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How the military actively reengineers for success on and off the battlefield

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Twenty-First Century Military Innovation
Part I: Technological Innovations
Chapter 2: War by Proxy: Drones and the Dehumanization of War
Chapter 3: The Digital Battlespace: Subduing the Enemy without a Fight
Chapter 4: War without Casualties: Nonlethal Weapons and Military Policing
Part II: Organizational Innovations
Chapter 5: Buying Victory: Private Military Contractors and the Decline of Popular Warfare
Chapter 6: Emulating the Enemy: Special Operations Forces as Insurgent Analogues
Part III: Strategic Innovations
Chapter 7: Naming Enemies: Targeted Killing and Punitive Violence
Chapter 8: Everyone is an Ally: Population-Centric Counterinsurgency
Chapter 9: The Minimization of War: Degradation supplants Decisive Battle


Contemporary war is as much a quest for decisive technological, organizational, and doctrinal superiority before the fighting starts as it is an effort to destroy enemy militaries during battle. Armed forces that are not actively fighting are instead actively reengineering themselves for success in the next fight and imagining what that next fight may look like. Twenty-First Century Military Innovation outlines the most theoretically important themes in contemporary warfare, especially as these appear in distinctive innovations that signal changes in states’ warfighting capacities and their political goals.
Marcus Schulzke examines eight case studies that illustrate the overall direction of military innovation and important underlying themes. He devotes three chapters to new weapons technologies (drones, cyberweapons, and nonlethal weapons), two chapters to changes in the composition of state military forces (private military contractors and special operations forces), and three chapters to strategic and tactical changes (targeted killing, population-centric counterinsurgency, and degradation). Each case study includes an accessible introduction to the topic area, an overview of the ongoing scholarly debates surrounding that topic, and the most important theoretical implications. An engaging overview of the themes that emerge with military innovation, this book will also attract readers interested in particular topic areas.

Marcus Schulzke is the author of Simulating Good and Evil: The Morality and Politics of Videogames (2020), The Pursuit of Moral Warfare: Ethical Theory and Practice in Counterinsurgency Operations (2018), Combat Drones and Support for the Use of Force, with James Walsh (2018).

“Schulzke, with his concise and organized style, provides a meaty read full of stimulating facts, insights, and speculations . . . well-done and enjoyable. It is crisp and tailored, yet with reference to substantial concepts and important events.”

—Brian Orend, author of The Morality of War

- Brian Orend

“How are military, technological, organizational, and strategic innovations transforming 21st century warfare? Twenty-First Century Military Innovation addresses exactly this question. An original, thoughtful, and ambitious piece of work, it tackles a vast topic with great sophistication and style. Spanning the domains of military ethics, technology, bureaucracy, culture, and tactics, it not only showcases Marcus Schulzke’s remarkable range, it also sets the standard for studies of 21st century warfare.”

—Cian O’Driscoll, Australian National University

- Cian O'Driscoll

“Schulzke’s book is an extraordinarily useful read—especially if you are interested in how military innovation is impacting fighting beyond conventional war and changing war itself. His examination of new conflict technologies sheds new light on how these innovations are strongly impacting how countries are and will engage in conflict.”
—Victor Asal, University at Albany

- Victor Asal

“In this wide-ranging book, Marcus Schulzke shows that military innovation reduces the immediate costs and risks of using force, but over a longer horizon undermines the Westphalian international system and their own sovereign authority. New military technologies change how states fight wars in ways that threaten their authority and upend the politics of conflict.”
—James Igoe Walsh, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

- James Igoe Walsh

"This volume will be of certain interest to anyone trying to examine what has changed in warfare and where these trends might for in the near future. The author’s thesis is compelling and seamlessly woven throughout the book and based on a solid analytical framework."
New York Journal of Books

- New York Journal of Books

"For a short work, this book really makes readers think and shines new light on the trajectory of contemporary warfare. . . . Recommended."

- S. R. DiMarco

"Schulzke’s argument is compelling. It builds on a comprehensive study of the major innovations of recent decades and offers a normative understanding of innovation consequences. . . . The book is relevant for academic audiences seeking to understand the intersection between military innovation and the international system, and for practitioners of military strategy."
International Affairs

- Linus Terhorst