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American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (A Council on Foreign Relations Book) [Kindle Edition]

Richard K. Betts
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

While American national security policy grew more interventionist after the Cold War, Washington hoped to shape the world on the cheap. Misled by the stunning success against Iraq in 1991, administrations of both parties pursued ambitious aims with limited force, committing the military frequently but often hesitantly, with inconsistent justification. These ventures produced strategic confusion, unplanned entanglements, and indecisive results. This collection of essays by Richard K. Betts, a leading scholar of international politics, investigates the American use of force since the Cold War, suggesting guidelines for making it more selective and more successful.

Betts brings his extensive knowledge of twentieth-century American diplomatic and military history to bear on the full range of theory and practice in national security, surveying Cold War roots of recent initiatives and arguing U.S. policy was always more unilateral than liberal theorists believe. He exposes mistakes in humanitarian interventions and peace operations; reviews the issues raised by terrorism and modern nuclear, biological, and cyber weapons; evaluates the case for preventive war, which almost always proves wrong; weighs the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam; assesses the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia; quells concerns about civil-military relations; reveals the anomalies of recent defense budgets; and confronts the practical barriers to effective strategy. Betts argues for more caution and restraint, yet encourages more decisive action when force is required and a calmer assessment of national security interests, even in the face of of global instability and unfamiliar threats.

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Editorial Reviews


Highly recommended for aficionados of foreign-policy and national-security issues.

(Kirkus Reviews)

a lucid and insightful guide to the use of armed force as an instrument of U.S. power.

(American Conservative)

Betts combines serious thought, common sense, and deep historical knowledge, rather than simply applying abstract theories, and his conclusions are expressed in plain English

(Lawrence D. Freedman Foreign Affairs)

This volume is instructive for policy makers and would be engaging and provocative in the classroom.... Recommeded.


American Force deserves to be widely read and debated.

(Scott A. Silverstone H-Diplo Roundtable)

Richard Betts has written an extremely important book that is probably the best critique of the prevalent bipartisan thinking on post-Cold War foreign policy produced to date.... [Betts] has already written four or five classics in the field, and this book adds another to that remarkable list.

(Michael O'Hanlon Political Science Quarterly 1900-01-00)

Betts provides a sobering and bluntly honest critique of US force. He does so through clear writing and argument.

(David Ryan International Affairs 1900-01-00)

American Force is a well-reasoned and thoughtful critique of the current U.S. national security environment, one that policymakers should not ignore.

(Thomas Meagher H-War)


Richard K. Betts offers fresh thinking about where America stands in the world in the early twenty-first century and how this nation can move forward most sensibly in the defense of its territory and global interests. In short, this is an outstanding effort. There is no other book quite like it.

(Loch K. Johnson, University of Georgia)

Product Details

  • File Size: 1400 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 13, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0067QA6LE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #579,537 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fine book by Richard Betts May 23, 2012
I have used Richard Betts' work for my international business and international relations for global managers courses for a number of years. I found his Conflict After the Cold War: Arguments On Causes Of War And Peace (3rd edition, I believe) to be particularly helpful in quickly teaching students about conflicts of various kinds in the post-Cold War years. His new book, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security, is also a helpful supplemental reader for various International Relations or 20th century history courses where conflict and strategizing are important. The book is well-written and well-argued. I did have some trouble with his conclusion in some of the chapters, but these would be helpful points of discussion in a course and do not detract at all from this fine book.
Just to note one quick example, in chapter 10, the book asked if 'Strategy was an illusion.' I hear this a lot in studying a range of strategic plans and action, from security studies and diplomacy, to scenario planning in business, to business plans and positioning in management and entrepreneurship. Just because a 'plan' is not fully implemented, and just because you end up veering far from your original strategy, or otherwise 'got lucky' along the way (Professor Betts uses Churchill in WWII as an example) does not mean that strategy is not useful. This would be like saying a business plan is not useful because you end up not following it anyway after one year, or its financials are not valuable because you change things so much anyway and they must be almost totally revised. A strategy is a helpful reference point, whether you are a country or a company (or government agency).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-thought out discussions on US' security policy August 31, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
After going through several books to share with my class(es), I found Betts' book. It is a well-thought out book with broad discussions on not just pitfalls of U.S.' national security but common sense solutions anchored by historical lessons. I recommend this book both to the casual political observer to students of government studies.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read September 5, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Now is as good a time as ever to become educated on the history of American intervention since the end of the Cold War as well as their successes and failures and how we should best intervene in the future so as to maximize our foreign policy goals and minimize the cost in blood and treasure.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In "American Force" Richard Betts Hits a Home Run December 23, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A thoughtful examination of the use of force in U.S. national security policy. His insights are helpful to both the expert and the casual reader. If you want to have a better understanding of America's role in the world, and the dangers we face in the future, this is must read.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrid April 1, 2012
By sa521
I was forced to read this book for a review. The amount of typos is appalling. In the same sentence that he thanks his editor there is a typo! On the main cover there are not only typos but tons of grammatical errors. The book has almost no organization, it's as if he dumped his ideas into a hat and randomly pulled them out and started writing. While he might be knowledgeable, the book is a nightmare to try to read. There are run on sentences and incorrect word usage and it completely destroys his book since his paragraphs are nonsensical. My brain shuts down trying to comprehend what he's getting at (there are sentences where he meant to put "but" but used "and") and it is exhausting to mentally fill in what he must have meant while writing. This book needs about 100 more rounds of editing and was extremely disappointing.
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