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Chapter 14

How New Weapons Emerge


  • A simple model to explain the emergence of new weapons is that of action and reaction. One side develops a new weapon, tactic or technology and the other side counters by developing weapons, tactics and technologies to neutralize this advantage.

  • Social structures also affect the development of technologies.  The need for large numbers of highly trained archers carried inherent limitations and risks.  Consequently, a better system was devised using mercenary soldiers and firearms.

  • Failure to adopt important new technologies such as the machine gun or tank may be result of entrenched social structures and traditional ways of conducting war.

  • Sometimes new weapons are adopted and promoted due to organizational interests rather than their practical value. For example, the desire to establish an air corps led General Billy Mitchell to overstate the value and effectives of aerial bombing.

  • With the French revolution and the development of nationalism the scope of warfare increased.  Now instead of centering on the interest of a monarch and a small, elite army, warfare involved the entire nation with a large national army.

    • Conscription allowed the building of larger armies

    • Taxation increased to support the army

    • Nationís industries were vital to support its armies.

  •  Expanding armies required governments to invest heavily in research and development for new weapons and weapon systems.  Also required:

    • Mass production

    • Standardization.

    • Ability to transport troops

    • Medical support services.

  • With advances in weapon technologies came attempts to limit the spread and use of new weapons:

    • 1130 Second Lateran Council banned the crossbow. 

    • 1899: 26 nations agreed to ban use of asphyxiating gas, dumdum bullets and aerial bombardment

    • 1925: 42 nations agreed not to use gas in warfare.

  • Realities of limitations:

    • Who is capable of enforcing bans on weapons?

    • A nation is usually deterred from using a weapon because of fear of retaliation and strategic concerns.  In the Cold War, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) kept each side for using nuclear weapons.

    • Even MAD may actually encourage a first strike.

    • Technological advances such as the cruise missile make it difficult to determine exact numbers of weapons and their capabilities.

    • Retaliation is not an effective deterrent against terrorist groups


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