Guest Article: Why we lose so many wars, and how we can win.

By the Editor of the Fabius Maximus website


As the western nations begin a new round of interventions against insurgencies in the Middle East, let’s look at the record of such conflicts since WWII. They teach a simple lesson that if widely recognized could change our future. But the leaders of our national defense institutions do not want to see it, so we probably will not either. Failure to learn is among the most expensive of weaknesses, one which can offset even the power of even great nations.


Among the dumbest advice ever. Churchill didn’t say it.

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006).

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

The two kinds of insurgencies

In January 2007 I gave a more detailed explanation to van Creveld’s conclusion. As a simple dichotomy for analytical purposes, we can sort insurgencies by the degree of involvement of outside armed forces (of course, there are other ways to characterize 4GW).

  1. Violence between two or more local groups, who can form from any combination of clans, governments, ethnicities, religions, gangs, and tribes.
  2. Violence between two or more sides, where at least one is led by foreigners – comprising, as above, any imaginable combination of factions.

Local governments often win conflicts of the first kind, often with valuable foreign assistance — so long as the locals control political strategy, tactics, and the major combat forces. For example, see David Kilcullen’s insightful analysis of the Indonesian government’s defeat of insurgencies in West Java and East Timor. These conflicts are often conflated with those of the second kind, as if victories by the local governments are similar to the defeats by foreign armies.

An intermediate kind of conflict occurs when a colonial power grants independence to the local elites through whom it has ruled, winning by trading away sovereignty for an influence with the newly independent State. Examples are the British wars in Malaysia (1948 – 1960) and Kenya (1952-1960) (in which the British took full credit in the histories they wrote).

Foreign forces almost always lose when they take the lead — as always, with exceptions from unusual circumstances — because the locals have two great advantages. First, they play defense and need only to outlast the foreigners. As Clausewitz said in On War, Book 1, Chapter 1…

“As we shall show, defense is a stronger form of fighting than attack. … I am convinced that the superiority of the defensive (if rightly understood) is very great, far greater than appears at first sight.”

Second, locals have the home court advantage. David Kilcullen unintentionally described this in his famous “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency” (Military Review, May – June 2006). For example, consider article #1…

“Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.”

This is delusional advice to an American or British company commander. The world expert on “your” district already lives there and probably was born there. US company commanders on twelve month rotations cannot acquire such deep knowledge in foreign cultures, no matter how thick their briefing books. It might be difficult for some of them to do so in Watts or Harlem.

Time brings insight to those who pay attention

Time made this clear to a widening circle of observers. Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) expanded this insight in his 2008 magnum opus If We Can Keep It: A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration. In 2008 RAND came to the same conclusion after examining “Eighty-Nine Insurgencies: Outcomes and Endings” (Appendix A by Martin C. Libicki in War by Other Means – Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency by David Gompert and John Gordon et al). Here is a summary.

Some with experience on the front lines tried to warn us, as in this quote from Doug Sanders “Afghanistan: colonialism or counterinsurgency? Americans bring Afghans their new 60-year plan” (Globe and Mail, 31 May 2008).

One thing this cloak is hiding is the likelihood that once a nation finds itself relying on counterinsurgency for military success in a foreign setting it has already lost. … The insurmountable problem that the COIN Team faces is that expressed by a senior French commander who told journalist Eric Walberg that: “We do not believe in counterinsurgency” because “if you find yourself needing to use counterinsurgency, it means the entire population has become the subject of your war, and you either will have to stay there forever or you have lost”.

In 2010 Andrew Exum referred us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard: “The Perils of Third-Party Counterinsurgency Campaigns” (17 June 2010; available through Proquest). Her conclusion was expressed in a DoD-sympathetic fashion…

Ultimately, I argue that third parties {foreign armies} win when they’re able to overcome these intelligence challenges before public support runs out. This typically requires rather substantial military reforms and complex deal-making with local leaders. Unfortunately, the nature of selection effects in these cases gives rise to a population of insurgencies whereby these conditions are very unlikely to be met.


