Success and Failure in Limited War

Spencer D. Bakich

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2014 | ISBN: 9780226107684
Published online September 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780226107851 | DOI:
Success and Failure in Limited War

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Since World War II, the United States has waged multiple limited wars in regions around the world. Despite its frequent participation however, America has a mixed strategic record in these conflicts. In the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq wars, American strategy failed either to defeat the primary opponent, prevent the war from expanding by including additional belligerents, or both. Only in the Persian Gulf War can the U.S. claim to have succeeded both militarily and diplomatically. Under what conditions are states able to design and execute limited war strategies that both militarily defeat the adversary and diplomatically avoid escalation? More generally, when and how are states able to wield power effectively in dynamic and complex international environments? This book answers these questions by examining how information flow patterns among top policymakers and national security organizations affected strategic decision-making in critical cases of America's limited wars. This book develops a novel theoretical perspective, the “information institution approach,” which focuses attention on two critical aspects of national strategy: intelligence collection and analysis, and military-diplomatic coordination. It argues that strategic success is most likely when state-level information institutions facilitate the wide-spread sharing of information among presidents, their advisers, and the national security bureaucracy. Conversely, information institutions that prevent information sharing are likely to generate strategic failure in limited warfare. This book shows how states’ information-institutional capacities are critical to navigating the central strategic challenges in war. The findings demonstrate the limits of theories on civil-military relations in explaining strategic performance in limited war.

Keywords: information; institutions; limited war; decision-making; strategy; diplomacy; intelligence; civil-military relations

Book.  343 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: US Politics

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