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

By Bolia, Robert | Naval War College Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

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


Bolia, Robert, Naval War College Review


NOT THE DAYS OF CLAUSEWITZ Smith, General Sir Rupert. The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World. London: Penguin, 2005. 428pp. £25

Military theorists around the globe have noted changes in the landscape of warfare-nonstate actors, asymmetric threats, technology proliferation, etc.-and suggested that the military forces currently fielded by Western nations are not equipped to respond to them. The latest product of this analysis is The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, by General Sir Rupert Smith.

Smith certainly has the appropriate credentials to write about the topic. He commanded the British 1st Armoured Division in the first Gulf war and was commander of UN forces in Bosnia at the time of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. After three years as General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, he became Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), serving as second in command to a U.S. general, Wesley Clark, during the NATO air campaign in Kosovo.

The variety of the author's experiences throughout his distinguished career is critical, because these experiences constitute the framework for his thinking about war. First, he emphasizes the importance of separately considering the effects of force at the three levels of war: tactical, operational (or theater, as Smith prefers), and strategic. Having held commands at each level, he has gained his appreciation of this firsthand. Second, much of Smith's command experience has been as part of coalitions, which he recognizes will continue to play a significant role in future warfare. Finally, he taxonomizes modern warfare-which he dates from the wars of Napoleon-into three distinct forms of war, corresponding roughly to three historical periods: interstate industrial war, the Cold War (which he regards as primarily an anomaly of the era of mutually assured destruction), and "war amongst the people. …

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