Too bad they keep losing.

The core problem.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
— Upton Sinclair in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935).

This data clearly shows our problem. Why do so few people see this history (e.g., see the near-total refusal to see it at this Small Wars Council comment thread)? Why do our armies — led by the best-educated officers in history — repeat the tactics that have failed in so many similar wars?  This is especially unfortunate, since we face foes that have learned so much from the wars of the post-WWII era.

The most plausible reason, as so many have explained since 9/11, is that the leaders of our national security apparatus run it for the money. They run wars to keep the funds flowing and build the power of the Deep State. Victory is nice but optional.  “War is the health of the state“, as true today as when Randolph Bourne wrote those words in 1918.

How can we win?

“Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”
— Abba Ebban (Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs), 19 March 1967. Let’s not wait until then.

The first step is to stop “repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results” (that’s insanity per an ancient insight of Alcoholics Anonymous, who know all about dysfunctionality). Eventually this will go badly for us. Second, admit that we do not have the best military in the world at fighting these “unconventional wars (i.e., most wars of the post-WWII era).  Third, fight only where the stakes are high and we have reason to believe we can win (see this post for details).

Fourth, stop listening to people whose advice has been so wrong. As Martin van Creveld’s said in “On Counterinsurgency: How to triumph in the age of asymmetric warfare“, a speech given at the Henry Jackson Society (26 February 2008).

So when people ask about how we should study counterinsurgency, the first step should be to gather 95% of all the literature on the subject, put it aboard the Titanic and sink it. In fact, there is so much of it that if you put it aboard the Titanic the iceberg becomes unnecessary!

The logical answer for why the materials on counterinsurgency are so inferior is that most of them were written by people who failed to achieve victory. Ninety-five percent of the literature is written by the losers, who in trying to justify their own actions, put the blame for their failure on others. Therefore there is little reason to expect the literature to be any good. Indeed, the best thing to do with it is to put it away.

Last, rely on methods that have worked in the past. For details see Martin van Creveld’s essay “On Counterinsurgency” in Combating Terrorism, edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005), posted in four parts…

  1. How We Got to Where We Are gives a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods describes President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 and British operations in Northern Ireland, case studies of opposite ways to win at counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Both the Hama and Northern Ireland solutions are difficult; neither fits how we see war, let alone how we wage it. War often forces harsh choices. We will continue to lose until we confront them. The pressure to do so must come from below the most senior ranks of our defense agencies and from civilians. Neither will happen fast or easily, but time is not our ally.


A fake quote (here are his actual words), but it is good advice.

For More Information

For a deeper analysis of these matters see The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz by Martin van Creveld and The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World by Rupert Smith.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see the history of COIN (we close our eyes so as not to learn from it):

  1. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story.
  2. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it.  — About the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard.
  3. A look at the history of victories over insurgents. — A study by RAND.
  4. COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure.
  5. Return of the COIN-istas (the zombies of military theory).

The Decline and Rise of the Humanities

In the winter of 2013, my wife and I went to see the visitor center at CERN, the Centre Européene de Recherche Nucléaire near Geneva. We found it one of the worst arranged, least comprehensible shows of its kind we had ever seen. Somewhere on the wall—if it was a wall at all—was a shield that stated the Center’s mission: to find out “who we are, where we come from, where we may be going.”

I am not a physicist, let alone a nuclear scientist. I think I understand that by “we,” whoever had put up the shield did not mean poor little humanity, but the universe instead. But that is precisely the point. To be sure, the universe is very interesting. It has galaxies and stars and black holes and dark matter and so many other curious things as to dazzle the mind. Yet when everything is said and done, what interests each of us most is his (or her) personal fate and that of his (or her) fellow human beings. It occurred to me then, as it does now, that to answer the question, the last place I would turn to is a cyclotron, however gigantic, however powerful, and however expensive it is.

