Conference ‘The Conduct of War: Past, Present and Future,” 26-28 June 2019

The Changing Character of War Centre at Pembroke College, Oxford, in co-operation with the Department of War Studies, Faculty of Military Sciences, Netherlands Defence Academy will host the conference ‘The Conduct of War: Past, Present and Future.’

Armed conflict in the early twenty first century combined some established continuities of the past with the complexity of new technologies and some emergent novel techniques.

The first two decades were initially dominated by the question of how to tackle international terrorism and the extent to which major powers, and their coalition allies, should intervene in the affairs of other states to tackle them. There were extensive and protracted insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq against Western interventions, which gave rise to renewed interest in the practices of counter-insurgency. By the mid-2010s, however, rivalry between the Western powers and Russia had deepened to the point that both sides were making use of proxies to further their national interests. The United States found allies in Afghanistan, amongst the Kurds, and through their Iraqi partners, but Russia launched its own expeditionary war in favour of the Syrian government, made extensive use of paramilitaries in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, and aligned itself more closely with Iran and Hezbollah to conduct operations against Syrian resistance groups. The ‘hybrid’ technique of local forces with the backing of the latest technologies, especially in air power, produced a great deal of interest amongst military professionals, and political leaders looking for ways to reduce liabilities and maximize their freedom of action in international affairs.

While these developments consumed global attention, there was a parallel transformation underway in new technologies, especially in automated, unmanned and robotic weapons and surveillance systems. There was considerable interest in the potential of connectivity, disruptive cyber viruses, information warfare, new synthetic materials, and artificial intelligence. Although the future was unclear, it was already evident that being able to combine the right technology and technique could produce far-reaching effects. Intelligence activity, especially by China, Russia, and the United States, was intense.

Nevertheless, the actual wars of the early-twenty first century had the hallmarks of previous conflicts, especially in less developed countries. Urban warfare was still fought at close quarters amid high levels of destruction. Civilians were often the target of military operations, and terrorist organisations aimed at killing the maximum number in their attacks. Chemical warfare reappeared on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. Improvised mines were the weapon of choice of insurgent movements, and their wars of attrition echoed the guerrilla conflicts of the twentieth century. Improved and pervasive surveillance, precise weapon systems, and developed legal parameters were impaired by the friction of these wars.

The conference programme is still in the making, but some of the themes might include the conduct of war or organised armed conflict in:

  • Strategic Decision-Making and the Friction of Institutions
  • Historical Precedents for 21st Century Command in the Multi-Domain Environment
  • Offensive Cyber Operations: Grounds for War?
  • Information Warfare and Psychological Operations
  • The Enduring Human Dimensions of War
  • High-Intensity Air/Naval/Land Warfare in the Information and Synthetic Age
  • Terrorism: The Next Generation
  • Nuclear Security Scenarios
  • Environments of War: Borderlands, Peripheries, and the Mega-Urban Space
  • Guides to the legal and Ethical Parameters of War
  • Survival in chemical warfare

Conference Details

The conference will be held at on 26-28 June 2019 at Pembroke College, Oxford.. There are excellent public transport links to Oxford and around the city from all UK cities and airports.