Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle

In This Review

Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle

By Stephen Biddle
Princeton University Press, 2004
312 pp. $37.50
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This book has been eagerly awaited, as Biddle has established himself as unique among students of contemporary warfare in his ability to address fundamental issues of theory and practice using sophisticated methodologies and wide-ranging sources. He challenges simplistic measures of military capability based on numbers and technology by stressing the importance of the way that forces are actually employed. The key to battlefield success, he suggests, lies in the adoption of the modern method that emerged out of the desire to break the deadlock of World War I: avoiding the full impact of the enemy's firepower while on the defensive and exploiting it while on the offensive. Biddle develops his analysis through the detailed consideration of three case studies from World War I, World War II, and the Persian Gulf War, as well as some elaborate statistical analysis. There are questions as to whether this theory applies to battle or to war, and whether a method designed for "controlling territory in mid-to high-intensity continental warfare" is relevant to contemporary conflicts. Although some of the analysis is not for the faint-hearted, Biddle's basic argument is expressed with great lucidity and precision.