Guided by expert David R. Stone, of the US Naval War College, War in the Modern World explores the political realities, people, groups, technology, weapons, and strategies that have shaped conflicts since World War II. Define insurgency, counterinsurgency, and civil war, become familiar with modern weapons, study violent conflicts within empires, and see how large imperial powers struggled to contend with insurgency. Analyze the causes and effects of history-defining conflicts, and emerge a sharper and more informed student of history and contemporary affairs overall.
War in the Modern World
David R. Stone is the William E. Odom Professor of Russian Studies at the US Naval War College. He received his PhD in History from Yale University. He has written or edited several books on military history, including Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926–1933, which won the ASEEES Marshall D. Shulman Book Prize and the Historical Society Best First Book Prize. He is also the author of dozens of articles on Russian military history and foreign policy, and he is the expert for the Great Course World War II: Battlefield Europe.
01: Afghanistan and the Nature of Modern War
After the Second World War, the nature of war—not only where, but how it is fought—changed dramatically. In the course’s inaugural episode, begin to explore the transformation of violent conflicts between major world powers by delving into a particularly recent example: America's 20-year war in Afghanistan.
02: Nightmare Scenarios of Modern War
What kinds of wars are we likely to fight today and against whom? From the “McDonald’s theory”—referring to when a country can economically support a network of McDonald’s restaurants—to a state’s nuclear capabilities, evaluate the factors that explain why wars between great powers look different nowadays, and explore what future conflicts could look like between the United States and two of its major adversaries.
03: The Tools of Modern Warfare
New weapons are constantly being introduced in war. Discover how five contemporary technologies—the Kalashnikov assault rifle, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), guided missiles, drones, and cyber warfare—redefined the rules of battle in the modern era and leveled the playing field between world powers and insurgent groups.
04: From World War to Cold War
Travel back in time to examine the series of events that followed World War II from the allied occupation of Germany to the Greek Civil War. See how the Soviet Union contended with insurgencies in the Baltic region and explore the beginnings of a new kind of global conflict between the United States and the USSR.
05: Europe’s Exit from Colonial Asia
The future of Asia, occupied by various powers in the early 20th century, became murky after 1945. One thing was clear though: Few people wanted to see colonial occupiers reassert influence there. Here, zero in on conflicts in Indonesia, the Philippines, and India to see how geopolitics in the region transformed after the war.
06: China’s Civil War
As war raged on across the globe, China had to contend with a civil war between Mao Zedong’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party. Explore the war from its colonial roots to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and discover how the USSR and the United States became involved in the bloody conflict.
07: The Unfinished Korean War
Why did America fight a war in Korea? How did the USSR engage with the conflict? Could the United States wage a “limited” war on the peninsula like it had intended? And what are we to make of a war that ended not in peace, but in an armistice? Get to the bottom of these questions and more.
08: Britain’s Exit from Palestine, Malaya, and Kenya
In the decades that followed World War II, a flurry of well-organized rebellions exploded within the British Empire. Investigate the gruesome conflicts that shook postwar Palestine, Kenya, and Malaya. Determine the efficacy of British counterinsurgency tactics and discover what these confrontations reveal about war and colonialism in the postwar era.
09: France’s Vietnam War
Like the UK, France struggled to hold on to its overseas territories. Explore the fight waged by Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh to establish a communist government in his country. Learn about the complicated, bloody history of Algerian independence, and see how each of these wars highlighted the costs of both colonialism and protracted involvement in local conflicts.
10: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency
Waged by groups within a particular country, an insurgency can be defined as rebellion from below. But how does each side—the haves and have-nots—approach the fight? Examine the characteristics of insurgent and counterinsurgent warfare by looking at their application in real conflicts, as well as the strategies that guide them.
