Transforming Military Power since the Cold War Cover

Transforming Military Power since the Cold War

Britain, France, and the United States, 1991-2012

Theo Farrell, Sten Rynning, and Terry Terriff

Cambridge University Press, New York, 2013, 303 pages

Book Review published on: January 9, 2017

Transforming Military Power since the Cold War is a comparative case study by three notable military historians (two European and one Canadian) who offer an illuminating understanding of the military transformation of Britain, France, and the United States beginning after the Cold War. The authors relied on extensive archival research and numerous interviews and official document access. Anyone interested in how an army transforms, and how it responds to challenges in an environment of constrained resources, will benefit from this book.

With the Soviet Union’s inevitable demise, the end of the Cold War, and the increase of connectivity through networked computing and precision-guided weapons, Western military forces concentrated their efforts to adapt to new and unknown risks and requirements. The central question the authors sought to answer was how the armies of Britain, France, and the United States would change to meet new strategic imperatives and take advantage of new technologies. Both the process and the overall outcomes of Army transformation were investigated in their research. By seeking to answer predetermined questions, the authors looked at ways to develop findings that would have a general relevance for how militaries innovate. The authors focused on investigating four key elements: interests of the organization, military culture with respect to new ideas, the role of civilian and military leaders, and the feedback generated from operational experience.

The book is divided into five chapters. The first begins with the imperatives and innovations involved with army transformation. The next chapters, in order, focus on the U. S. Army as it concentrated on the promise of information technology and modularization, the British and French armies as they developed networked expeditionary forces, and the development of effects-based operations. Each military chapter considers interests, ideas, individuals, and operational experience, along with how they were all interrelated with respect to army transformation. The final chapter evaluates the overall findings of the preceding case studies and discusses the many implications for the future of Western land power.

Transforming Military Power since the Cold War adds to current scholarly contributions related to military innovation by taking into account the unique perspective of the British and French armies. The authors purposefully did not seek to test any type of theory but conveyed an army transformation story highlighting contingencies and complexities, along with politics and personality involvement. They wanted to capture the whole story, and had they added the theory premise, key elements of the story might have been deleted if those elements did not contribute to the consistency of the stated theory.

Joint aspects of innovation are not well balanced in the book although it is well written. The focus weighs more heavily toward the British and French militaries. Topics of interest that stand out include the relative scales of innovation (sustaining and disruptive), the impact of joint institutions on military innovation, and the role of civilian versus military leadership and how they shape military innovation. I highly recommended this work for military professionals and policy makers interested or involved in military innovation and those seeking to understand how armies respond to challenges.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Stephen Harvey, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas