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The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World

General Rupert Smith, Knopf, 2007, 416 pages, $30.

Frustrated with endless struggles in Iraq, Palestine, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Balkans? General Smith says these nasty, interminable conflicts are going to be with us for some time, so we must reorganize, retrain, and develop the ability to deal with them. Having served in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland, the author has a rich background on which to base his beliefs. Smith identifies current trends, including having to deal with hostile groups instead of enemy states, fighting among civilian populations instead of on unoccupied terrain, and engaging in near-endless operations to reach ill-defined, fluid aims.

The general says we must be prepared to accept goals that only contain opponents, not defeat them, operate within the Geneva Conventions despite outrageous provocations, employ mixed task forces of military and nonmilitary organizations, and do all this under ambiguous, sometimes international command arrangements. It’s informative if not encouraging.


Originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here