The Baltic Defence College, in partnership with the Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum and the Estonian Defence Academy calls for papers and panel proposals to
International Baltic Military History Conference
SMALL BUT CAPABLE? QUALITY AGAINST MASS IN MILITARY HISTORY
Tartu, 22–23 September 2020
The written and oral history of the humanity is rich of stories about the small vanquishing the big. The Christian world knows David’s struggle with Goliath. In the Ancient Chinese writings victory belongs to the well-led rather than the larger force. In the European military thought beginning with Classical treatises on Greek and Roman warfare, quality is often regarded as more important than mass. Maurice de Saxe (1696–1759), military theoretician of the early Modern period, argued that armies of more than 50 000 men were too cumbersome to be led effectively and therefore the size of armed forces had to be kept in bounds. However, only half a century later Jacques de Guibert (1743–1790), writing in the era of Enlightenment, thought the vital energies of the entire nation must be garnered to achieve victory – he was anticipating the rise of mass armies in Europe following the French Revolution.
Technological progress injected new confidence into small armies. J. F. C. Fuller (1878–1966) and Giulio Douhet (1869–1930) were among the futurist enthusiasts who thought small but professional and mobile armoured troops supported by aircraft would be sufficient to defeat larger but less-developed armies. The Second World War laid those ideas bare as somewhat naive. However, a number of wars during the Cold War and the post-Cold War period have restored faith in smaller but capable armies. The success of Israel in wars against numerically larger Arab coalitions has been a model for admiration. Arguably, the present strategic confidence of NATO is based on the successful Cold War deterrence, including nuclear deterrence, that prevented the possible attack by the larger force of the Warsaw Pact coalition in Europe.
The present military-strategic situation in the Eastern Baltic has been regarded as worrisome from NATO’s point of view. Somewhat similar to Western Berlin during the Cold War, the Baltic countries are difficult to defend. In the Baltic Region, Russia has a numerical superiority in conventional forces and this is difficult to compensate for with nuclear deterrence that was the lifeline for the Western alliance during the Cold War. What is the solution?
An enduring aspect of war is the need for the best leadership and command methods. Small nations have had victories in the past not least because of superior leadership, as in the Baltic wars of independence or the Finnish Winter War. This experience is clearly affecting command philosophies and trends in the Baltic region now. But, obviously, we need to ask ourselves, how to best learn from that history in peacetime in the 21st century?
Without assuming that one can draw examples from the past and apply them directly in the present, history does provide a lot of material for thinking about current issues outside the customary and the routine. On 22-23 September 2020, the Baltic Defence College, the Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum and the Estonian Defence Academy will organise an international military history conference, “Small but Capable? Quality against Mass in Military History”. We look forward to receiving paper and panel proposals to discuss questions related to small state capability, in particular:
War and the small states: the ground for success and failures against a greater opponent,
Small wars and questions about filling the battlespace: how to act when there is no strategic depth? How do build up an operational concept for a small state?
Leadership and war: what are the best methods to achieve victory by leadership and command philosophy? What are the lessons that we can learn from historical examples?
How much can we affect leadership qualities by education?
Please send an abstract of up to 4,000 characters and a brief, one-page CV in English by Information concerning Covid-19: The organizers are aware of the challenges ahead and will monitor the situation as it progresses. We hope to have passed the crisis by the time of our Conference. If any challenges occur the organizers will do their best to cope with them in an efficient and timely manner. Additional measures will be taken as per guidance of the host nation government. Leading up to the conference the participants will be given an overview of the situation in Estonia (and Tartu). Contingency plan will be in place if the Conference has to be postponed or cancelled.
1 June 2020 to conference(at)esm.ee and milhist(at)baltdefcol.org.
Th¬e length of presentations will be 20 minutes. Articles based on presentations will be published in the Estonian Yearbook of Military History in 2021. ¬The organizers will cover the travel and accommodation costs of speakers. This conference is the 11th annual Baltic military history conference of the Baltic Defence College, and also the successor to the 11th international military history conference held by the Estonian War Museum in 2019.
Officers on maneuvers at Old Irboska graveyard looking to the east towards Estonian-Russian border. The village is nowadays located in Russia (Estonian Film Archives)