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The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World Hardcover – 29 Sep 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (29 Sept. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713998369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713998368
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 4 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


[This is] a book that will assure Smith's reputation as a serious and original thinker among soldiers and strategists. -- John Keegan, The Daily Telegraph

About the Author

General Sir Rupert Smith is one of the most senior international practitioners in the use of force. In his forty year career in the British Army he commanded the UK Armoured Division in the 1990-91 Gulf War, was GOC Northern Ireland, commanded the UN forces in Bosnia in 1995, and served as Deputy Commander of NATO. All of this experience informs his book. He retired in 2002.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Pyers Symon on 9 Dec. 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the 1970's John Keegan in his seminal book "Face Of Battle" speculated whether battle was dead. It is but not for the reasons that he proposed (which was essentially that more and more people would be unwilling to fight). However conflict certainly isn't and it is the move from what Smith states is "industrial war" ie wars between states with formalised armies and recognisable events called "battles" to what he terms "wars between peoples" which doesn't recognise nationalities but rather is fighting within societies which is at the heart of this brilliant book. He starts with a gallop through military history since the early 1800's culminating with the last of the true nation wars - those of Israel/Arab states in the early 1970's (The Falklands is really an special case as is the 1991 Gulf War). He describes how wars between peoples are fundamentally different from those industrial wars of the past. The key point is that modern armies have yet to recognise fully that fact - something that vested interests within western forces have got to face upto. With the new type of warfare, the old heavy army (tanks, big guns etc) is inappropriate - something he comments upon when discussing the Israeli response to the Intifada where the use of armour (for perfectly understandable reasons) inflamed the situation. He describes the characteristics of war between peoples with great clarity (and also how peacekeepers are shackled by political decisions - forces operating in that role are directed that the most important thing is not to lose casualties rather than fufillment of the mission). He finally describes his own personal experiences (which illustrate his points) in the early 1990's in Bosnia where he was command of UNPROFOR. It is a superb read and highly recommended.Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By SerjeantWildgoose on 10 April 2008
Format: Hardcover
General Smith's book is not one for the feint hearted - but if, like me, you are serving in one of the armed forces that is struggling to re-configure from one built to fight the Cold War but deployed to fight War Among the People, then you need to read it.

I agree with the reviewer who found it hard going, but if you want a thinking soldier's view of how the paradigm has changed and why we must change with it, then you leave this book on the shelf at your peril. It is detailed, but incisive. As for its alleged failure to address in detail the issue of assymetry, the previous reviewer clearly missed the central points of General Smith's thesis - that war as we knew it no longer exists and therefore the concept of assymetry is no longer valid. The author contends that huge armoured formations capable of massing phenomenal combat power became obsolete with the development of battlefield nuclear weapons designed to target that very mass. Their utility as a deterrent was superceded by the superpowers' appetite and capacity for MAD. Although we have seen such massed armoured formations loosed in battle on several occasions post-war, General Smith contends that these were not wars, but periodic and short-term deviations from a rhythm that sees a steady state of confrontation periodically interupted by short and sharp interludes of conflict.

The Utility of Force argues that heavy armoured formations are not suitable for conducting the War Among the People that characterises the more prevalent periods of confrontation. That is to say that while they might represent an overwhelming balance in terms of combat power they lack utility. Afghanistan and Iraq prove this to be the case.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Sokol on 20 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In "The Utility of Force", Rupert Smith expounds his ideas on how to use force efficiently in the modern world, and outlines his view that conflicts today should not be seen through a paradigm of industrial war (as the world wars), but instead through a paradigm of prolonged confrontation (as the war in Afghanistan, or the Bosnian war).

Smith has excellent credentials: He is a retired general who commanded the UN forces in Bosnia in 1995 and has served as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Furthermore, he has clearly done his research for the book properly, and presents many real-world examples throughout the book. Through his examples and arguments, Smith concludes that most states are viewing conflicts through the paradigm of industrial war, and concludes that this leads to an inefficient use of military force. Smith identifies several factors present in many modern conflicts which make the conventional paradigm of industrial war less useful, for example that in many modern conflicts, the enemy is non-state and hard to identify as a cohesive group, and that many modern military operations are set in the context of political goals which are considerably more complicated than simply the defeat of the enemy military forces. He discusses how military intervention should change based on these observations.

All this is interesting and obviously relevant, and provides the fundament for an interesting book. However, the book has a major drawback. Put bluntly, it is simply very long-winded, very academic, somewhat repetitive and often rather boring to read.
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