Apollo_Athena_MusesInstead I would go to the humanities or, as they are sometimes known, the liberal arts. As the former term implies, the humanities are the field of study that deals with the thoughts, emotions behavior and activities of men (and women, of course). As the latter implies, they are a field fit for free men (and women, of course) to study. As such they are at least as old as the Biblical Book of Proverbs. Today they comprise such fields as history—to me, the undisputed queen of all the sciences—as well as every sort of culture. Including religion, philosophy, linguistics, literature, all forms of art, music, and more. Many of the disciplines often grouped under the social sciences should also be included: such as political science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, law, economics (including, perhaps, business administration), communications, international relations, war studies, and the like. All these form a seamless cloth. And all are essential to understand us human beings both individually and collectively.

A few of these fields, which are supposed to be profitable to those who earn diplomas in them, are still flourishing. This applies to psychology, law, economics, communications, and, for some reason I have never been able to understand, “political science.” In my experience many political scientists have raised the art of spouting rubbish to what can only be descried as mystical heights. Thank God there are a few exceptions; they, however, are practically indistinguishable from historians. The other fields are in a real pickle. Several US Sate Governors have vowed not to give the humanities one penny if they can possibly avoid doing so. And the US Congress is following suit.

Profitability, or lack of it, is but one part of the problem. Professors in most of the humanities may indeed be facing empty classes. But outside academia there is no shortage of tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of courses of every kind. They teach, or claim to teach, everything from writing skills to Kabballah and from Zen to the best way people can spend thirty or forty years sharing home and bed without going ballistic. Many are taught by all kinds of self-appointed “experts” with no obvious qualifications. And many are quite expensive.

Clearly, then, the humanities are not obsolete. The questions they are supposed to study and discuss, if perhaps not to answer, retain their importance. People are no less interested in them today than their ancestors were when Plato and Aristotle taught in Athens. Not to mention Confucius, Buddha, and Jesus Christ. Clearly, too, what is wrong is the way they are studied. Here are some of the problems I see, and have been seeing, for many years:

* A tendency toward overspecialization. Recently, skimming a newly published Oxford University Press Catalogue, I was surprised to find how small, how picayune and unimaginative, most of the titles were. I shall not name any names. However, clearly anyone whose interests are wider than, say, the way bread was baked in Exeter in the middle of the eighteenth century had better look elsewhere.

* The tendency, which is even more obvious in the social sciences than in the humanities, to define everything at great length. As a result, the typical political science book looks as follows. First the author spends 145 pages explaining all the various definitions, of, say, politics. Next, having concluded that none of them really fits, he (or she) provides his (or her) five-page long definition. So complicated is it that nobody, presumably not even the author, can understand it. This process is known as “laying the theoretical framework” or “creating a paradigm.” There follow the remaining 150 pages of the book. Which, invariably, are written as if the first 150 did not exist.

* The tendency to use as many polysyllabic words as possible. Such words are considered proof of learning. The harder to understand the text, the better. Yet, the road to take is the exact opposite. If you want to reach people, make a splash, and, perhaps, exert a little influence, then simplicity should be your goal. Let me give just one example from my own field. Sir Basil Liddell Hart (1895-1970) studied history at Cambridge. Owing to the outbreak of World War I he never took his degree. After the war he started his career as a sports correspondent. It is said that he could describe the same game of tennis for four different papers. That experience was one major reason why he was as successful as he was. So simple, so clear were his texts that even generals could understand them. For forty years he was the world’s best-known military pundit. Eventually the Queen gave him a Knighthood.

* The need to expound every possible point of view in addition to one’s own. One writes, for example, about a topic such as heroism. Where it originated (can animals be heroes?), how people understood it at various times and places, how it changed, what place it takes in modern life, and so on. A truly fascinating topic, I would think! Ere you are allowed to address these questions, though, you must first discuss, at the greatest possible length, all the other books that have seen written about the subject. As if anybody cares.

