What is the weakness of modern warfare?

Afghanistan was a classic case that proved the limitations of modern war in the non-European world. Afghanistan was not nation state with a capital but a decentralized tribal structure.

Hence, the Clausewitz and notion of victory-capturing the enemy’s in a pitched battle was inapplicable.

In Afghan society due to the prevalence of the blood price for murder and the operation of the Pukhtunwali code, every male was armed and a potential soldier.

In late nineteenth century, the Pathans could mobilize 400,000 males armed with 230,000 rifles along the northwest frontier of British India. Instead of offering a set- piece battle, the Afghans carried out a gulling guerrilla war. Due to the road less mountainous terrain, heavy artillery could not accompany the British Indian military columns.

The Afghan sharpshooters with Jezails (long range homemade rifles) perched on the singers (stone fortifications) at the mountain tops and taking every advantage of the ground, inflicted horrible casualties on the imperial columns.

File:Soldier Scans the Afghan Horizon with a Sharpshooter Rifle ...

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Again, in terms of cross-country mobility, the Pathan lashkars (war bands) were more mobile than the Raj’s soldiers. Similarly in 1904, people in southwest Africa conducted guerrilla war against the Germans.

Since the names were widely dispersed, the German commander von Trotha was unable to carry out concentric operations decision by battle. In a way, frontier commitments hampered the colonial armies because of their very modernization.

Due to lack of forage for the horses and bullocks, horse artillery and field guns could not be used in Afghanistan and in the jungle clad swampy interiors of Africa. Then mortars did not have much lethal effect against the stone fortifications.


Heavy howitzers (used for high angled fire in order to destroy the personnel inside the fortifications) could not be hauled over the ravines and mountain crevices. Raped deployment of lightly armed mobile units was the only solution.

This resulted in close quarter combat with small arms resulting in very heavy human casualties, a fact which the British Empire found costly.

Elimination of the distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants was a feature of modern war. This was also evident in the pacification operations conducted by the colonizers against the colonized.

Both in Africa and Asia, the imperial military formations deliberately destroyed the livestock, grain and villages in order to destroy the colonized ‘will to resist’ in East and southwest Africa, the Germans deliberately starved rebel groups for pacifying them.


Von Troth’s Schutztruppe (German colonial force) carried pit scorched earth policy. It was the prelude to what the Nazis would do in Russia between

1943-45. for pacifying Philippines, the US Army not only relocated entire communities but also put them in concentration camps.

Lazare Carnot’s (Minister of Revolutionary France) guerre a signaled the beginning of modern war while the French Revolution initiated modern warfare, the Industrial Revolution sustained it and modern war albeit in a limited way exhibited several characteristics of total war like inclusion of the non-combatants as legitimate targets of war, extermination of entire communities, etc. increasing scope of modern wars and management of its rising complexities in turn generated a managerial Revolution: the emergence of General Staff System.

All these resulted in bureaucratization of violence by the centralizing nation states. Some of the features of modern conflicts like centralizing polities and the General staff continue in the post­modern age.

Again the notion that posts should be filled with men of talent and merit instead of those with wealth and high birth, when first emerged in the last decade of the eighteenth century appeared revolutionary. Today, such idea has become common place.

Then, the British construction of martial races with its emphases on the social and cultural peculiarities among the Sepoy Army remained over dependent on the martial races like the Sikhs and the Gurkhas. Further, the army’s care for the soldiers’ families marked the beginning of a welfare state which probably reached its zenith in the post-second world war era.

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