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The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World Paperback – February 12, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In his opening remarks, Smith provocatively states, "war no longer exists." Of course, he does not mean that mass organized violence has ended; rather, he refers to the end of large-scale industrialized warfare characterized by the use of massive tank columns supported by the application of intensive air power. Smith, who spent 40 years in the British army, including service in the first Gulf War, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland, maintains the development of nuclear weapons has essentially made such warfare obsolete. Current and especially future wars fought by Western powers are likely to be low-intensity conflicts, often waged against stateless opponents. Because it is not practical or even possible to win these struggles through the application of purely military force, Smith insists a revolution, or new paradigm, must occur in our conception of these struggles. As a start, we must understand the political context in which our adversaries act. Once identified, political objectives must always drive the military efforts, Smith insists, even at the expense of "sound" military strategy. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“One of the most important books on modern warfare in the last decade. We would be better off if the United States had a few more generals like him.” —The Washington Post Book World


“An impressive and absorbing work of military analysis. . . . Smith is the Clausewitz of low-intensity conflict and peacekeeping operations. . . . He brilliantly lays bare the newfound limits of Western military power.” —The New York Times Book Review


“It is hard to overstate the devastating nature of this book as an indictment of almost everything the West has done in recent years, and is doing today.” —The Sunday Telegraph

“A closely argued, searching textbook on strategy and the efficient use of military power in the post-Cold War era.” —The New York Times

Customer Reviews

This is a book of genberally valid theory, rather than enumeration of specific cases.
Amazon Customer
In the interim, the best we can hope for is to READ THIS BOOK, get informed, and tell our fellow citizens about a new way of waging war.
Richad of Connecticut
General Rupert Smith has written an essential introduction here to the problems and paradoxes of modern warfare.
Paula L. Craig

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By WiltDurkey on May 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The first half of this book is a first rate history lesson on how the modern war fighting practices of Western military powers came about, with special emphasis on Clausewitz, Napoleon, the US Civil War and the Spanish rebellion against Napoleon (which originated the term "guerilla"). Also reviewed are some of the 20th centuries guerilla wars and how they were lost or won (not many of those) by regular armies.

This groundwork laid, the book examines how this framework of army-vs-army warfare is obsolete and is replaced by foreign "wars amongst the people" where the enemy is an irregular, rather than a standard army and where public opinion, both at home and in the country of operation, becomes paramount.

a) The need to "forget" Western concepts of overwhelming firepower in an army vs. army struggle, because no one is going to be silly enough to engage Western armies on that level for a while yet. For example, IED deaths in Iraq are partially caused by the military not taking into account the lack of truly peaceful areas in an insurgency war: soft skinned military transports become targets everywhere. While standard military doctrine thinks in terms of fronts and combat zones allowing for front line heavy armor and unprotected vehicles everywhere else.

Again and again the point is made that a competent enemy does not play to your strengths, but rather tries to exploit your weaknesses and that assuming otherwise is a good way to lose.

b) The need for clear political objectives to supplement military force - "if you gotta use force or station an army somewhere, please think of what you want to achieve with it, in political terms". And the need for the political and military efforts to complement each other. Many pages are devoted to this subject.
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69 of 73 people found the following review helpful By seydlitz89 on September 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Rupert Smith is not only a strategic thinker, but a former strategist and military commander. He has written a trully impressive book on the nature of war in the 21st Century which should be read by military professionals everywhere, and taken to heart and used to influence military operations in the pursuit of political goals, but probably won't. More on that at the end.

Smith's book has to do with war paradigms. I disagree with the use of the term, since following Thomas Kuhn it is questionable whether the term can be applied to the social sciences at all, and would prefer to use the term "ideal types" to describe Smith's concepts. Smith is however aware of the pitfalls but insists that we have essentially entered into a new form of war that although linked with the past (as Smith points out, Clausewitz identified the beginnings of this paradigm in the early 19th Century), is diffent from what we knew as "war" before. One will look in vain for buzzwords such as "4th Generation Warfare" or "Network Centric Warfare", since these dubious concepts only confuse the issue rather than clarify.

This new paradigm he describes as "war amongst the people" is related to "guerrilla warfare" and "revolutionary war" but is different from both due to the distinction of ossillating between "conflict" and "confrontation". Also due to the destructive nature of modern weapons, almost all combat in this paradigm takes place at the tactical level. Smith reserves intelligence and policy operations for the operational level.

A regular military force operating in "war amongst the people" must first of all achieve stability and then impose and maintain the rule of law within the political community they are operating.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. Avellanet VINE VOICE on March 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are 3 things you need to know about this book:

1. There are parts where it's repetitive and he could've used an editor.

2. If you agree with his main premise - that we will no longer (and haven't been for decades) fight nation-state to nation-state (ala WWII) and that it's all going to be battles for what he calls "will of the people" (aka "hearts and minds") - then you can probably skip this book completely unless you want all the detailed why's and how's we got to this point from Napoleon to 2006.

3. The last third of the book is devoted to his approach to start resolving these issues:
- stop building industrial-complex level machines and technology; focus money on information-gathering, intelligence gathering and analysis and building force flexibility
- the military should be used to achieve military goals only; and then the rest of the "hearts and minds" battle turned over to agencies that train for that (in the US, that'd be AID, State dept, Commerce, etc.)
- the only time that the small level non-state enemies we face (insurgents, terrorists, warlords, etc.
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