11: The Arab-Israeli Wars: Israel’s String of Triumphs
Dive into the thorny history of Israel and Palestine, from the rise of Zionism in the 19th century to the Six-Day War. See how other entities like the United Nations and Israel’s Arab neighbors navigated complex political tensions. And investigate the series of Arab-Israeli wars that shaped the region into what it is today.
12: The Arab-Israeli Wars: Victory without Peace
The Six-Day War, though a testament to Israel’s military might, did not resolve its problems. Explore how the Israeli state dealt with instability both inside of and beyond its borders post-1967. Follow the events that led to the historic Camp David and Oslo Accords. And examine contemporary clashes between Israel and hostile groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
13: India-Pakistan: The Enduring Rivalry
In the 1960s, India and Pakistan went to war over the northern territory of Kashmir. But why? What can history reveal about the territorial anxieties facing both nations? And how did global powers like the United States respond to the violent conflicts that engulfed the subcontinent after World War II? Answer these key questions here.
14: The World War That Never Happened
Having explored so many volatile conflicts thus far, one question comes to mind: Why hasn’t World War III happened yet? From the dawn of atomic power to the Cuban Missile Crisis, discover how nuclear weapons fundamentally changed the way that great powers engage with each other globally.
15: America’s Vietnam War
The war in Vietnam remains one of America’s most salient military losses, testing just how far the United States was willing to go in the global battle against communism. Focus on America’s war in Vietnam by examining the history and military strategy behind the conflict across two decades and three US presidencies.
16: The Soviet War in Afghanistan
While America struggled to beat back communism in Vietnam, the Soviet Union fought a costly, unsuccessful war of its own in Afghanistan. What factors contributed to the loss? Why were Afghans so resistant to the USSR and the Soviet-aligned People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan?
17: Latin America’s Revolutionary Wars
Investigate the scale and scope of violent conflicts in Latin America. Start by examining the lead up to a civil war in Guatemala. Investigate the rise of communism in Cuba through the life of Fidel Castro. Then, take a closer look at the violence surrounding a right-wing government in Chile and a left-wing government in Nicaragua in the late 20th century.
18: The War for the Falklands
What did war at sea look like in the post-World War II era? The infamous clash between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falklands might offer some clarity. Explore the causes and effects of the Falklands war. Investigate why Britain succeeded and Argentina did not. And discover the importance of anti-ship cruise missiles.
19: Africa’s Modern World War: Rwanda and Congo
Civil wars are some of the deadliest contemporary conflicts we fight, but are they more common now than they were before the Second World War? Understand what it really means to fight a civil war and learn about the extraordinarily violent conflicts that tore Congo and Rwanda apart.
20: The Iraq-Iran War
The 1980 Iran-Iraq War fundamentally changed geopolitics in the region; human costs aside, the conflict altered international relations in the 21st century. Delve into a three-way rivalry between Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia that eventually blossomed into war, and understand how the United States fit into the mix.
21: Desert Storm: The US versus Iraq
Why did Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait, and how did the United States retaliate? Focus on one of the most important post-Cold War military conflicts: the Persian Gulf War. Examine the importance of international coalition building and see how Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein became emboldened by the fight.
22: Yugoslavia’s Civil Wars
Intense ethnic conflicts plagued Yugoslavia for more than a century. In the 1990s, just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, these internal tensions manifested in war on the European continent. Dive into the history of the Bosnian War and how the so-called “new world order” contended with violent conflict in Europe.
23: A New Russian Empire?
War and the decline of great empires often go hand in hand. So was the story of the Soviet Union, a sprawling empire that collapsed in 1991. Investigate how the Russian Federation tried to reassert dominance over the former Soviet bloc by starting wars with Georgia, Chechnya, and Ukraine.
24: Iraq and ISIS in the War on Terror
Finish the course by exploring America’s nine-year war in Iraq, from the first Gulf War to the withdrawal of US troops in 2011. Start by exploring the ideology that drove the US invasion. Chart the rise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and ISIS and conclude by examining why the United States could not bring democracy to Iraq.