The Utility of Different Types of Weapon

(This is an archived extract from the book Patterns of Power: Edition 2)

Types of military equipment vary in their effectiveness, the uses to which they can be put, and the likelihood that they will be used:

·      Conventional weapons tend to be used because they are readily available.  Commanders know that people on both sides of the conflict will be killed, but they expect that losses will be sustainable even if the dispute escalates.

·      More recently there has been a tendency to prefer remote military intervention with conventional air-strikes ( and drones (, because the side which has those weapons is unlikely to incur casualties and is less likely to encounter public opposition.  In the short term they may weaken an enemy, but they cannot inflict a decisive defeat without ‘boots on the ground’ (  Such strikes are ineffective unless there are military targets whose location is precisely known.

·      Nuclear weapons have rarely been used but they have effectively deterred aggression by other States.  The value of deterrence is declining, though – as described later (7.4.2).

·      Other weapons of mass-destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, are forbidden by the Geneva Convention and they are universally condemned.  Political leaders who use them lose legitimacy and they incur the risk of intervention by other countries with UN agreement – as in the case of the UN resolutions to contain Saddam Hussein for example, which are described later (8.2.3).

·      Defence shields are not weapons, and therefore cannot be used aggressively, but they undermine the effectiveness of other countries’ deterrents and they might be seen as indicating a state of preparation for war; Russia was concerned about American plans to install a defence shield in Eastern Europe, for example.[1]

These capabilities were mostly designed for what General Sir Rupert Smith termed “industrial war”,[2] where the decisive factors in winning a war between armies are the technical and numerical superiority of equipment.  The situation now, though, is less likely to take the form of pitched battles.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014                                                 

Later reports followed the same theme: Reuters on 30 November 2010 reported Russia's Medvedev warns of new arms race, which was available in May 2014 at http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/11/30/us-russia-medvedev-idUSWLA950420101130, and on 14 June 2012, RT.com reported Russia ready for arms race, prefers to avoid it – Putin, which was available in May 2014 at http://rt.com/politics/putin-missile-defense-response-819/.

[2] General Sir Rupert Smith described the history of “Industrial War” in Part One of his book The Utility of Force.  See next note.