Book By Gen Rupert Smith

#1
The book sounds like a heavy read, but has some interesting points:

Fighting the wrong war

By Yossi Melman

The refusal could not have come with more ironic timing. In September 2006, a major Israeli publisher sent General Rupert Smith a message to the effect that "your book is not suitable for the Israeli public." It is hard to believe how shortsighted that message was, coming about a month after the Second Lebanon War.

It is possible - and this is of course only a guess - that had the British general's book been available before the war, and especially had Israel's General Staff and government ministers read it, they would not have been so enthusiastic about going to war. The war would have been avoided, or its outcome would have been different.

The conventional wisdom is that generals and armies prepare for the last war. Not true, writes Smith: "They prepare for the wrong war." As a blatant example of that he describes his own experience: "In training and theory I was a product of the industrial war machine deemed necessary for the Cold War. And yet all the military operations I have participated in and commanded were not those of industrial war."

His book "The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World" (Vintage Books, 2007) underscores the changes that have taken place in the "art" of exercising military power. Smith says the most important change, of which many military people in the West (and apparently in Israel as well) are unaware, is that the nature of war has changed.

He begins his book with the provocative statement: "War no longer exists. Confrontation, conflict, and combat undoubtedly exist all around the world - most noticeably, but not only, in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Palestinian Territories - and states still have armed forces which they use as a symbol of power. Nonetheless, war as cognitively known to most non-combatants, war as a battle in the field between men and machinery, war as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs; such war no longer exists."

A clear example of the change in the traditional art of war is the tank. The author argues that the last significant tank battle - one of "armored formations" maneuvering against one another, assisted by artillery and the air force - took place in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 in Sinai and the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces faced off against Egypt and Syria.

Since then, tens of thousands of more tanks have been manufactured and deployed, especially by the armies of NATO and, before its demise, the Warsaw Pact: "Over the past 30 years armoured formations have either supported the application of air power and artillery, as in the 1991 and 2003 wars in Iraq or in Chechnya in 2000, or else their units and sub units have been committed piecemeal, often to provide heavily protected infantry support vehicles in urban operations such as those now undertaken by coalition forces in Iraq or by the Israelis in the occupied territories. But use of a tank as a machine of war organized in formations, designed to do battle and attain a definitive result, has not occurred during three decades."

From the colonies to the Gulf War

Rupert Smith was born in England in 1943. He is the son of a pilot from New Zealand who arrived in England during World War II and stayed in the Royal Air Force after the war. Smith, who confesses that he did not really excel at his studies and did not fit in at school, volunteered at the age of 18 to serve in the Parachute Regiment (Paras).

He served in various roles as an officer until he reached the rank of regiment commander. As an officer in the British army in the colonial period's twilight years, he served in places including Aden, Bahrain, Malaysia, Cyprus, Kenya and Northern Ireland. Between assignments he completed his studies at military schools including the military academy at Sandhurst.

During the 1980s he became the head of a British division in Germany, and afterward the commander of Britain's 1st Armoured Division that fought in Iraq in 1991. In that war against Saddam Hussein, what he wrote a short time later in his summary report is still valid, he says: He and his men were more pressured by their success than by what the enemy did.

In 1995 he was appointed commander of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia, and four years later he was NATO's deputy commander for Europe in the war against Serbia. His boss was U.S. general Wesley Clark. Their task included over two months of bombing Serbia; one of the greatest failures was hitting the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Smith explains, without evading his own responsibility, that this failure stemmed from an American mistake due to old maps on which the Chinese embassy was described as a "military warehouse." The Americans were unaware that the embassy had moved into the building, even though this was mentioned on ordinary tourist maps.

The campaign he led forced Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to end his military operation in Kosovo; Milosevic was later removed from power. The seeds were sown during that campaign that led to Kosovo's recent controversial declaration of independence.

'War amongst the people'

After reading the book and speaking to him this week in Tel Aviv (his partner is Dr. Ilana Beit El), one gets a picture of a general who not only knows how to shoot but is an intellectual as well. In his book he quotes from Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" to demonstrate the rigidity of thought that characterizes military people.

Smith's thesis on preparing the military for the wrong war definitely provides food for thought for those shaping Israel's combat philosophy against anticipated challenges from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One of his key concepts is that "industrialized war" no longer exists and has been replaced with what he defines as "war amongst the people."

