MACGREGOR: Remember the Blitzkrieg before it's too late

Doug MacGregor sent an e-mail to his contacts, pointing out this commentary of his in the Washington Times.

My reply was this:

Dear Doug MacGregor,

the campaign actually lasted six weeks, not three weeks.

The British Expeditionary forces in France were not optimised for colonial warfare at all - they were an almost fully motorised, modern force for conventional warfare. Their only role in a possible trench war would have been rapid reserves, breakthrough and tactical/operational exploitation of breakthrough.
The British lack of modern army equipment after the campaign was a consequence of the campaign's losses, not a consequence of poor procurement. Your article might mislead in this regard.

"Otherwise, the generals' current obsession with counterinsurgency will leave the American armed forces as unprepared for a real war in 10 years as the British and French forces were for their confrontation with Germany in 1940."

I generally agree, although I prefer to draw parallels to the time of Boer Wars to 1914. That seems to fit better in my opinion because I doubt that any nation has got the right doctrine for modern conventional land war. The political conditions (lack of respect for war due to no great war in decades) seem to resemble 1913 more than 1938 as well.

Best regards,
Sven Ortmann

I do generally support such there'll be a conventional war in the future, and we are ill-prepared warnings. I'm not sure that WW2 is a good example, and in any case examples should be accurate, not misleading.

The problem in 1940 wasn't that the Western powers had prepared for colonial wars; they had prepared for a war with front lines and with mobile phases being rather the exception than the norm. That was not the kind of campaign that was forced on them - and there were other shortcomings. A focus on colonial war is a rather rare accusation in regard to this historical campaign, though.

Sven Ortmann

edit: alternative link; the CDI website has the full article as well.


  1. I think the issue is whether or not the era of conventional warfare is over. Whether MacGregor likes it or not there is a strong perception that the time of interstate warfare is gone and instead we will see the growth of terrorism, international crime, guerrilla warfare. We will have to counter it with COIN, anti-terror operations and police work. Tanks, planes and missiles made for a conventional war are no longer relevant. The perception is directly linked with the idea that the state is gone and will inevitably become “hollow states” or failed states, that nuclear weapons will prevent wars from happen between states in any case and that conventional war has become too expensive.

    I don’t agree with that. Terrorism and insurgencies are hardly novel phenomena’s. The term “guerrilla” comes from the Spanish insurgency against Napoleon 200 years ago. It is true wars between states have become rare, but so was the case between 1815 and 1914. It is also true that nuclear weapons have made world leaders more cautious, but as any text book about the Cuban Missile Crisis can tell you the Americans and Soviets nevertheless came awful close to war despite that. Anyway – why should nukes in Israel or Russia prevent wars in South America or Africa? Entire continents are without nukes and the nuclear stockpiles are actually in decline. Shouldn’t that have an effect on the willingness to use force against another state?

    Conventional wars are directly linked with nation states. At least that is the version presented by Martin van Creveld and others. And since the nation states are in decline it is not surprising they no longer fight wars against each other in this view. Once again I disagree. Conventional wars is a tactic like terrorism or guerrilla warfare. A superpower like the United States can use Special Forces in an irregular way and Hezbollah can fight like a conventional army if it suits them like in 2006. It is all about tactics. The reason why nation states no longer fight wars is linked to the growth of the global market or large organisations like the EU or NATO and even today states are very powerful players. Especially since systems like the EU despite strong efforts haven’t been able to gain political legitimacy among common people. Should the current crisis cause the downfall of this international system it wouldn’t come as a surprise if we will see a resumption of state-to-state warfare.

    Finally I think we should note that China, India and Russia – three large international players – are NOT shifting their military forces toward COIN and antiterror-operations. So despite the fact that a guy like SecDef Robert Gates doesn’t like the F35 Lightning II and tells the Pentagon that Iraq or Afghanistan is the wave of the future this is clearly not the lesson they have learned in Beijing, Moscow or Delhi. The good news is that I also don’t see any large-scale war preparations, so I think we can rest safely for now. But nobody can tell what will expect us in 2020 or 2030.

  2. @Anon:

    Actually over the last couple of years claims such as the ones you are countering have already been invalidated. The relevance of the MBT, jets, missiles, the entire conventional (and nuclear stockpile) is fairly obvious to any informed observer by now. Just because the US and Europe are too sluggish and out of cash to produce any new hardware, thats clearly not the case for the rest of the world (i.e. Asia). Nuclear stockpiles go down, as far as quantity is concerned, but they are and will be spiraling upwards, when it comes to the number of operators.

    Its also fairly obvious to me that nation states are not in decline. All major events of the last years have shown clearly, that no corporate and no supra- and transnational entities can take over from the nation state in any signifcant meaning of the word. Every economical crisis, every security concern was taken on (for better or worse) eventually by nation states.

    The "conventional war too expensive"-thesis was formulated countless times over the last millenium, only to be followed by more intense and complex conventional warfare (or the prospect thereof). Be it city states, kingdoms or the nation state, the difference does not matter too much.

    Not only China and Russia, but pretty much the entire Far East including Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc is a strong example of these aspects and a place were both the nation state and conventional warfare can likely find themselves in the spotlight of international relations again.

    The current COIN-discussion seems to be the high-water-mark of the whole unconventional warfare-hype to me. Since there wont be any positive results in Afghanistan and Pakistan coming out of such efforts of extrapolation, this fashion will inevitably fade again, in my opinion.