* The excessive use of footnotes, Footnotes, in some ways, are shelters where cowards hide. If something is not sufficiently important to be put into the text, but too important to be left out, one can always put it in a footnote. The same applies to reference material. I am not aware that the Bible, or Thucydides, or Plato, or Aristotle, or Thomas Hobbes, or Adam Smith, bristle with little numbers or brackets whose purpose is to tell the reader where this or that idea, this or that fact, was taken from. Indeed I have often noticed that, the less is known about a topic, the larger the so-called “scientific apparatus” supporting it. If that is scholarship, then I am happy to do without it. So are many others who vote with their feet.

* Political correctness. Political correctness is the blight of the modern humanities. So fearful are universities of being sued that they are actively preventing their faculty from speaking his (or her) mind on any subject, and in any way, that might be the least “offensive” to anyone. To understand what it is all about, read and re-read Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain. There a highly respected professor, referring to two students who had never showed up, asked the class whether anybody had seen the “spooks.” It quickly turned out that the students in question were black. But the professor, not having set his eyes on the students in question, could not know that. This, as well as the fact that most people do not even know that “spook” can be used to mean “black,” did not save him from being crucified. His colleagues turned against him. He lost his job, his wife died of chagrin, and he became an unperson.

The crossroads where these and other problems meet is in the PhD dissertation. The real purpose of a dissertation is simply to prove that one has indeed attained mastery in one’s field. Instead, in the above ways as well as some others, so dumb are the demands PhD students are expected to meet that most of them spend years upon years to produce texts not even their own professors are eager to read. Next, to pile insult upon injury, they are expected to turn their work into a book! The implication, of course, being that what they have written is no such thing.

So high are the piles of rubbish students are expected first to climb and then to add to that they are deserting the humanities in droves. Yet I am not one bit worried about the “decline” of the disciplines in question. In the past they produced such towering figures as Epicurus, Lucretius, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and many others. Some of them never even attended a university. Others, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, left the one where they taught because they considered it the last place where true intellectual work could be performed.

Without any doubt, people will continue to ask who they are, where they came from, and where they may be going. Above all, they will keep asking how they may best spend their brief lives here on earth. They will do so with or without the universities, bless them. Provided the universities can burst the straightjacket imposed on them by less than mediocre, cowardly, administrators and professors, surely they will flourish and blossom. Or else, if they do not, they will surely wither and the search will continue without them.

As, to a growing extent, it already does.

Sic Transit


Last week I got a request, one of many I have received over the years. Two scholars asked me to do a chapter in a book they were going to edit. The topic? Security challenges facing European states. That includes strategic and doctrinal responses, technological and industrial capabilities, European armed forces in action, the web of alliances, etc, etc. The book was going to be published by Oxford University Press. My role was to do the chapter on land forces.

I told my father, who is 96 years old. He responded with one word: nebbish (Yiddish for “poor bastards”). I on my part turned down the offer. Why? Because there was no challenge in it. Starting in 1571, when the Turks were defeated at Lepanto, no other non-European navy has ever dared challenge the Europeans at sea. Starting in 1683, when they tried to capture Vienna and failed, the same was true on land.

European navies and armies together ruled the world for several centuries. What were often almost ridiculously small expeditionary forces easily swept away any opposition they encountered. The point was reached where, in 1914, five European states—plus one that was an offspring or Europe, plus one that had successfully started to imitate the Europeans’ methods—dominated practically the entire earth. By 1939, owing to the rise of the USA, the USSR and Japan, that domination was no longer as complete as it had been at the beginning of the twentieth-century. Still it was strong enough.

