Paper: ‘Realists’ Best Understand Hazards of War

Paper: ‘Realists’ Best Understand Hazards of War

Photo by: U.S. Army/Specialist Marcus Floyd

The future of armed conflict is best understood through the lens of a conflict realist, according to a new paper published by the Association of the U.S. Army. 

In “The War for the Soul of Military Thought: Futurists, Traditionalists, Institutionalists and Conflict Realists,” author Lt. Col. Amos Fox argues that mainstream schools of thought regarding war and warfare oversimplify the reality of armed conflict. 

“The primary problem with Futurists, Traditionalists and Institutionalists is that they represent modern and future war through the gilded lens of aspiration, focusing on how armed conflict should be, instead of viewing war and warfare through the blood-red lens of how things actually are—and arguably, how armed conflict will be in the future,” he writes.

Fox, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Reading in the U.K. and a graduate of the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies, defines conflict realism as a school of thought that “emphasizes the importance of causal mechanisms in armed conflict rather than emphasizing narrative, procurement strategies and centuries-old myths.” 

One of the tenets of conflict realists is an emphasis on “suboptimized outcomes,” where competing factors during conflict mean that goals often fall short during armed conflict. 

This “emphasis … is one of the major features that distinguishes them from Futurists and Institutionalists, which, in turn, puts them at odds with organizations that are focused on rules-based thinking and glowing assessments of modern and future armed conflict,” Fox writes.

Conflict realists assert that “ future wars will be long, bloody and destructive affairs of attrition” and “decidedly urban,” Fox writes. “From the Bosnian War’s Siege of Sarajevo to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War’s Siege of Mariupol, urban operations sit atop modern armed conflict,” he writes. 

The conflict realism school of thought is useful when analyzing states that do not comply with many international norms, Fox writes. “To get ahead of the shock associated with the actions of states like Russia—states that seemingly violate nearly all the rules of the game of the rules-based international order—Western militaries must embrace Conflict Realism as a viable school of thought when examining future armed conflict,” he writes. 

The conflict realist perspective must be taken into consideration in the study of armed conflict, Fox writes. “Policymakers, academics and theorists must accept the fact that Conflict Realism, despite its comparatively grotesque assessments and forecasts, is a force of nature that must be accounted for when thinking about the future of armed conflict,” he writes. 

Read the paper here.