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Capsule Review

War and the Engineers: The Primacy of Politics Over Technology

In This Review

War and the Engineers: The Primacy of Politics Over Technology
By Keir A. Lieber
Cornell University Press, 2005 256 pp. $39.95 Purchase

The title of Lieber's book is somewhat misleading, for the book is really a challenge to the view, still current among some theorists of international relations, that stability between states often depends on whether technology favors the defense or the offense. The mobility made possible by railroads, the use of firepower to hold entrenched positions, and the potential of tanks to lead a quick advance have all marked a shift in the balance between offense and defense. Reviewing a century's worth of conflict, Lieber concludes, correctly, but to historians not surprisingly, that the causes of war lie in politics rather than technology. He also finds that it is not the case that perceptions of offensive supremacy can make a difference, whether or not there is any basis for them. The problem with the book is that it is trapped by the framework of the theory it so comprehensively refutes. This is less of a difficulty with the chapters on land warfare, for which the theory was really designed, but results in a rather convoluted chapter on "the nuclear revolution."

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