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Topic section: Is invention the mother of war?
Is invention the mother of war?
Can the development of key inventions encourage a country to go to war? In 2002, the United States and Britain were concerned that Saddam Hussein would use
A country is rarely (if ever) in a position to declare war on a rival as soon as it has made a technical breakthrough
 newly-developed weapons of mass destruction on neighbouring countries, a concern which led to the Second Gulf War of March–April 2003. The Haber-Bosch process is frequently mentioned as a breakthrough which enabled Germany to go to war in 1914. This chemical process produced ammonia from coal, air and water, which was converted into nitric acid, a crucial material for the manufacture of high explosives such as TNT. Through the Four Year Plan of 1936, Nazi Germany set out to arm itself for war by developing new technologies and boosting production.
Picture: 02_10250546.jpg
After Hitler seized power in 1933, he pushed for greater German self-sufficiency in raw materials.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

However, in different ways, these examples show how rarely technology affects the timetables of political leaders and their military advisors. Far from seizing the opportunity offered by the Haber-Bosch process, Germany’s military command had not given any thought to the supply of nitrogen at all. It was only after the war began that attention was given to the development of a war economy. Initially, the Haber-Bosch process could produce only a small proportion of Germany’s needs for nitrogen-based explosives, and other sources were more important until 1917. Two decades later, the Four Year Plan aimed to make Germany self-sufficient in various sectors, including synthetic rubber and synthetic fuel. These new technologies had been developed in the 1920s, but were still at the pilot plant stage. Although the Four Year Plan would not be completed until 1940, Hitler aimed to start a war as early as 1937 and the new industries were still under development when war broke out.

Neither opportunism nor rational planning of new technologies sits easily with military planning, which has its own dynamic and its own timetable. A country is rarely (if ever) in a position to declare war on a rival as soon as it has made a technical breakthrough. The classic example is America’s failure to make war on the Soviet Union while it had a monopoly of nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Germans did not use nerve gas during the Second World War. Fortunately, it appears that international law can limit opportunism.
Picture: 02_10306646.jpg
Fritz Haber and the Channel Islander Robert Le Rossignol first produced ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen in 1909.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 The usefulness of technology in a war usually comes about as a result of a frantic scramble to enlist all available technologies after the war has begun.

The Second Gulf War could be considered to be an exception. It was the continuing development of technologically advanced weapons by the two allies, while Iraq was constrained from rearming by international sanctions, that enabled the Second Gulf War to take place. Allied military planners were confident that the pinpoint use of munitions on a massive scale (‘shock and awe’) would cause the rapid collapse of the Iraqi armed forces with the minimum loss of allied personnel. While inventions can have a major impact on war, they are rarely, if ever, the direct causes of war.

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Topic section: Is war the mother of invention?
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Some inventions, such as the bouncing bomb or napalm, are genuine wartime inventions, but many military breakthroughs, including tanks and radar, were already being developed before war broke out. Is war the mother of invention or a hothouse for innovations?  > more

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Topic section: Do inventions and war go hand-in-hand?
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Could wars be connected with economic cycles? It has been argued that the development of new technologies is associated with long economic waves. Can the outbreak of wars be connected to these spurts of innovation?  > more
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