Magazine article The Spectator

The Case of the Lurking Paradigm

Magazine article The Spectator

The Case of the Lurking Paradigm

Article excerpt

THE UTILITY OF FORCE : THE ART OF WAR IN THE MODERN WORLD by Rupert Smith Allen Lane, £20, pp. 428, ISBN 0713998369 . £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

The gung-ho photo on the dust jacket -- battle fatigues, the red beret of the Paras, eyes narrowed to determined slits -- suggests a touch of the Paddy Ashdowns.

But that is at odds with the picture of the author that emerges from this his first book: 'For my part, I do not think I have been in action in the broadest sense for more than about six of my 37 years of commissioned service.' Yet as military careers go in an age of peace-keeping and humanitarian intervention, General Sir Rupert Smith's has not been exactly uneventful. As a young company commander in the 1970s he was blown up by the IRA in Crossmaglen; years later, as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, he was held personally responsible by the Beijing press when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was hit in an air strike.

Retiring three years ago, he decided against writing his memoirs. Instead he distilled his long professional experience into this extended argument for doing things differently. His first sentence -- 'War no longer exists' -- is certainly arresting, although he quickly restates the matter rather less baldly:

War as battle in a field between men and machinery, war as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs: such war no longer exists.

In its place we have what he terms 'war amongst the people', a combination of guerrilla and revolutionary warfare characterised by a dynamic not of war and peace but of confrontation and conflict. Forces in Europe have shrunk, but retain the form and equipment intended for other battles in another age. We now conduct operations with 'softer' sub-strategic objectives, intervening to establish a situation in which political objectives can be achieved by other means.

Smith dismisses 'War on Terror' as a form of words 'without useful meaning'. It is, he maintains, a confrontation in which the terrorist is demonstrating a better understanding of the utility of force in serving his political purpose than those who are opposed to him -- both political leaders and military establishments.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, he admires Napoleon, in particular because of his emphasis on flexibility and organisational mobility -- his opponents, for the first 15 years of his campaigns, were still operating within time-honoured conventions of organisation and structure. (It was, incidentally, not Napoleon but Renan, in his Dialogue et fragments philosophiques, who said that God was on the side that had the best artillery. ) Smith is not a uniformly good stylist:

'The end of the Cold War unmasked the new paradigm that had long been lurking, although it was not necessarily comprehended as such.' It would also have been an editorial kindness to talk him out of his weakness for statements of the obvious -- 'an armed force may be made up of either regular or irregular forces, but there is a difference'; or again, 'a landlocked country will not usually have a navy.' Lenin's 1902 pamphlet What is to be Done? argued for a party of professional revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of tsarism. Smith borrows the title for his concluding chapter: 'Whilst I do not suggest his radical approach, ' he writes modestly, 'I do advocate a revolution in our thinking. …

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