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AG has an excellent review of Stephen Biddle’s excellent book, Military Power. Read the review, and read the book if you get a chance.

AG sums Biddle’s argument up as follows:

His argument is that it is not superior manpower, superior technology, superior firepower, or superior mobility that wins battles – it’s superior force employment. If you’re on the offensive or defensive side, superior tactics and skills are what wins the day.

Which is not quite accurate; Biddle allows that numbers and technology can overwhelem employment advantage in certain cases. In the Desert Storm chapter, Biddle notes that the outcome in 1991 was over-determined, as advanced Coalition technology would likely have won the day regardless of the force employment advantage, and that the two in combination led to the historically low casualty rate of that operation.

One of my students asked an excellent question about this book; how would Biddle explain the performance of the PLA against the US Army in 1950? Force employment and technology clearly favored the Americans, yet they were soundly defeated by a PLA with overwhelming numerical superiority. My initial cut would be a) numbers still matter, b) US Army force employment in 1950 was not what it had been in 1945 and not what it would be in 1990, and c) MacArthur’s Korea strategy put the US in an operationally hopeless situation. Any other thoughts?

Also see Kingdaddy’s commentary on Biddle’s latest on Iraq. Biddle disputes the Malaya/Iraq analogy, and Kingdaddy disputes Biddle.

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