Small Armies and Small Wars
Robert Farley has some interesting thoughts on the implications the smaller, more modern forces the major Western powers have for their ability to handle counterinsurgency missions.
Why is it that the United Kingdom, which is in an absolute sense far more wealthy now than it was in 1930, having difficulty maintaining a foreign deployment of about 10000 total in Iraq and Afghanistan, while in 1930 it deployed many multiples of that total all over the world, plus colonial auxiliaries who were partially paid for by the Crown? The relative increase in the effectiveness of insurgency strategies isn’t just a consequence of the spread of the AK-47 or of the further development of nationalism in the non-western world; it’s also a consequence of the fact that modern, wealthy states can now deploy far, far lower numbers of troops than they could fifty years ago. Indeed, in 1965 the United States (with a smaller and much poorer population in absolute terms) managed to deploy half a million troops to Vietnam while at the same time maintaining large contingents in West Germany and South Korea.
He’s right that the end of conscription and the general trend toward replacing mass firepower with well-equipped, highly trained forces mean we will necessarily have fewer “boots” available for deployment for these missions. We’ve seen the implications of this on operations tempo over the last fifteen or so years.
Certainly, small armies can fight small wars. The Marines proved that decades ago and our Special Forces prove it daily. Indeed, there’s much to be said for a small footprint force of quiet professionals. On the other hand, a massive number of soldiers can be quite helpful when trying to establish security over a large area.