According to his definition, an industrial war is characterized by the use of technology and mass, whereas a "war amongst the people is both a graphic description of modern warfare situations and a conceptual framework. It is the reality in which the people in the streets and houses and fields - all the people, anywhere - are the battlefield. Military engagements can take place anywhere in the presence of civilians. Civilians are the targets, objectives to be won, as much as an opposing force."

That is more or less what happened to the IDF in the Second Lebanon War and what is happening almost daily in Gaza. IDF commanders and other experts are thus complaining about "an asymmetric war," a war between an organized military force and guerrilla forces or terror organizations.

But Smith ridicules the use of this term. He says this definition is no more than an excuse that reflects a mentality of "losers." This is because in every battle and every war one must try to gain an asymmetric advantage. The opponent's weaknesses must be translated into achievements. The guerrilla and terror organizations that confront a stronger and superior force know how to do that well.

But Smith believes that the attempt to achieve "asymmetry" should also be adopted by the stronger party. In other words, there must be an attempt to achieve victory and register achievements even if the opponent is trying to set the rules of the game. For that purpose, suggests Smith, a campaign must be properly prepared, mainly by analyzing the anticipated situation and understanding the political implications of using force. He says Israel failed to understand this when it embarked on the Second Lebanon War after the kidnapping of Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser in July 2006.

The absence of a proper analysis and the failure to understand the central role played by the media on the modern battlefield led to Israel being seen as the loser of the Second Lebanon War, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah the victor. This is the case even though, as Smith writes, the results of the war were different, in effect.

He points out that in the fighting, Hezbollah lost many of its people and a great deal of equipment, it no longer has freedom of military activity in southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah admitted its mistake. It said it underestimated the intensity of the Israeli response, which caused a serious loss of life and property in Lebanon.

The British general asks why this happened. Because what is important in a "war amongst the people" might not be the outcome but how the war's image is shaped and how that image becomes fixed in public awareness
 
#2
Top hole book and - as suggested - extremely apposite to the IDF, not only in their operations in Lebanon but also in the Occupied Territories (as well as Iraq/Afghanistan etc etc)

As Smith himself argues, 'war amongst the poeple' is nothing new - it is simply that a century or so where industrialised warfare was, if not necessarily the norm, at least hugely significant, is now over and we are returning to a more traditional understanding of the value - and limitations - of force.
 
#3
A fact filled book that is painful beyond belief to read. He does not offer any great insight on doing things differently. A much better read on the same subject is "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century", written in a style that makes it a pleasure to read and daring to offer some honest insights and possible solutions.

[edited to correct things]
 
#4
I got the impression that he'd spent his last few months in uniform wandering the international convention circuit, taking notes to write up as a best-seller. The first half of the book in which he reviewed previous paradigms was not really anything new, and the most significant phrase in the thing was, 'war-amongst-the-people'.

An okay read but nothing ground breaking, I would have said.

Certainly DCDC's take on the whole thing when it was first published, was that the 'interesting times' which we currently inhabit are likely to be a hiatus in the on-going paradigm of industrial war, as conflict over resources, demographics and power politics once again lead us towards large scale conventional warfighting. Sumarised HERE with those for a hour or two to kill, and an overwhelming urge to become survivalists...
 
#5
fas_et_gloria said:
I got the impression that he'd spent his last few months in uniform wandering the international convention circuit, taking notes to write up as a best-seller. The first half of the book in which he reviewed previous paradigms was not really anything new, and the most significant phrase in the thing was, 'war-amongst-the-people'.

An okay read but nothing ground breaking, I would have said.

Certainly DCDC's take on the whole thing when it was first published, was that the 'interesting times' which we currently inhabit are likely to be a hiatus in the on-going paradigm of industrial war, as conflict over resources, demographics and power politics once again lead us towards large scale conventional warfighting. Sumarised HERE with those for a hour or two to kill, and an overwhelming urge to become survivalists...
Haven't spent an hour, however from 5 mins skimming the following quote does not wholly back-up this assertion:

Major interstate wars will be unlikely, because of the increasing economic interdependence of states in a globalized economy and the need to confront the symptoms of a challenging range of transnational problems, which will enhance the requirement for cooperative governance and action. Also, the potential increase in the number of nuclear‑armed states may be a further restraining factor. However, the risks of inter-state war may increase beyond 2020 when intensifying competition for resources, particularly energy and possibly food, and continued population growth result in heightened tension.

