Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs

  • July 01, 1994
  • Mr Jeffrey R Cooper

In April 1994, the Army War College and the Strategic Studies Institute hosted the Fifth Annual Strategy Conference. The theme of this year's conference was "The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA): Defining an Army for the 21st Century." Jeffrey R. Cooper presented the following paper as part of an opening panel which sought to define the RMA. He urges defense planners to determine what strategic--as opposed to operational-- benefits might be derived from the RMA. He contends that making the internal reforms that will be required will be as challenging as coming to terms with the operational and strategic implications of the new technologies. The first requirement is to understand the parameters and dynamics of this particular revolution in military affairs. Mr. Cooper puts the RMA in historical perspective by discussing the relationships among technology, socioeconomic, and political change, and their implications for warfare during the Napoleonic era, the mid-19th century, and World Wars I and II. He argues that, in the past, dramatic technological change affected warfare in different ways. Mr. Cooper warns that by using the RMA to define a "technical legacy" we make three errors. First, such an approach could lead to a fruitless search for a "silver bullet" technology on which to build the RMA. Second, the focus on technology could shift attention away from the critical issues of purpose, strategy, doctrine, operational innovation, and organizational adaptation. Finally, committing the first two errors will compound the problem by wasting very scarce defense resources on new programs and projects which may have little or nothing to do with the strategic situation. Military professionals and defense planners alike need to remind themselves that while technology can provide new capabilities, the strategic equation is not necessarily driven by technological innovation.