Topic: Military Theory
Predicting the Next World War
An extract from War, Gwynne Dyer, 1985
We normally count only the two great wars of our own century as "world wars," but what this phrase means in practice is a war in which all the great powers of the time are involved. By that criterion, there have been six world wars in modern history: the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, the War of the Spanish Succession 1702-1714, the Seven Years War of 1756-63, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars of 1791-1814 and the two World Wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
This is not a catalogue of random disasters. The list has an alarmingly cyclical character. Apart from the long nineteenth-century gap, the great powers have all gone to war with each other about every fifty years throughout modern history. Even the "long peace" of the last century is deceptive. Right on schedule, between 1854 and 1870, practically every great power fought one or several others. …
So why do the great powers all go to war about every fifty years? It is almost certainly because the most important international facts in any interwar period are determined by the peace treaty that ended the last war.
… At the instant it is signed, the peace settlement is generally an exact description of the true power relationships in the world. … [Once these relationships change] some frustrated power whose allotted role in the international system is too confining, or some frightened nation in decline that sees its power slipping away, kicks over the apple cart and initiates the next reshuffle of the deck. … It is easy to list the key changes that would violate or undermine the 1945 settlement in dangerous ways: the reunification of Germany, the rearmament of Japan to a level commensurate with its economic strength, or the relative economic decline of the Soviet Union to the point where it could no longer credibly sustain its role as a superpower and a guardian of the status quo.