How is modern war different from traditional forms of war?

Modern warfare, although present in every historical period of military history, is generally used to refer to the concepts, methods and technologies that have come into use during and after the Second World War and the Korean War.

The concepts and methods have assumed more complex forms of the 19th and early-20th century antecedents largely due to the widespread use of highly advanced information technology.

Although Total war was thought to be the form of international conflicts from the experience of the French Revolutionary Wars to the Second World War, the term no longer describes warfare in which countries or nations use all of their resources to destroy another country’s or nation’s organized ability to engage in war.

The practice of total war which had been in use for over a century, as a form of war policy has been changed dramatically with greater awareness of tactical, operational and strategic battle information.


The most identifiable consequence of total war in modern times has been the inclusion of civilians and civilian infrastructure as targets in destroying a country’s ability to engage in war.

The targeting of civilians developed from two distinct theories. The first theory was that if enough civilians were killed, factories could not function. The second theory was that if civilians were killed, the country would be so demoralized that it would have no ability to wage further war.

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However UNICEF reports that civilian fatalities are down from 20% prior to 1900 AD to less than 5% of fatalities in the wars beginning in the 1990s.


With the advent of nuclear weapons, the concept of full- scale war carries the prospect of global annihilation, and as such conflicts since Second World War have by definition been “low intensity” conflicts, typically in the form of proxy wars fought within local regional confines, using what are now referred to as “conventional weapons,” typically combined with the use of asymmetric warfare tactics and applied use of intelligence.

Modern War is Clausewitz’s early forms of Real or Absolute War. Thus, Modern War is stage between Limited War of the eighteenth century the Total War of the twentieth century. Limited War is also referred to as Dynastic War because the various monarchies fought against each other for making limited gains along the frontiers at the expense of other dynasties. Louis XIV fought for extending the French frontier on the left bank of Rhine.

In contrast, Absolute War in Clausewitz’s paradigm means war untrammeled by any obstruction the objective is to unleash organized violence wholeheartedly for absolute destruction of the enemy.

This in turn required mobilization of all available resources of the state for total defeat of the enemy. The aim in such conflict is to annihilate the enemy’s schwerpunkt (centre of gravity). For Clausewitz, schewerpunkt referred to the enemy’s army which could only be destroyed by Kesselschlact (big bloody battles).


The French Revolution ushered in the idea of destruction of the enemy’s government. Hence, the beginning of French Revolution i.e. 1789 could be taken as the beginning of modern War this process reached its logical culmination under Adolf Hitler’s declare total Krieg (Total War) when the objective was complete destruction of enemy’s society by wholesale mobilization of (common people).

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