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4.1 out of 5 stars26
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on 9 December 2005
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. I do have one criticism though: there are very, very few references - no bibliography for instance. A book like this does not come fully formed in a vacuum. It would have been nice to see where he got his ideas from. However it will still get a 5* rank!
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on 20 May 2012
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. Also, more than half of the book is basically a history book, discussing the Napoleonic wars, the birth of military theory, the world wars and the cold war, and it is not until page 267 (of 404) that Smith really begins discussing his paradigm in the context of modern conflict proper. This implies that if you are in fact looking for a book about "The Art of War in the Modern World", it will take a good deal of patience on your part before you find what you're looking for.

The ultimate theme of the book - how force can be used efficiently in our modern world - is interesting and important. But the nature of Smith's treatise of the topic unfortunately detracts from the quality of the book, and makes it unnecessarily hard reading.
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on 10 April 2008
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.

For those whose who would like a bit of a pre-emptive strike to prepare the way, I would suggest you take a look at Martin van Crefeld's The Changing Face of War. An easier and shorter read, its sets down similar building blocks upon which Smith's thesis is pinned. But don't skip the main course - The Utility of Force is worth working through and a far more rewarding read than recent publications from Smith's near contemporaries. For any commissioned officer engaged in or preparing for counterinsurgency operations, it is essential reading. Even more so for the politicians and civil servants who have a hand in developing and funding the armed forces' changing capabilities.
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on 13 November 2006
Rupert Smith brings together his long and relevant experience of command in some of the more prickly theatres of conflict in our time in lucid writing to put through the message that the nature of "war" has changed irrevocably. And the armed forces too have to be reformed and thus prepared for the new conflicts

This book is one of its kind. Prospective buyers may like to get the book's flavour from the mp3 audio of Rupert Smith's recent lecture (of the same title) at the RSA, and the questions and answers that followed (website~ [...]
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on 31 January 2016
The book was recommended to me by an ex-para who served under Rupert Smith and who had a very high opinion of the views expounded.
If you want a briefing on war and how it is conducted then this is the book for you, a well researched run through how Force was Utilised by generals in the past and how the changing face of warfare requires changes in battlefield strategy.

The book is dry and was I believe an actual thesis but I read it carefully. I work in Iraq and I follow the current arc of IS with great interest so it's not just of general interest to me.
I read the book specifically to see if Rupert Smith had the answer to IS (although the book was published before IS appeared).
In some ways it does point to the solution but not fully. I gave the book 4 stars because I expected it to give some potential methodology to guide legitimate countries fighting non-state actors.

What is obvious is that IS have a sound grasp of warfare 'among the people' and if legitimate countries do not the produce an equally sound strategy to defeat them then this war could last for a very long time.
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on 7 February 2007
What the man says is not rocket science, but that's why this book is even more necessary.

It's about understanding the nature of what the conflict now is and what you want to get out of it. Once that's understood, make sure your organisation, tactics, strategy and resources fit.

And yet it's so obvious that this simple formula is routinely ignored by governments, not least of all our own one, and indeed armed forces.

It also reminds me as a journalist how many of my own profession don't understand what they're talking about when reporting on conflict - a modern journalistic blindspot as big as the lack of understanding of economics. This book ought to be mandatory reading for every foreign desk.

The best bits include the author's disection of various historic paradigm changes in conflict. The only criticisms that spring to mind are that he doesn't seem to give much of a rundown of things like the equipment changes that modern warfare demand, and that he can come across as a touch overbearing and arrogant, although this is no more than an impression and spoils nothing.
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on 17 December 2014
An interesting book, obviously written by an expert and as such it requires patience as its depth implies that the thoughts don't flow as easily as one is accustomed to, I'm still half way through it and it's come together nicely. Highly recommended for the more serious student of strategy or someone who is trying to make sense of current affairs.
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on 20 August 2015
A brilliant read tracing the history of war involving UK Armed Forces from the battle of Waterloo to dealing with present day conflict and insurgencies. It is very rich in informing the reader about not only the theoretical aspects of how the UK and other military alliance partners operate in the theatre in peacetime and wartime as well as providing a practical approach as befits the writer's impeccable career as a distinguished top soldier. Once you start reading you never want to drop it till you finish. A recommended reading for those interested in international affairs, peace and conflict, international law and current affairs.
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on 22 February 2014
I must admit that I gave up after few chapters. Whilst I don't doubt the author's credibility this is not a book for anyone but the most avid reader.
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on 20 November 2010
This book reflects upon past wars with a 'somewhat' refreshing insight. The author does state that he is not a historian but a student of history. The book is a easy read from the start, however this quickly stops when you are three quarters of the way into the book. The perspective that is presented in this book is structured in a good around method. But there does appear to be an tendency to repeat this point of view again and again. In some chapters I was left with the impression that the particular argument had already been made. Apart from the book saying the same thing in so many different ways it is a good read. With some impressive insight in the conflicts that the author has partaken in especially.

If you like military history and do not mind the sometimes heavy wording then this is for you.
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