Depending on how things are calculated and whom one believes, World War II is said to have caused the deaths of anything between 50 and 80 million people. Perhaps as many as two thirds of them were Europeans. Especially in 1944-45, when the Allies were closing on Berlin from east and west, the Continent was hell on earth. Entire armies were being destroyed or captured. Entire cities were being pulverized from the air; until, in Germany, hardly two stones were kept standing on each other. No wonder the survivors turned towards pacifism. The Continent which for several centuries had produced the world’s best sailors and soldiers wanted nothing more to do with war.

To be sure, some European States still tried to behave as if nothing had changed. Many of them sent their troops to fight in the colonies. “Over there,” as the phrase went, they tried to put down rebellions, uprisings, brushfire wars—a term frequently used during the 1950s—guerrilla, terrorism, or whatever. In all cases their opponents were puny (sometimes literally so, like the Viet Minh). Often the attempts involved massive bloodshed and even more massive cruelty; one need only think of the interesting methods the French “paras” used to “win” the battle of Algiers.

In the end, all of them failed. In my view that even applies to the British “victory” in Malaysia which has so often been held up as an example of what could be achieved. In reality it was a triumph of propaganda, not arms. It was orchestrated by none other than Winston Churchill. Returning to office in 1951, Churchill had the good sense to announce that “we shall win this war, then we shall get out.” He did “win,” and he did get out.

The end of the Algerian War in 1962 marked the last time when any European power seriously tried to hold on to its overseas possession. True, in Europe itself the Soviet Union continued to pose a formidable challenge. However, those who carried the main burden of dealing with that challenge were not the Europeans but their American Allies. The latter spent about twice as much on defense as all European states combined.

To be sure, things developed differently in different countries. By and large, though, all kept cutting their defense budgets and, with them, their armed forces’ size and capabilities. Starting in 1967, almost all of them also did away with conscription. So strong did pacifist sentiment become that many forces found it almost impossible to attract high-quality manpower. That, incidentally, was one reason why they increasingly turned to women; who, as everybody knows but nobody dares say, for many purposes, are no more than half soldiers.

As the Cold War came to an end the process accelerated. Take the Bundeswehr, which during the first few days at any rate would have to bear the brunt of an eventual Soviet attack. In 1989 it had 500,000 soldiers in twelve superbly armed divisions. Now it has 186,000 and three respectively. Much of its equipment is out of date, inoperable, or both. The armed forces of NATO’s remaining members are no better off. Most of the countries in question only spend between 1 and 2 percent of GDP on their militaries. In late 2014 it was decided to raise the figure to 2 percent. No sooner did this happen, though, than the resolution was declared to be “non-binding.”

The Europeans’ miserable failure to deal with the challenges facing them over the last quarter century speaks for itself. Had it not been the US, no doubt Saddam Hussein would still have been in power. In 1992-95 it was the US and not the Europeans which put an end to the war in the former Yugoslavia. In 1999 it was the US and not the Europeans who did what had to be done, if it had to be done, in Kosovo. In both 2002—the war in Afghanistan—and 2003—the invasion of Iraq—so limited was the role most Europeans played as to be barely visible. But for the US, the Persian Gulf would long ago have become a Persian Lake. And so it goes.

There used to be a time when the French prided themselves on their furor Gallicus and the Germans on their furor Teutonicus. Others had similar beliefs—I vividly remember the British officer who, long ago, looked at me down his nose as he said that they, the British, were rather good at “the smacking business.” They may have been. But by now they have become pussycats like all the rest.

In view of this total lack of the will to fight—in the face of a growing challenge from Moscow, what is more—of what value and interest are strategic and doctrinal responses, technological and industrial capabilities, the web of alliances, and all the rest?

As so often, the answer is blowing in the wind.

The Things that did Not Happen

v0_masterSeventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so—in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so—people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.

* In 1945, much of Europe—and not just Europe—was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos. With unemployment, cold—the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century—and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.

In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.

