Academic journal article Parameters

Who Wins? Predicting Strategic Success and Failure in Armed Conflict

Academic journal article Parameters

Who Wins? Predicting Strategic Success and Failure in Armed Conflict

Article excerpt

Who Wins? Predicting Strategic Success and Failure in Armed Conflict

By Patricia L. Sullivan

New York: Oxford University Press, 2012 177 pages $27.95

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Patricia L. Sullivan's Who Wins? seeks to understand why strong states so often are unable to achieve their aims in wars against weaker adversaries. She demonstrates that the reason rests not merely with the belligerents' resolve or their strategic choices, but rather with the nature of the political objectives they pursue. In particular, she argues strong states are most likely to succeed when their aim is to seize territory from a weaker opponent or overthrow its regime. By contrast, victory is least likely to follow attempts to coerce a weaker adversary into changing its behavior.

This is a timely and important study, one that illuminates the relationship between political objectives, the value that statesmen and soldiers attach to them, and victory. Two centuries ago, Carl von Clausewitz wrote about the correlation between the value a state attaches to its ends and the means it uses to achieve them:

   Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by
   its political object, the value of this object must determine the
   sacrifices to be made for it in magnitude and also in duration.
   Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political
   object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow.

Sullivan delves deeply into this relationship, examining different political objectives and how easy--or difficult--it has been for the stronger power to achieve its aims in war. She develops several sets of hypotheses and tests them systematically in conflicts from the end of World War I to the present. It is a thoughtful and relevant work of scholarship.

That said, one suspects that "predicting strategic success and failure in armed conflict" (the book's subtitle) using the model she describes is more an art than a science. First, one wonders just how accurately we can know a priori how much we, or our adversaries, value achieving a particular aim, or even what the precise aims of our opponents are. As she points out in her recapitulation of conflict between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the United States (31-43), such estimates are often mistaken and frequently plagued by misperception. …

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