While Mueller's general argument strikes me as sound, I'm mystified with the way the paper is suffused with what seems like an unjustified optimism about the evolution of human culture away from mass violence. He goes to quite considerable lengths at times to explain and rationalize the supposed centrality of socially anomalous irregulars (noting repeatedly, almost without exception, that such groups are "often drunken") to modern conflict; the quest to absolve "regular people" of guilt for genocidal atrocities is, for me, alternatingly encouraging and desperate.
The concluding section of the paper, entitled "Extrapolations," is where the future "remnants" argument is most clearly delineated.
[...] Martin van Creveld has proclaimed [in The Transformation of War, 1991] that we have entered a "new era," in which "war will not be waged by armies but by groups whom we today call terrorists, guerrillas, bandits, and robbers." Banditry and depredations by roving militias are hardly new of course, but [Michael] Ignatieff and van Creveld may be correct in suggesting that regular soldiers are no longer engaging in combat nearly as much as they used to. It is not, as van Creveld would have it, that low-intensity conflict has risen to "dominance." Rather it is that, increasingly, warfare of that sort is the only kind still going on--war by thugs is the residual, not the emerging, form.
Moreover, if some states (like Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Rwanda) came to depend on irregulars, it is not because they find this approach preferable, but because they are unable to muster an adequate number of recruits to field a real army. And if, again like Serbia and Rwanda, but unlike Croatia and Bosnia [which were, in this telling, saved from early dependence on the ethnic protection rackets of purportedly nationalist militias by military professionalization and the intervention of professional western forces, respectively], they continue to rely on such corrupt, opportunistic, inept, and often cowardly forces, they are likely eventually to go down in pathetic defeat.To which I can only respond: are we quite sure?
If irregulars are "corrupt, opportunistic, inept, and often cowardly" by definition, then who can argue? But this strikes me as a bit of truistic question-begging to justify Mueller's optimism about the obsolescence of war: if warring parties are increasingly dependent on marginalized elements of society as instruments of violence, and those elements are increasingly detached from the martial attributes that generate combat effectiveness, then surely they'll be easily defeated by capable peacekeepers or police -- the at least minimally-capable tools of the advanced and morally elevated state... right? If all that is true, though, then we have to ask: why is it taking so long?
What I really want to focus on, though, is the section I've italicized above: "if some states... came to depend on irregulars, it is not because they find this approach preferable, but because they are unable to muster an adequate number of recruits to field a real army." This qualifying conditionality -- "if some" -- is a bit of rhetorical deftness, as it's impossible to deny that some states may have employed irregulars because of problems with recruiting, morale, or sustainment of regular forces.
But should we take this to mean that all states -- or even most states (or sub-state combatants) -- that rely on irregulars do so because of personnel inadequacies? This contention is pretty plainly false: from the post-November 2001 Taliban to the Fedayeen Saddam and associated insurgents to the Jaish al-Mahdi to the Kurds in Turkey and Iran to Lebanese Hizballah irregulars in the 2006 war to the dispersed and civvie-clad Libyan regime forces in 2011, the last decade has seen a virtual parade of organized, dedicated, coordinated fighters choosing to array themselves in irregular fashion and adopt asymmetric tactics against much stronger adversaries.
Some "wars" may be fought by disorganized, drunken thugs because they're the only ones who will show up. Participants in many others, though, depend on irregulars as a tactical adaptation devised to increase fighters' survivability and lethality. van Creveld, as it turns out, is almost certainly closer than Mueller to the truth.