Conflict and crisis will become increasingly complex and unpredictable, both in their incidence and character, during the period to 2035, with serious interstate rivalry probably expressing itself through proxy actions by hostile groups who may or may not have issues of their own. Irregular activity will be the prevailing theme of the period out to at least 2020, based on grievance, resentment, perceived inequalities and legacy mythologies and characterized by terrorism, insurgency, serious criminality and disorder.
Edited to add - competition over limited resources is hardly the newest theme in the history of human conflict. Whether one nation state will choose to either attempt to entirely destroy, or at very least violently subjugate on a semi-permanent basis, another nation state in pursuit of dwindling resources (but increased globalisation) is not argued.
 
#6
Dilfor said:
fas_et_gloria said:
I got the impression that he'd spent his last few months in uniform wandering the international convention circuit, taking notes to write up as a best-seller. The first half of the book in which he reviewed previous paradigms was not really anything new, and the most significant phrase in the thing was, 'war-amongst-the-people'.

An okay read but nothing ground breaking, I would have said.

Certainly DCDC's take on the whole thing when it was first published, was that the 'interesting times' which we currently inhabit are likely to be a hiatus in the on-going paradigm of industrial war, as conflict over resources, demographics and power politics once again lead us towards large scale conventional warfighting. Sumarised HERE with those for a hour or two to kill, and an overwhelming urge to become survivalists...
Haven't spent an hour, however from 5 mins skimming the following quote does not wholly back-up this assertion:

Major interstate wars will be unlikely, because of the increasing economic interdependence of states in a globalized economy and the need to confront the symptoms of a challenging range of transnational problems, which will enhance the requirement for cooperative governance and action. Also, the potential increase in the number of nuclear‑armed states may be a further restraining factor. However, the risks of inter-state war may increase beyond 2020 when intensifying competition for resources, particularly energy and possibly food, and continued population growth result in heightened tension.

Conflict and crisis will become increasingly complex and unpredictable, both in their incidence and character, during the period to 2035, with serious interstate rivalry probably expressing itself through proxy actions by hostile groups who may or may not have issues of their own. Irregular activity will be the prevailing theme of the period out to at least 2020, based on grievance, resentment, perceived inequalities and legacy mythologies and characterized by terrorism, insurgency, serious criminality and disorder.
It does the way I read it, though I must admit that that was 18 months or so ago. Certainly it was the jist of the way it was presented by DG DCDC at the tail end of '06. It's easier once you reverse the order of the two paragraphs which you've quoted, so that they're in chronological order: increasingly 'interesting times' out to the 25 or 30 year point, followed by a return to an inter-state war paradigm beyond that point, as a result of demographic pressures on increasingly over-demanded global resources.

On the other hand, I can quite see Lewis Page, for one, arguing that a Rear Admiral and four or five half colonels sharing an office, have a vested interest in maintaining the Clauswitzian war-fighting oriented culture of the British military complex...
 

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#7
Arik said:
The book sounds like a heavy read, but has some interesting points:

Fighting the wrong war

In 1995 he was appointed commander of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia, and four years later he was NATO's deputy commander for Europe in the war against Serbia. His boss was U.S. general Wesley Clark. Their task included over two months of bombing Serbia; one of the greatest failures was hitting the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Smith explains, without evading his own responsibility, that this failure stemmed from an American mistake due to old maps on which the Chinese embassy was described as a "military warehouse." The Americans were unaware that the embassy had moved into the building, even though this was mentioned on ordinary tourist maps.
Call me a cynic, but I thought the 'accident' occured because 'the journos' were actually Chinese Intelligence officers who got bombed for passing info they were gathering to their Serb hosts. China knows, America knows and China knows America knows (now). Its just one of those little things. Like the Madaliene Albright (sp) bombing the RUF in Sierra Leone - they didn't. But a plane did take off with bombs. And it returned without them. And there were big explosions in Free Town..

Or is that not an open secret?
 
#8
I found it an excellent read and indeed quoted it several times in my MSc dissertation. It is very well written and readable, bearing in mind books like this are normally dry as sandpaper.

Last year I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours chatting with the general about his book and other wider matters, while he was at my office waiting.
 

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