Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World by Rupert Smith

Amazon.com link

General Rupert Smith (UK, Ret.) wrote this after reflection on 40 years of service, including UN duty in the Balkans. The theme of the book is that the nature of conflict has changed, and those who think about the use of national power (diplomatic, information, military, economic). Smith identifies 6 major trends:

- The ends for which we fight are changing
- We fight amongst the people
- Our conflicts tend to be timeless
- We fight so as not to lose the force
- On each occasion new uses are found for old weapons
- The sides are mostly non-state

As he discusses the evolution of modern conflict, and the information(media) and intelligence focus (as opposed to purely physical) of future conflict, he has as a backdrop the United Nations intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s. And the ineffectiveness of the UN forces there, culminating in the massacre of 7,000+ Bosnians by the Serbs in the "safe area" of Srebrenica. Smith points out that the UN members essentially employed a tactic (use of blocking forces) to counter a strategy (Serbian desire to dominate the Balkans) and the Serbians used a wide range of means (propaganda, military, diplomatic) to make the UN military forces irrelevant.

Smith is mostly documenting a problem, one that he views as difficult, and something for U.S. and western nations need to deal with. Because as long as there is a desire to have a world that is not full of the arbitrary violence, ethnic massacres, generators of hate, the west and those that have allied with them will ask their militaries and other instruments of power to enter these parts of the world. And these militaries will have to learn how to operate in these settings. Smith's challenge is that they be sent in a thoughtful way, that the ends are considered with the quality, quantity and purpose of the forces made appropriate to the ends desired. And just how you decide this, are lessons yet to be learned.

This is not an easy book to read. Every passage is meant to be read, then the consequences of every idea thought through. Even the descriptions of historical events have to be mulled in consideration of many facets and the environment around them. But the reader is rewarded with many considerations of thought and issues to debate. And a context for reading anything else in this subject area.
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