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The Sword's Other Edge: Tradeoffs in the Pursuit of Military Effectiveness

Across millennia and world civilizations perhaps the two most commonly studied questions of international relations are: How do wars start? Who wins wars? Scholars have continued to develop theories and uncover and unpack empirical puzzles regarding war outcomes and determinants of military effectiveness. Many past studies of military effectiveness developed ideas about what factors help states win wars, and what factors help states accomplish specific military tasks within wars. Studies have looked at whether certain types of societies and political systems, such as nationalist societies or democracies or nationalist cultures, experience higher levels of effectiveness, as well as whether certain specific policy choices, such as using specific weapons or force employment strategies, increase effectiveness.
This approach has been tremendously helpful in aiding scholars assemble the building blocks that can be used to develop a complete understanding of military effectiveness. We have areas of scholarship on whether nationalism motivates soldiers to fight harder, what kinds of civil-military relations best encourage innovation, what types of force employment strategies are most likely to offer operational victory, whether regime type affects the quality of a nation’s officer corps, and others. This corpus of work has been tremendously constructive. This book proceeds from the assumption that the building blocks approach though necessary is inadequate to produce a sufficiently complete understanding of military effectiveness. This introductory chapter presents two critiques of the building blocks approach within a general framework for thinking about military effectiveness. The conceptual structure in this chapter serves to frame the discussions presented in the individual chapters that follow.

Editors: Dan Reiter and Filippo Andreatta