Stuart A. Cohen

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It is now commonplace to state that we are living in an era of several simultaneous clusters of “revolutions in military affairs.” Command and control capabilities, in particular, are transformed almost daily by technological advances. At almost the same pace, traditional military missions are reframed and redefined in response to the challenges posed by the proliferation of new types of threats to national security, especially at the transnational and subnational levels. Equally profound, albeit less dramatic, are the changes that have also taken place in the composition and structures of national armed forces and, by extension, in the nature of their relationships with the societies that they are sworn to defend. In only a handful of countries does universal conscription remain on the statute books, and in even less is the relevant legislation enforced. Instead, almost everywhere “citizen armies” have been replaced by all-volunteer forces, a development that has all but dismantled the web of ties that once associated military service with civic duty. Remarking on the wider cultural context of that development - especially as manifest in the Western world - analysts now frequently talk of the emergence of “post-modern” armed forces, distinguished from their predecessors as much by the nature of their professional values as by the style in which they go about their professional business. So conspicuous has been the phenomenon of change, and so widespread its extent, that there exists a powerful tendency among observers to focus almost exclusively on signs of innovation, and hence to ignore evidence indicative of a residual attachment to earlier patterns of military structures. Thus, the accelerators stimulating the transition to the emergence of post-modern militaries are singled out for detailed attention. By contrast, the brakes that in specific countries retard that process are neglected, and their influence hardly examined at all. This situation is regrettable, not only because it produces a lopsided picture of developments in the contemporary military-institutional sphere, but principally because it misconstrues and oversimplifies the complexity of the processes that armed forces are currently experiencing, especially in the Western democratic world. What is required, therefore, is a more balanced series of more detailed analyses, which can help explain why, while in some advanced countries armies seem to be marching smartly along the road to transformation, in others they tend to stumble forward in a far less confident style.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe New Citizen Armies
Subtitle of host publicationIsrael’s Armed Forces in Comparative Perspective
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages3
ISBN (Electronic)9781135169565
ISBN (Print)9780415565462
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2010 Selection and editorial matter, Stuart A. Cohen; individual chapters, the contributors.


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