International System, Strategy, Interconnected World, Warfare & Security

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In what ways was warfare in the 19th century significantly affected by advances in technology?

The 19th century registered significant changes in the art of warfare, ranging from the change in the speed of attack to other significant battle front transformations such as the increased precision of targeting and increase in the shot-range distance that soldiers could aim and hit a target (Addington, 1994). The technological advancement of the 19th century did not only change the art of war, but also defined who could win the war on the battlefront, based on who was able to access which technologies (History.com, 2017). Technological advancement is the outcome of the people working towards meeting their present or perceived future needs. Thus, the deployment of technology in warfare majorly did not arise as a result of the inventors and innovators focusing on creating warfare weaponry that would help win in wars, but rather made the inventions in the normal course of seeking for ways to meet the normal life needs. However, some of the normal life inventions and innovations that were made in the 19th century ended up emerging as important tools of warfare (Strauss, 2010).

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For example, the Steamship is one of the technological advancement of the 19th century that became a major naval war instrument, yet the reasons for its inventions were purely commercial (Addington, 1994). The Steamship had become an important component of intercontinental trade, capable of conducting trade throughout the world with much ease, due to its advantages of shorter duration of sailing from one trade destination to the other. Nevertheless, in 1858, a British army general, Sir Howard Douglas, would foretell that the Steamship could become a revolutionary instrument of warfare (Strauss, 2010). Indeed, it came to pass that the steamship emerged a major instrument of naval war fare, especially in the coastline battles, considering that it had desired warfare advantages such speed, ease of maneuverability and not relying on the wind to sail through the high seas (Strauss, 2010).

The other notable 19th century technology that changed the art of warfare, yet which was not intended for war during its invention, was the telegraph (History.com, 2017). The telegraph brought a revolution into the art of war, because it made communication between the soldiers on the ground and the generals or higher authorities in military strategy offices to communicate one-on-one (Strauss, 2010). The impact of this revolution in the art of warfare is that it easily became possible for the change of war strategy to be implemented within a split second, as opposed to traditionally where written letters or slow codified military communication could take days to materialize a strategy change. Indeed, the telegraph became one of the most important warfare technologies that worked to the disadvantage of the confederate army during the Civil War, because it did not have the large scale communication effectiveness that the Union enjoyed (History.com, 2017).

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Photography technology is another major advancement of the 18th century, which had a significant warfare impact (Addington, 1994). During the Civil War and the other wars that followed, photography technology was applied to document the happenings on the battle ground, although through paused-pictures, rather than the modern moving pictures (Strauss, 2010). Nevertheless, it is such photography advancements that have continued to shape how the Civil War and the other subsequent wars are remembered.

The railroad and locomotives, is another major technological advancement of the 19th century that also impacted greatly on the art of war. The major use of the railroad during the 19th century warfare was to move both troops and supplies to the battle grounds (Strauss, 2010). In the absence of the railroad, wars like the Civil War could have been significantly challenging, owing to the tones of supplies and the hundreds of thousands of troops that had to be deployed in a significantly expansive war territory.

Nevertheless, there were also some warfare-specific technological inventions that were made in the 19th century, which emerged as very fundamental in shaping the art of war during the century. The Submarine and the repeating rifle are two major warfare technological inventions of the 1800s, which brought significant changes in warfare, especially relating with the accuracy of target, distance range of shooting, speed of attack and the high numbers of casualties arising from wars (History.com, 2017). Before the civil war, the only rifle-muskets in existence could carry one bullet at a time, and shot with precision only at a close range of 80 yards, which then meant that battles were fought from a very close range (Addington, 1994).

The invention of the rifles and submachine made it possible to shoot and hit a target from far-off distances of about 1,000 yards, yet with a great level of precision. The invention of the repeating rifles meant that it was now possible to shoot several times before reloading the gun, as opposed to the previous wars before the 19th century, where the gun had to be loaded every time a shot was fired. The submachine made the art of shooting in the battlefront even more bizarre, because it made it possible to sink the biggest ships off the coastline, or destroy locomotives and railroads in an instant.

