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Changing Character of Warfare

Module titleChanging Character of Warfare
Module codePOL2082
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Brieg Powel (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will provide you with an overview of the “Western” way of warfare and its evolution since the end of the Cold War. While conventional warfare between states is presently sporadic, policy documents such as the NATO Strategic Concept and the UK’s National Security Strategy underline the sustained build-up of conventional military capabilities in many regions and states throughout the globe. These conventional elements of military power are now progressively accompanied by a rise in asymmetric warfare challenges, such as terrorist and insurgent violence. Emerging societal trends, such as the professionalization of the armed forces, as well as emerging technologies, such as electronic warfare and network-enabled capabilities, meanwhile, have the potential to challenge existing balances of power, change the conduct of war and the nature of civil-military relations. States seeking security are expected to keep abreast of such changes whilst, for many, dealing with the realities of terrorism, violent state collapse and low-intensity warfare around the globe has also become a daily challenge.

No pre-requisite or co-requisite modules are required in order to register for this module. It will provide you with a basic introduction to the nature of war as an instrument of foreign and defence policy and how this role has evolved over the last several decades. It will also provide you with a basic understanding of the role and of the effects that war has in contemporary international relations. As such, this module is suitable for both specialist and non-specialist students who are interested in studying war and the changing character of warfare from an inter-disciplinary perspective, thus, rendering it suitable for interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Without shying away from the conceptual and political challenges of thinking about armed conflict, this module will aim to:

  • Introduce you to the practical and operational realities faced by decision-makers and actors that have dealt with the conventional and sub-conventional warfare challenges since the end of the Cold War;

  • Enable you to analyse, by looking at earlier or more current conflicts, how state and non-state actors have gone about fighting in them;

  • Enable you to examine how Western militaries have adopted new modes of operational thinking, structures, and postures often as result of their military culture, organizational biases, and societal pressures and also as a reaction to the asymmetric challenges that they have increasingly confronted as a result of their conventional military superiority;

  • Enable you to explore in particular the problems and challenges stemming from the growing trend of military intervention in international relations, and the conduct of the ‘Global War on Terror’.

  • Provide you with a basis for further graduate study and post-graduate study in defence and security, or for a career in government, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, media, or the security forces.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge of the nature of warfare and its evolving characteristics.
  • 2. Demonstrate knowledge of the evolving nature of civil-military and military-societal relations in Western states.
  • 3. Demonstrate knowledge of the developing attributes of the “Western way of warfare” and their effect on those challenging the “Western way of warfare” thinking and praxis.
  • 4. Demonstrate knowledge of the growing asymmetric challenges confronted by Western states and the way that these have reacted to such challenges from the societal, operational and organizational perspectives.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Examine secondary and primary source material in the field of war and conflict studies.
  • 6. Demonstrate awareness of the key concepts and debates relating to the study of war and its changing character.
  • 7. Evaluate competing conceptions and theories of warfare.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Study independently and manage time and assessment deadlines effectively.
  • 9. Communicate effectively in speech and writing.
  • 10. Demonstrate analytical skills through tutorial discussions and module assessments.
  • 11. Demonstrate proficiency in the use of the internet, online journal databases and other IT resources for the purposes of tutorial and assessment preparation.
  • 12. Work independently, within a limited time frame, and without access to external sources, to complete a specified task.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • What is War?

  • The Causes of Warfare

  • Interstate versus Intrastate Warfare

  • The Military and the Nature of Civil-Military Relations

  • Change and Continuity in Warfare

  • The ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ and ‘Transformation’ Agendas

  • Outsourcing War: the Rise of Private Military Companies

  • Asymmetric Challenges I: Terrorism

  • Asymmetric Challenges II: Insurgency and Guerrilla Warfare

  • Military Adaptation and Innovation

  • Summation, Revision, and Student Module Evaluation

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching Activity16.511 x 1.5 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning & Teaching Activity1010 x 1 hour tutorials
Guided Independent Study40Tutorial preparation
Guided Independent Study83.5Assessment preparation and completion


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay outline500 words1-11Verbal

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination501.5 hours1-12Written
Essay502,000 words1-11Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination (1.5 hours)1-12August/September re-assessment period
EssayEssay (2,000 words)1-11August/September re-assessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Barkawi, T. Globalization and War (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).
  • Beckett, I. Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and their Opponents since 1750 (Routledge, 2001).
  • Buzan, B, Waever, O & de Wilde, J, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Lynne Rienner, 1998).
  • Caforio, G. Handbook of the Sociology of the Military (Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2006).
  • Cordell, K. & Wolff, S. Ethnic conflict: causes, consequences, and responses (Cambridge: Polity, 2009/2010).
  • Farrell, T. The Norms of War: Cultural Beliefs and Modern Conflict (Lynne Rienner, 2005).
  • Farrell, T. and Terriff, T. The Sources of Military Change: Culture, Politics, Technology (Lynne Rienner, 2002).
  • Gray, C.S. Modern strategy (Oxford University Press, 1999).
  • Kaldor, M. New Wars and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (Polity, 2006).
  • Kinsey, C. and Patterson, M.H. Contractors and War: The Transformation of United States' Expeditionary Operations (Stanford University Press, 2012).
  • Lebow, R.N. Why Nations Fight: Past and Future Motives for War (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • Porter, P. Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes (Hurst, 2009).
  • Rabi, U. International intervention in local conflicts: crisis management and conflict resolution since the Cold War (London: Tauris, 2010.)
  • Shaw, M. The New Western Way of War: Risk-Transfer War and its Crisis in Iraq (Polity, 2005).
  • Smith, R. The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Allen Lane, 2005).
  • Strachan, H. and Schiepers, S. (eds.), The Changing Character of War (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Townshend, C. (ed.), The Oxford History of Modern War (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Von Clausewitz, C. On War. Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. (Princeton University Press, 1976).
  • Whittaker, D. J. (ed.), The Terrorism Reader 3rd edition (London: Routledge 2007).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • Complex Terrain Laboratory:
  • Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:
  • Combating Terrorism Centre (Westpoint):
  • UK Defence Academy:
  • ‘MERLIN’ US National Defence University:
  • US Institute of Peace:
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting:
  • US Army War College:
  • International Studies Association web resources:
  • US Naval Postgraduate School:
  • US Homeland Security:
  • UK Resilience (Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat):
  • RAND Corps:
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies:
  • Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies:
  • Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs):
  • International Institute for Strategic Studies:
  • Brookings Institute:
  • Arms Control Resources:
  • Bitter Lemons:
  • Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies:
  • Centre for Defence Information:
  • CIA Factbook:
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Crisis Group:
  • Rand Corporation:

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Other materials and resources will be identified by the module convener in lectures and via ELE and by tutors in tutorials.

Key words search

War; civil-military relations; military adaptation; military innovation; asymmetric warfare.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date