Risa A. Brooks, Elizabeth A. Stanley, eds. Creating Military Power: The Sources of Military Effectiveness. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. ix + 252 pp. $55.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8047-5399-9.
Reviewed by Jonas Hagmann (Political Science Department, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva)
Published on H-War (April, 2008)
The Difficult Reconceptualization of Military Power
Comprising a conceptual framework, seven substantive chapters, a critical individual synthesis reflecting on the book itself and a summary conclusion, this edited book provides a set of constructive conceptual and empirical contributions to international relations, political science, and military studies. Its key argument is that national military power is too often simplistically equated with states' material and human resources, ignoring the divergent effectiveness with which states make actual use of them. Cultural and societal factors, political institutions, and pressure from the international arena, so the argument goes, are all important factors that affect such an extraction. An extended analysis of the sources of military power is thus warranted--and indeed, the book is squarely situated in the broader political science turn toward nonmaterial explanations of politics and power. Risa Brooks's introductory chapter sets out the book's analytical framework, explaining how in different instances of security policymaking, cultural, social, and political factors influence a nation's capacity to convert its basic resources into military power. This effectiveness is captured by the military's ability to develop internally consistent contingency plans ("integration"), its ability to react to evolving domestic and external challenges ("responsiveness"), the skills of military personnel ("skill"), and the military's material equipment ("quality").
The substantive chapters address the cultural, societal, and political sources of "military effectiveness" one by one. Writing on post-Meiji Japan, Dan Reiter (chapter 2) argues that nationalist ideology served Japanese leaders to recruit more soldiers, to harden their loyalty, and at its height, even to develop suicide attacks as new strategic options. Timothy Hoyt (chapter 3) focuses on the impact of social cleavages in Iraq between 1980 and 2004. The regime's reliance on specific ethnic groups, he argues, not only diminished its army's recruitment base: the politicization in officer promotion also ran counter to merit-based promotions, and adversely affected the professional capacity of Iraqi high command.
Deborah Avant (chapter 4) looks into the effects of more formalized institutions on military effectiveness. Comparing the United States to the United Kingdom, she argues that militaries are straightforwardly exposed to the evolving demands of the civilian political leadership in parliamentary democracies, as militaries cannot capitalize on a division of power between the executive leadership and the parliamentary majority. In presidential systems, militaries are thus seen as more independent and capable of developing their own professional standards. Looking at the Vietnam and the Boer wars respectively, this leaves Avant to conclude that while the U.S. system produces skilled and high-quality armed forces, the British political system has an advantage in fostering integrated policies and responsive planning structures.
Brooks herself also contributes a substantive chapter on civil-military relations in Egypt (chapter 5). Focusing on the delicate balance between civilian dominance and military authority, she argues that competition between the two fosters inefficiency overall, for instance when office appointments become contested and contradictory, or when strategic plans clash in wartime. Supportive of this claim, Brooks finds Gamal Abdel Nasser's unsuccessful 1967 campaign against Israel to be marked by such inefficiency. In contrast, Anwar Sadat's surprise attack of October 1973--widely judged to be a most competent military operation--is considered the result of his successful subordination of the army.
After these analyses of domestic factors, Theo Farrell and Emily Goldman expand the view to address the implementations and impact of international norms. Farrell (chapter 6) illustrates how, pushed by international standards, the newly born Irish Republic adopted a conventional standing army in the 1920s and 1930s--although it neither fitted with the country's limited resources nor addressed its main challenge of the time, civil unrest. In a very traditional neorealist analysis of the international system's dynamics, Goldman (chapter 7) suggests across nineteen hypotheses that the degree and diversity of threats affect military effectiveness as well. In her view, the distant but single Japanese threat to the United States in the interwar period allowed the U.S. Navy to set clear priorities and to auto-evaluate its effectiveness by increasingly stringent professional standards. Britain however was challenged by multiple threats at this time, which in Goldman's view made it impossible for its leaders and navy to develop consistent and capable security policies.
In the last substantive chapter, Nora Bensahel (chapter 8) asks whether alliances do indeed aggregate power, or whether military effectiveness is not being lost in tactical coordination and strategic planning. Bensahel finds that while alliances introduce redundancies and contradictions into military effectiveness, they do yield considerable political benefits when they legitimize multinational interventions abroad.
Overall, the book's conceptual framework is well applied across the chapters--a result which edited books too often fail to deliver. But as Stephan Biddle also recognizes in his critical synthesis at the end of the book, readers will note a number of sometimes central shortcomings and problems in both the overall conceptualization and individual chapters.
In this vein it is important to indicate the lack of attention the book gives to the interaction of the independent variables identified: it remains plainly unclear how the co-presence of factors such as societal cleavages or political institutions affect national military effectiveness overall. Which of them operate independently of each other; which cast contradictory effects on military effectiveness; and which actually reinforce each other? The book's framework is ambitious, and as such it does deserve recognition for the differentiated and complex research program that it seeks to establish. But the absence of a complex case study integrating all seven identified sources of military effectiveness creates a sense that the manuscript has not been pushed to its logical endpoint.
Similarly, confusion remains as to what standard "effectiveness" is actually being measured by. This confusion is epitomized by the very notion of "military effectiveness," which is invoked as a conceptual shortcut throughout the text. Does "military effectiveness" focus on states' ability to generate military power, or does it indicate the military's effectiveness to achieve specific aims? The conceptual chapter chooses the former meaning, and case studies argue how culture, societal, and other factors influence the "integration," "responsiveness," "skills," and "quality" of a national army from the inside. But confusingly, the case study observations themselves are located in contexts where national armies conflict with opponents.
De facto, this is a research strategy which, by introducing dyadic interactions into the analysis, gives sudden and implicit weight to the military's effectiveness to conduct battle. Hoyt in particular reiterates the point that the 2003 Iraqi defeat against United States-led forces "all too clearly demonstrated its ineffectiveness" (p. 76). This raises the question whether the effectiveness of states in creating power can be estimated without comparisons to external adversaries. In one way or another, virtually all chapters make such comparisons to ground their assessments: Goldman judges U.S. naval effectiveness in opposition to the "Japanese threat" and British army effectiveness in contrast to Boer armaments and tactics; Brooks evaluates Egyptian "military effectiveness" against the backdrop of two engagements with the Israeli Army; and Farrell sketches the new Irish Army's utility through a comparison with local guerrillas. It is regrettable that although Biddle indicates this problematic, the editorial conclusion does not take up this central point.
In sum and despite these conceptual challenges, Creating Military Power provides a rather well-accomplished and differentiated analysis of the manifold sources of military power, making it a welcomed contribution to the ongoing reconceptualization of military power. With latent U.S. ethnocentrism in some of its chapters, it is also recommendable to all those interested in the state of current U.S. scholarship on international security studies.
. Hans Joachim Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1948).
. Jeffrey T. Checkel, "The Constructivist Turn in International Relations Theory," World Politics 50, no. 2 (January 1998): 324-348.
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Jonas Hagmann. Review of Brooks, Risa A.; Stanley, Elizabeth A., eds., Creating Military Power: The Sources of Military Effectiveness.
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