the focus of the conflict. Since then the population of these two territories combined has grown to an estimated 4,000,000.

1977                The Right Wing Herut (later Likud) Party comes to power in Israel. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which until then was very small, starts skyrocketing.

1979                The Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt proposes a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict within five years. In practice, though, nothing happens.

1987                In December the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, breaks out. At first it takes the form of demonstrations and mass riots. Later there are stabbings, shootings, and some bombs.

1993                Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Agreements. Parts of the West Bank come under Palestinian rule; parts, under mixed rule; and parts remain strictly under Israeli control. The Agreements also provide for a five-year transitional period during which the parties will try to end the conflict.

2000                No progress has been made towards finding a solution. Triggered by a visit by former Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the second Intifada breaks out. Its hallmark is suicide bombings. By 2004 it is more or less suppressed with enormous damage to the West Bank City of Jenin in particular.

2005-6             The Israeli Government, under Ariel Sharon, withdraws its forces from the Gaza Strip. The latter comes under a Palestinian Faction known a Hamas. Hamas chases the PLO out of Gaza and vows to continue “resisting” Israel, which is “besieging” the Strip by exercising strict control over the movement of people and goods. In response, Hamas fires mortar rounds and rockets, later missiles, into Israeli territory.

2006-14           Repeatedly, Israel launches military operations in an attempt to put an end to Hamas’ attacks. Repeatedly, it fails. Still, Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014 and wrought vast destruction in Gaza, does seem to have taught Hamas a lesson of sorts. Since then the border, though not quite peaceful, has been relatively calm.

2015                The third Intifada, whose hallmark so far has been knifings carried out by individuals, breaks out.

The outlook

Eight times during the last century — 1920-21, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48,1987-93, 2000-2005, 2008-14 (Gaza), and 2016 — did the Palestinian Arabs try to match whatever armed forces they had against those the British Empire/the Jewish Community in/Palestine/Israel. To no avail, since Israel, its Jewish population having grown almost a hundredfold during the same period.

With one of the world’s more powerful armed forces, it still continues to “besiege” the Gaza Strip and occupy the West Bank. This is an Ur-clash between two peoples that claim the same land. Even should the present disturbances come an end, a political solution of any kind is not in sight.

What should be done

Speaking as an Israeli now, given that real peace is out of reach for a long, long time to come, there seem to be two courses. The first would be for my country to complete the wall it has built around the West Bank in such a way as to get rid as of many Palestinians, specifically including most of those who live in East Jerusalem, as possible. That done, it should tell the settlers it is withdrawing and take as many of them as possible along. If, after that, the Palestinians in the West Bank still cause trouble, then Israel should deal with them as it dealt with Gaza in 2014. This has long been my own position; however, unless pressure is applied form outside it is very unlikely to happen.

The second would be to hope for the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom and its occupation by Daesh or some similar organization. That would create an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 and throw the Palestinians of the West Bank across the River Jordan. This is the “solution” a great many Israelis secretly favor. And the longer the present uprising lasts, the larger their number will grow.

What will it be?


About the Author

Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war: Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present.

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written two books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace and The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?.

He’s written one of the most influential books of our generation about war, his magnum opus — the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

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