Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Warfare and Empires

Book Cover

Book Title

Warfare and Empires: Contact and Conflict Between European and Non-European Military and Maritime Forces and Cultures (Series: An Expanding World Vol. 24). Aldershot; Brookfield, VT.: Variorum, 1997


Peers, Douglas M. (ed.), C.R. Boxer, G.V. Scammell, Peter Paret, John Guilmartin


The temptation to see European expansion as inextricably bound up with war would not come as a surprise to the soldiers, sailors, and traders of Europe who by 1800 were so deeply implicated in Europe's bid for global domination. It is common for most historians to acknowledge the bloodshed which attended European expansion, yet a considerable number failed to probe into the reasons as to why the use of force was so commonplace, what had informed the combatants' choice of strategies and tactics, what combination of factors lay behind the success or defeat, and what consequences such wars had upon European and indigenous societies.

This book is a collection of articles which would consider the dynamic roles played by the armies and navies in shaping the institutions, processes and cultures of imperial rule. In addition, the book strives to be rid of the stereotypes too often assigned to non-European institutions such as the indigenous armies and navies. Thus, it will explore the cultural and political contexts where colonial armies and navies and those of their opponents had to operate.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

To students of the empires in Asia, some chapters are worth noting for the themes that they have explored with relation to the interaction between European and Asian parties. The chapter "Notes on Early European Military Influences in Japan, 1543-1853" written by C.R. Boxer, "Indigenous Assistance in the Establishment of Portuguese Power in Asia in the Sixteenth Century" by G.V. Scammell and "Colonial Experience and European Military Reform at the End of the Eighteenth Century" by Peter Paret.

Part One provides essays that treat general questions about the links of armed forces with the issues of the European expansion. Part Two covers the question of how helpful the so-called European military revolution is for European success and/or defeat. Part Three addresses the importance of indigenous allies and assistance in securing European domination as well as the potential of local communities to accommodate European pressures. Finally, Part Four evaluates successes and failures experienced by Europeans and indigenous peoples in adapting to each other's tactics, organization, technology and even environment.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

Colonel C.E. Callwell has several influences in the examination of the topic of European exceptionalism at least in terms of military strength. He had denigrated military skills, organization and potential of non-European peoples, enhanced by his insistence that the major obstacle Europeans encountered was the physical environment. Thus, Callwell's perspective continues to at least crop up implicitly in many writings on this topic.

Peers asserts that there is a need for a closer examination of what effects the use of military and naval forces outside Europe had upon domestic European institutions, attitudes and ideologies, both within the army and navy and without. In this way, one is compelled to re-write the histories of both the domestic situation in Europe and its colonial context since warfare would have had a great impact on the situation within both parties.

Yet, the author believes that in order to move beyond the constraints imposed by historians operating within the traditions and assumptions of western society is that the definition of war is too narrowly derived and dependent upon European historical precedents. Hence, John Guilmartin's essay on how war was understood in the Ottoman Empire demonstrates this idea, operating with a set of assumptions concerning war different from those of their Christian rivals.

Authors here argue that aggression might have occurred because it suited the personal ambition of the man on the spot. The domestic consequences for militarized imperialism deserve more careful scrutiny, for colonial service may have, as one recent study of Britain suggests, 'kept feudomilitary forces in Britain at a distance from state power and helped create a paradox of liberalism and imperialism subsisting in the same political system.

Finally, the author proposed that technology is not a neutral basis of comparison, since it was not a simple rejection of technology that accounts for the military setbacks experienced by non-European peoples. Instead, either the weapons cannot be secured in sufficient quantities or they were not effectively integrated into existing forms of military organization. In the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, the Islamic 'gunpowder empires' of Asia were the closest equivalent to today's superpowers, and that the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal regimes were capable of raising armies that were far larger than anything the Europeans could launch against them. Additionally, there were smaller empires of Burma and which also in this period an ambitious program of territorial aggrandizement and were participateing in local arms races. Though by the nineteenth century the dominance of European military was established and colonial conquests had become fully consolidated European military hegemony was never complete, nor was it allowed to pass unchallenged. Empires won by the sword were to a large degree maintained by the sword.

Annotated by Michelle Djong