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Military Statecraft and the Rise of Shaping in World Politics Cover

Military Statecraft and the Rise of Shaping in World Politics

Kyle J. Wolfley

Rowman & Littlefield, New York, 2021, 203 pages

Book Review published on: July 22, 2022

Kyle J. Wolfley’s book Military Statecraft and the Rise of Shaping in World Politics outlines how great powers use military means toward soft power ends and represents one of the first real efforts to holistically study this emerging instrument of U.S. foreign policy. The author presents shaping as a soft-power application of cooperative military-to-military engagement to proactively deter threats from emerging. Wolfley convincingly asserts that military shaping will continue to be one of the most important tools of statecraft to the United States. According to him, the use of this means is most effective when strategic uncertainty is high, and shaping is far more cost-efficient than hard power means such as coercion or actual warfighting. Given the complexity of the current, post-Cold War strategic environment, where power distribution is far more dynamic, shaping has been and will continue to be a preferred means of U.S. statecraft.

Wolfley defines shaping as the ability to manage military relationships and partners through attraction and legitimacy. Essentially, this represents everything on a spectrum of military operations exclusive of coercion and warfighting. He breaks this very broad category of military activity into four “logics,” or subcategories, which he labels attraction, socialization, delegation, and assurance. Each of these categories serves a separate and distinct purpose, though some of the associated activities may be similar. His breakdown and description of each logic provide a good mental framework to leaders at any level in security cooperation, from those in small units engaging in a multinational exercise, to those in positions of influence in combatant commands or embassies.

Attraction comprises a country engaging partner to ease tensions through cooperative relationships. Wolfley’s case studies for attraction include NATO’s Partnership for Peace initiative with ex-communist Soviet satellite states in the 1990s and early 2000s, and China and India’s “Hand-in-Hand" series of border exercises in the 2010s. NATO hoped to develop capable partners; China and India both sought to promote peaceful relations along a border long fraught with tensions. In the end, both initiatives found some successes, but failed to overcome higher-level political concerns. Russian pressure precluded extensive cooperation of the former satellites and Soviet republics with NATO, and disputes flared up along the Sino-Indian border that ended their nascent cooperation. Wolfley correctly included “the rest of the story” here so as not to generate excessive optimism among his readers that military shaping works in all circumstances.

Socialization promotes the smaller military to adopt norms and practices, of the larger military, and can influence the smaller military toward a specific role the larger country desires its partner to play in the security environment. The chosen case studies for socialization include the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization with other former Soviet republics, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization between Russia, China, and several other central Asian countries. Wolfley’s use of U.S. competitors for his case studies highlighted the utility of shaping to all major powers; an American audience would compare this with efforts to instill U.S.-preferred norms such as respect for human rights and military subordination to civilian governance.

Delegation develops the smaller military to assume some measure of security responsibilities so that the larger partner doesn’t have to. Like socialization, this involves building common norms and practices. The purpose is not to reinforce the larger country, but to replace it entirely and free up the military of the larger country for other missions. Wolfley uses the U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Brigade and the long-running UK Army stability assistance mission to Sierra Leone. The latter case study provided a particularly powerful description of how the UK Army rebuilt a national army in Sierra Leone from scratch after a devastating civil war.

The final logic, assurance, is the opposite of delegation in that the large power engages partners to guarantee their security. Wolfley cites as a case study Operation Dragoon Ride in which U.S. Army forces undertook a road convoy of over 1,500 miles through Eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. This operation reassured eastern European NATO allies that the United States still had their back and would support them against Russia’s expansionary ambitions. Wolfley cautions that while assurance missions may deter conflict, they may invite the rival to undertake operations below the level of armed conflict.

In conclusion, Wolfley’s book organizes and describes shaping as a “soft power” use of a great power’s military and outlines its increased importance to U.S. grand strategy. He ties its utility to deepening engagement, and as a form of U.S. policy restraint. At several points, he mentions concerns that increased use of shaping has led to excessive militarization of U.S. foreign policy but unfortunately does not elaborate much on these concerns. I wish he had taken more time to address this issue, although to be fair, such a discussion may tread in areas too sensitive for a military officer to opine. Wolfley’s book can sometimes be tedious, but its content is very useful to readers who engages in U.S. foreign policy, whether a foreign area officer working in the Security Cooperation Office of a U.S. embassy, or a combat arms officer engaged with a foreign partner in an exercise.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. David C. McCaughrin, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas