'Bury them deep in the ground'; The disastrous legacies of 'expeditionary warfare', 'intervention', and 'counterinsurgency'

14 Feb 2024
17:15 UK time
Frank Ledwidge
All Souls College, Wharton Room, High Street OX1 4AL
Changing Character of War Centre (CCW) Wednesday Evening Seminar Series
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For much of the last forty years 'expeditionary warfare' in one form or another (e.g., humanitarian intervention, 'CT', counterinsurgency), has formed the key mission of the US, UK, and other European armed forces. These have been supported by ideas such as 'new wars' or 'wars amongst the people'. From these ideas have flowed failed counterinsurgencies and various dubiously legal 'forever wars' being fought even now in states ruined by such 'interventions'. Their legacy has been strategic disaster and the immiseration of millions.

In whatever form, these expeditions are doomed to failure, not least because they invariably lack adequate preparation, resources, knowledge or strategic grounding. More simply, 'intervention' amounts in practical terms to 'invasion' which is rarely welcomed, to say the least. These ideas stagger on today in forms such as (for the UK) 'persistent campaigning'. The very structures of some major armed forces - designed explicitly around 'expeditionary operations' - have become highly distorted and unfit for their supposed function of national defence. We are all less secure as a consequence.

Frank Ledwidge is senior lecturer in war studies at the University of Portsmouth, working primarily with the Royal Air Force. He is the author of 'Losing Small Wars' (Yale 2011/17), 'Investment in Blood' (Yale 2013), and 'Aerial Warfare' (Oxford 2018/20). He served as a military intelligence officer in Bosnia and Iraq and as a civilian advisor in (inter alia) Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine.