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CKR on The Utility of Force

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Cheryl Rofer pens a thoughtful review General Rupert Smith’s highly regarded The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage):

…So that long-ago post was naïve, but now I’m pleased to find that a military guy agrees with me. General Rupert Smith has written a book about how war has changed in the past couple of centuries. He documents the development of what he calls “industrial war,” the sort of war that mobilizes and destroys entire industrial societies, the world wars of the twentieth century, the mental model of war that we have carried into the twenty-first. Napoleon started it, and the industrial culmination, the utilization of the energy from smashed atoms, finished it.”War no longer exists,” as Smith begins his book.

He distinguishes war from confrontation and conflict. War no longer exists, but confrontation and conflict are very much with us. The Cold War was a long confrontation, and what happened in Georgia was conflict after a continuing confrontation. It’s hard to imagine how or why any country would provoke an industrial war. Even if nuclear weapons had not been invented, the two world wars would probably have convinced us that we can’t do that any more. Nuclear weapons merely provide the emphatic ending.

But we still plan for industrial war, we expect our wars to follow that pattern, and the media reports wars that way. The US military is built around industrial war, as is the military-industrial complex, which, Smith tells us, has removed the flexibility to plan for any other kind of conflict. Industrial war means big, expensive weapon systems with long lead times. Big, expensive weapon systems mean big profits and continuing employment in as many congressional districts as possible. I’ll draw on some half-remembered economics to point out that money spent on weapons doesn’t benefit the economy as much as money spent on roads, schools and other ways to improve things here at home.

Read the whole thing here.

“Is there any longer a clear distincion between being at war and not being at war?”

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Courtesy of Lexington Green:

Our British friends have become alarmed at self-radicalization of British Muslims juxtaposed with the “uncertainty”effect of the EU on the national security of the U.K. and the moral malaise of the British elite. The RUSI Risk, Threat and Security: The case of the United Kingdom  (PDF) outlines a scenario where a situation recognizable as 4GW, a situation that if left unchecked, imperils primary loyalty to the British Crown.

The authors, who include General Sir Rupert Smith, are UK heavyweights and this document has the air of a call to arms reminiscent of Kennan’s X Article or the Iron Curtain speech. Fascinating.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007


A few days ago, I did a focused skim British Army General Rupert Smith’s memoir , The Utility of Force. Smith deals in detail with scenarios that readers here would recognize as “System Administration” and “4GW“, though Smith uses neither of those terms. Smith also understands that war is no longer compartmentalized but is part of a seamless arc of conflict going on at multiple levels. Interview video clip of General Smith talking to Jon Stewart here.

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