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Military Power

Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle

Stephen Biddle
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: STU - Student edition
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7s19h
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s19h
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  • Book Info
    Military Power
    Book Description:

    In war, do mass and materiel matter most? Will states with the largest, best equipped, information-technology-rich militaries invariably win? The prevailing answer today among both scholars and policymakers is yes. But this is to overlook force employment, or the doctrine and tactics by which materiel is actually used. In a landmark reconception of battle and war, this book provides a systematic account of how force employment interacts with materiel to produce real combat outcomes. Stephen Biddle argues that force employment is central to modern war, becoming increasingly important since 1900 as the key to surviving ever more lethal weaponry. Technological change produces opposite effects depending on how forces are employed; to focus only on materiel is thus to risk major error--with serious consequences for both policy and scholarship.

    In clear, fluent prose, Biddle provides a systematic account of force employment's role and shows how this account holds up under rigorous, multimethod testing. The results challenge a wide variety of standard views, from current expectations for a revolution in military affairs to mainstream scholarship in international relations and orthodox interpretations of modern military history.

    Military Powerwill have a resounding impact on both scholarship in the field and on policy debates over the future of warfare, the size of the military, and the makeup of the defense budget.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3782-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    What causes victory and defeat in battle? Why do the winners win and the losers lose? What makes some campaigns bloody stalemates and others apparent cakewalks? How can states maximize their odds of winning and minimize their casualties? And are the answers changing in the information age? Will new technology or changing geopolitics transform warfare, creating new winners—and new losers—on the battlefields of the future?

    These are life-and-death questions, and not just for soldiers. They affect everyone: from infantrymen on the battlefield to office workers in the World Trade Center to entire nations and peoples. German victories in...

  2. CHAPTER TWO A Literature Built on Weak Foundations
    (pp. 14-27)

    This chapter argues that an enormous range of scholarship and policymaking rests on ideas about capability, yet this intellectual foundation is too weak to bear the weight. To do this, I first review existing ideas and trace their influence. I then critique them both theoretically and empirically. I conclude by showing how the results point to force employment at the tactical and operational levels of war as the best avenue for improvement.

    Existing ideas fall into three broad classes: numerical preponderance, technology, and force employment.

    Napoleon once said that “God is on the side of the big battalions,” summarizing concisely...

  3. CHAPTER THREE The Modern System
    (pp. 28-51)

    My central claim is that force employment is a powerful—and explicable—determinant of capability. But which aspects of force employment are most important? Commanders make hundreds of decisions in war; doctrinal manuals fill thousands of pages with prescriptions and instructions—which warrant theoretical attention? And how do these prescriptions affect capability? By what process does force employment interact with preponderance and technology to produce military outcomes?

    To answer these questions I look to the First World War. This conflict introduced the central problem of modern warfare: how to conduct meaningful military operations in the face of radical firepower. And...

  4. CHAPTER FOUR The Modern System, Preponderance, and Changing Technology
    (pp. 52-77)

    By 1918, Germany, Britain, and France had thus identified an essentially common doctrinal solution to the problem of radical lethality. This solution, the modern system, proved hard to implement, but where fully exploited it shielded armies from the storm of steel and enabled effective operations on an otherwise impossibly lethal battlefield.

    But what does 1918 have to do with today? Technology has changed dramatically, and troop strengths have varied widely since then. Does none of this matter?

    Technology and preponderance do matter. Their role, however, is different—and smaller—than typically assumed. And even today, this role is bound inextricably...

  5. CHAPTER FIVE Operation Michael—The Second Battle of the Somme, March 21–April 9, 1918
    (pp. 78-107)

    How do the respective theories fare against the evidence? In this chapter I present the first of three case method tests. Operation Michael, the German offensive in the Second Battle of the Somme, fought on the western front between March 21 and April 9, 1918, is a case with special leverage for the theories under study here. The results, which tend to corroborate the new theory but contradict the orthodox alternatives, thus warrant a greater shift in confidence than would typically be possible from a single case study.

    I develop this argument in six steps. First, I discuss the problem...

  6. CHAPTER SIX Operation Goodwood—July 18–20, 1944
    (pp. 108-131)

    This chapter provides a further test of the new theory with a case study of Operation Goodwood, the penultimate Allied attempt to break out of the Normandy beachhead in July 1944. In particular, I argue that if orthodox theories were correct, then Goodwood should have been a dramatic offensive success—by contrast with Michael, systemic technology and numerical imbalance here were asoffense-dominant in orthodox terms as any in the twentieth century. The new theory, by contrast, predicts offensive failure: a non–modern-system attacker struck a modern-system defender. In fact, the British offensive did fail, and the details of how...

  7. CHAPTER SEVEN Operation Desert Storm—January 17–February 28, 1991
    (pp. 132-149)

    This chapter provides a final case method test in Operation Desert Storm, the Coalition offensive in the Persian Gulf War from January 17 to February 28, 1991. I argue that the details of Desert Storm’s conduct contradict orthodox theories’ implications, while sustaining the new theory’s. The Gulf War has proven powerfully influential for today’s defense debate. Yet the war’s main lesson for most observers—that technology is now decisive—is inconsistent with the war’s actual conduct. The Coalition’s radically low loss rate in the Gulf cannot be explained without considering force employment—and its nonlinearinteractionwith technology—as the...

  8. CHAPTER EIGHT Statistical Tests
    (pp. 150-180)

    I turn now from small-ncase method to large-nstatistical analysis. Statistical methods enjoy a number of advantages, including a stronger claim to external validity and a more systematic treatment of chance and happenstance than case method can provide. Statistical analysis also suffers from some important drawbacks, however. For my purposes, the most important is data availability. The new theory turns on force employment, yet political science has systematically overlooked its role in warfare—hence none of the standard datasets treats it.¹ Moreover, even the standard data are of uneven quality and coverage. Taken alone, large-ntesting would thus fall...

  9. CHAPTER NINE Experimental Tests
    (pp. 181-189)

    I now turn to the final approach for testing the new theory: computer simulation experimentation. Alone among the methods used in this book, experimentation allows conditions of theoretical importance but historical rarity to be examined. This provides a degree of insulation against the problem of selection on wars; it also allows a direct look at an important prediction of the new theory for which no historical cases are yet available: what if advanced, late-twentieth-century weapons were directed at a fully modern-system opponent?

    Like all methods, experimentation has drawbacks. Most important, it requires simulation rather than observation of real warfare. This...

  10. CHAPTER TEN Conclusion
    (pp. 190-208)

    The most influential ideas about capability heretofore have centered on material factors: which side has more troops or weapons? Whose weapons are superior? How sophisticated is their technology? Does that technology favor attack or defense? These issues frame the public discussion of defense policy and the use of force. They dominate the formal models that inform decision making throughout the U.S. Defense Department and in many other Western governments. And they underpin the treatment of force and power in international relations theory.

    I have argued, however, that material factors alone cannot explain capability as we have observed it over the...

  11. APPENDIX A Formal Model of Capability
    (pp. 209-239)