Or the idea that the existence of nuclear weapons would scare the world into renouncing state-on-state violence altogether.
The existence of nukes certainly has something to do with the declining incidence of state-on-state war. See for instance, the Korean War, whose strategic logic was decisively altered by the entry of a second nuclear power, China, into the conflict.
And so there are nuclear weapons, which make (conventional, high intensity) wars between states possessing them redundant. Or so it seems. And given the overwhelming military dominance of the US and its allies, states without nukes will leverage up by waging unconventional war, or “wars among the people”, in General Sir Rupert Smith’s phrase, and so, extrapolating, every future war will look like some mix of occupation Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon ’06. Additionally, war is no longer fought to destroy the enemy, but to “but to create a condition in which the strategic result is achieved, the strategic object being to alter the opponent’s intentions rather than to destroy him” (Smith).
Furthermore, the emerging constitutional order, the market state, has unique vulnerabilities, as well as providing unique opportunities to its enemies (for example, the commoditisation of WMD). The market state will therefore call forth a unique opponent: a multinational, globalised terror network that mimics the market state, at once its apogee and its antithesis. And the functional logic of Al Qaeda, the nascent form of this terror network, is no different from our own: to create the strategic conditions necessary for success, rather than to destroy us.
If we want to make the distinction (and it is probably a useful one) per Colin Gray, war will always be war, but something very interesting is happening to warfare. And we should not abandon our conventional capacities (especially the UK, which has little resources for anything else), but that level of conventional capacity (plus nukes) nevertheless makes its use unlikely. So we are left with Smith’s wars amongst the people and Bobbit’s market state terrorism, two interrelated problems for which our institutions were not designed and are poorly equipped to deal with.