The strategic Corporal re-visited: Challenges for combatants in twenty-first century warfare

In August 1914, millions of troops mobilized at the start of what has become known as the First World War. It is estimated that over the four years of that war 10 million military personnel were killed (and as many as seven million civilians). Soldiers were often ‘cannon fodder’ in set-piece battles. A centuryâ€"and millions more deadâ€"later, war has in some respects a different character. The Second World War (with 20 million soldiers killed, and perhaps 50 million more civilians) saw major developments in both the technology of war and subsequently codification of the rules of war.

Nowadays, troops depend as much on mobility as on firepower, battles are about ideas as well as territory, the principles of just war and the protection of non-combatants are widely discussed (if not always honoured), the loss of even a single soldier is mourned as a tragedy, and the circumstances in which soldiers must operate (as combatants, peacekeepers and even emergency first-responders) are varied and often unpredictable. The responsibilities of individual soldiers have expanded enormously. No longer unquestioning pawns in a larger geo-strategic game, they are expectedâ€"whatever their rankâ€"to show initiative, leadership, technological mastery and restraint in present and future operations whether or not they resemble recent counter-insurgencies.

Leading experts in law, ethics, strategic studies, history and politics will explore these expectations and how they can be met: reflecting on what US Marine General Charles C. Krulak once described as the requirement for a ‘strategic corporal’.