A limited war is a war carried out by a state that uses less than its total resources and has a goal of less than total defeat of the enemy. Very often it is the high cost of war that makes limited war more practical than total war. In a limited war a state's total survival does not depend on the outcome of the war. For example, when Augustus sent his Roman legions to conquer Germania, the fate of the Roman Republic was not at stake. Since 1945 and the advent of nuclear weapons, limited war has become the normal type of warfare. Following World War II, because of its world position, the United States has found itself involved in a number of limited wars. The Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Iraq wars were all examples of limited wars. The goal of at least one of the parties in a limited war is to maintain its freedom and preserve itself. Often the strategy used, especially against a much stronger enemy, is to draw out the fighting until the other side gets tired and finally decides to quit. This worked for George Washington in the American Revolutionary War. Although the British Army was the strongest army in the world at the time, the war dragged out until the British got tired of the war draining its resources. Today the Taliban and other Islamist groups keep their wars going trying to wear out their Western world enemies.
Limited wars are rarely successful. From the time of the Roman Republic to modern times, limited warfare has usually not had the desired results. It also runs contrary to what military leaders are taught, which is to win at all costs. Those who make policy often choose the middle ground of limited war when faced with decisions between total war or do nothing at all. The only problem with doing nothing is the example of Adolf Hitler. While the world powers did nothing, he continued to invade weaker countries until finally a world war was all that could stop him.
|“||“In war, there is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wound, death, and destruction on the enemy, in the minimum amount of time.” General George S. Patton.||”|
The concept of limited war is not new. The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) wrote about two kinds of war. In the first kind, the goal is total destruction of an enemy. When that is not possible, the second type is limited war. This is most often because one of the parties to the war does not have the capability of completely annihilating their enemy. The Napoleonic wars (1803-1815), World War I (1914-19) and World War II (1939-1945) are considered total wars. Any war that is limited by geography, resources, goals or a war that is intentionally limited by the participants is a limited war.
- Crimean War (1853–1856) was a war fought between Russia on one side, and France, the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire on the other side. It was a limited war, limited mainly by geography. From 1815 to 1854, Britain and Russia were the two main world powers. In September 1854 the allies invaded the Crimea in order to protect the Ottoman Empire against Russia. Britain used its ships to control the region. In 1855, the allies captured Sevastopol. But they did not have the manpower to capture the Crimean Peninsula. Russia was bankrupt and could not continue fighting. Alexander II of Russia finally agreed to the peace demands and signed the Treaty of Paris in 1856.
- The Falklands War (1982) was an example of a limited war which was limited by geography, time and means. After a long dispute over ownership with the United Kingdom, Argentine troops invaded the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982. On June 14, 1982, the Argentine forces in the Falklands surrendered. On June 20, the British declared the war was ended. Despite the settlement, Argentina still maintains claims on the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
- The Vietnam War (1955–1975) was fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China and North Korea. South Vietnam was supported by the United States, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. This conflict between communist and capitalist countries was part of the Cold War and also a proxy war. American leaders did not recognize Vietnam as a limited war. This was clear from the Pentagon Papers in 1961 and 1962. Instead, they focused on how to engage in fighting a counter-insurgency war against guerilla forces. They though the solution lay in military operations and political reforms. At first the U.S. began to send military advisors to help train and support the South Vietnamese Army. After the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the President of the United States was given the power to run large-scale military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. After 58,193 American deaths in Vietnam, President Richard Nixon decided to get out of Vietnam. Under the Paris Peace Accords, signed January 27, 1973, U.S. military forces withdrew from South Vietnam and prisoners were exchanged. On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the war ended.
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