* During the first years after 1945 many people worried about a possible revival of Prussian-German militarism and aggression. It was that fear which, in September 1944, led US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau to propose the plan named after him. Had it been adopted, it would have deprived Germany of many of its territories which would have gone to its various neighbors not only in the east, as actually happened, but in the west as well. The rest would have been divided into several separate states. That accomplished, “all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action” was to be dismantled. That even included the mines, which were to be “thoroughly wrecked.” Since both Roosevelt and Churchill at some points supported various versions of the plan, the chances of its being turned into reality looked pretty good.

In the event, Germany was dismembered and lost large tracts of land that had been part of it for centuries past. It was also partitioned, though not along the lines Morgenthau had proposed. Both the Soviets and the West, but the former in particular, dismantled parts of the German industrial plant that fell into their hands. However, Germany never came close to being a “primarily agricultural and pastoral country.” For example, by the end of 1945 Volkswagen, thanks to a British order for 20,000 vehicles, was back in business. In 1950 the firm celebrated the production of the 100,000th Beetle; the rest is history.

Furthermore, the reconstruction of German industry did not lead to the much-feared revival of Prussian-German militarism. Let alone of National Socialism and “revanchism.” Instead, Germany was turned into a federal democracy with human-rights guarantees as strong as those of any other democratic country. With the slogan “nie wieder krieg” (no more war) on almost everyone’s lips, by the time of the 1976 election-campaign, which I happened to witness, the country was being touted as “the most successful society in Europe.”

The Wiedervereinigung (re-unification) of 1989-90 gave rise to some renewed fears among Germany’s neighbors. It was to counter those fears that Prof. Michael Wolfson, a German-Israeli teaching at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, penned his best-seller, Keine Angst vor Deutschland (No Fear of Germany). He turned out to be right. Not only has there been no revival of National Socialism and militarism, but at no time since 1945 has Germany posed the slightest danger to any of its neighbors. By now, with Putin doing what he is doing in the Ukraine, some people would argue that its unwillingness and inability to do so are precisely the problem.

* Above all, there has been no World War III. The objective of World War I, at least according to President Wilson, had been to put an end to war. In 1945, its miserable failure to do so had long become a matter of record. Everybody and his neighbor expected another world war—this time, one waged between the US and the Soviet Union and fought, if that is the word, with the aid of nuclear weapons. As a friend of mine, a retired Bundeswehr colonel whose grandfather and father were killed in 1914-18 and 1939-45 respectively, put it to me: “When I joined the Bundeswehr I did not expect to live.”

Only during the 1960s did fear of another “total” war, as the phrase went, slowly begin to wane away. As late as 1968, American planners claimed to be preparing for “two and a half wars;” a major one in Europe, another major one in the Pacific, and a smaller one somewhere else. Since then they have gradually lowered their sights. So much so that, by now, the most they can hope for is the ability to wage two small wars, such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, simultaneously. Even that is becoming a little doubtful. Rather than go through world wars III and IV, as all historical precedents seemed to suggest would happen, humanity has entered into the so-called “long peace.” As a result, and in spite of the terrible things that are going on in quite some places, the chances of the average person of dying in war are now the lowest they have ever been.

The factors that have brought along the long peace have been hotly debated. Personally I believe that ninety percent or more or the credit belongs to nuclear weapons and the fear they inspire. To be sure, the weapons in question could not prevent all forms of war. There have been plenty of those, and quite a few are ongoing even at this moment. They did, however, prevent its most important and most deadly forms, namely those waged by important states against each other.

Other factors that contributed to the largely peaceful, and by all previous standards unbelievably prosperous, nature of the post-1945 decades have been the relatively benign nature of the American Empire; the rise, side by side with that empire, of numerous international institutions that are daily entwining more states in their coils; and the restraint and sagacity shown by at least some governments—as, for example, when Mikhail Gorbachev ensured that the USSR would the only empire in history to fall apart without major bloodshed. Most important still, success was grounded the hard work of billions of ordinary people who tried to do the best for themselves and their families; and who often succeeded in doing just that.

Have a happy anniversary, Europe. Have a happy anniversary, world.