Anne Marie Slaughter’s statement requires that; for a world to function like a web system, there is a need to see the world not from the perspective of individual states, but rather from the lens of an interconnected and intertwined state units. This perspective as advanced by slaughter presents both security opportunities and challenges for the world and for individual states. This is because, Anne Marie Slaughter further offers that the “web world, the world of networks, has plenty of conflicts and competition” (Slaughter, 2017). In this respect, if states were to choose to stay in an interconnected network like a web, competition and conflict for such states will never cease. Global politics have traditionally operated as a system of grand competition, where power politics between nations define which state has the highest bargaining power in any foreign affair of interest to the world (Beckfield, 2008). Therefore, if the world was to live like a networked web system where cooperation is the strategy, then the bargaining power over the foreign affairs interest held by some nations would be lost. The major security outcome of such a move is that world would become more vulnerable to security threats, owing to the fact that it is the high bargaining power of some nation states that deters others from terrorizing the world (Williams & Durrance, 2008). Nevertheless, the cooperation of the nation states by working together as an internetworked web system of states would offer great opportunities of defeating certain global problems. Though cooperation, the world would easily be able to defeat problems such as diseases, terrorism, environmental degradation, energy crisis, human rights violations, and trade challenges (Ikenberry, 2017).

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The fact that the operation of the world as an interconnected web system of nation states create both opportunities and challenges, places the global strategy and policy formulators at a tight spot. This is because; the strategy and policy formulators then have to decide on gives and takeaways, all which requires very careful and sensitive balancing. The cooperation between the nation states would effectively mean that each state has to lose some sovereignty and self-interest, in favor of open relationships and shared engagements (Ikenberry, 2017). The major problem associated with this strategy however, is whether indeed the world can operate in the absence of sovereignty, self-interest and some force of coercion. According to Slaughter, in the world, “problems and threats arise because we are too connected, not connected enough or connected in the wrong ways to the wrong people and things” (Slaughter, 2017). Simply put therefore, whether the world is too closely connected or not interconnected at all, the world will always have a fair share of challenges.

Let us take for example the problem of terrorism and contagious diseases in the world. Terrorism and eadly viral diseases such as Ebola have become shared global problem in modern times, because the world is interconnected on the one hand, and because the world is not fully interconnected on the other hand (Beckfield, 2008). Considering that the world is interconnected, the problems of terrorism and contagious viral diseases have managed to spread from one country to the other, and in the end afflict the entire global community. Equally, the world does not operate as a well interconnected web system of states. Therefore, when some states pursue sovereignty and autonomy more pervasively than cooperating with the rest of the world to defeat common global problems, terrorism and dangerous diseases breed in these nations and finds a fertile ground to survive (Williams & Durrance, 2008).

The major question then becomes; how does the world balance between the eminent threats of interconnectedness and the opportunities arising from working as a web network of nations? Anne Marie Slaughter answers this question through three different analogies. In the first analogy known as the ‘deterrence game of chicken’, where like fighting chicken, countries head straight at one other trying to deter one another from staying the course, in which case all these countries will perish (Slaughter, 2017). The second analogy, known as the ‘game of stag hunt’, offers that if two hunters cooperate in hunting a stag, both will better off than when one decides individually to hunt a hare instead of cooperating with the other to hunt stag, which means one will be left hungry, and even the other one will not get enough for satisfaction (Slaughter, 2017). Lastly, the analogy of ‘game of prisoner’s dilemma’, offering that of two criminals are imprisoned and interviewed separately, they can opt to accuse one another and in that way both suffers, or they can opt to stay silent, in which case they will get a lighter punishment (Slaughter, 2017).

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In all these cases, the power of cooperation always supersedes and counters the need for pursuing self-interest and autonomy. This indicates that the threats and difficulties of the world cooperating like an interconnected web system of state nations are not as bad, as the threats of operating in separatism. Through cooperation, the world can be able to manage and defeat the major security risks and threats like wars and terrorism, as opposed to when the state nations choose to operate in self-interest (Beckfield, 2008).

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  1. Addington, L. H.  (1994). Patterns of War since the 18th Century.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  2. Beckfield, J. (2008). The Dual World Polity: Fragmentation and Integration in the Network of Intergovernmental Organizations. Social Problems 55 (3), 419–442.
  3. History.com. (2017). Civil War Technology.
  4. Ikenberry, J. G. (2017). The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World. Capsule Review.
  5. Slaughter, A.-M. (2017). The chessboard and the web: Strategies of connection in a networked world. Yale University Press.
  6. Strauss , M. (September 18, 2010). Ten Inventions That Inadvertently Transformed Warfare.
  7. Williams, K. & Durrance, J. (2008). Social Networks and Social Capital:Rethinking Theory in Community Informatics. The Journal of Community Informatics 4(3), 1-49.
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