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  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Don't Send a Lion to Catch a Mouse

    5 March Washington Post - Don't Send a Lion to Catch a Mouse by Shankar Vedantam.

    ...Two political scientists recently examined 250 asymmetrical conflicts, starting with the Peninsular War. Although great powers are vastly more powerful today than in the 19th century, the analysis showed they have become far less likely to win asymmetrical wars. More surprising, the analysis showed that the odds of a powerful nation winning an asymmetrical war decrease as that nation becomes more powerful.

    The analysis by Jason Lyall at Princeton University and Lt. Col. Isaiah Wilson III at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point shows that the likelihood of a great power winning an asymmetrical war went from 85 percent during 1800-1850 to 21 percent during 1950-2003.

    The same trend was evident when the researchers studied only asymmetrical conflicts involving the United States. The more industrialized a powerful country becomes, the more its military becomes technologically powerful, the less effective it seems to be in an asymmetrical war.

    Essentially, what Lyall and Wilson are saying is that if you want to catch a mouse, you need a cat. If you hire a lion to do the job because it is bigger and stronger, the very strength and size of the lion can get in the way of getting the job done...
    More at the link.

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    Council Member TROUFION's Avatar
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    Four quotes from the Vedantam article:

    "...the likelihood of a great power winning an asymmetrical war went from 85 percent during 1800-1850 to 21 percent during 1950-2003."

    "The more industrialized a powerful country becomes, the more its military becomes technologically powerful, the less effective it seems to be in an asymmetrical war."

    "The rise of nationalism over the past two centuries and the revulsion that colonialism now inspires might also explain the declining ability of major powers to subjugate weaker nations."

    "While the findings are of immediate interest because of the situation in Iraq, the social scientists are really trying to address a systemic issue: America has gotten stuck in the Hollywood notion that a military with ever more powerful armaments is a more effective military."


    I would love to get a full copy of the report this article is based on. It opens up many questions. Least of all what has been the effect of the communications and transportation advancements: the speed of horse and sail 1800-1850 to the speed of airplanes, radios and digital sat com. Also what role has the change in sensabilities had on these operations (particularly to the US and Western Powers). For instance: In 1800 a white male could own slaves, and generally treat them worse than draft animals, a ships captain was omnipotent holding the right to life and death at sea, orders from the President to an Expeditionary force would cover six month blocks of time or more. Further the average in-country tour was measured in years not months. Colonialism, manifest destiny, superior races, civilizing effects, were all considered normal practice and accepted while genocide was not even heard of. The world was a fundamentally different place.

    The thesis analogies are good to work with but they sound more like excuses as to why we (US) are not 'winning' today. Does the actual report offer anything remotely resembling a solution to the stated problem?

    While I fully believe there is no cookie cutter answer to small wars, there are trends. There are successful tactical-operational and strategic actions that can bring about victory in small wars regardless of the size-strength and capability of a nation. But again as I have not seen the actual thesis yet I withold any further comment.

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Need Report

    I'd like to see the full report. I'd like to make my own determination that the correlation drawn is meaningful rather than accidental (or to use Aristotelian terms, "essential" rather than accidental, or part of the actual essence of being a large armed forces). In other words, the size and technological superiority may nothing whatsoever to do with winning or losing small wars. The author may have landed on something that is uncorrelated to the outcome, and thus the thesis may be unsubstantiated.

    Interesting article, but who knows unless we see the report?

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    Council Member TROUFION's Avatar
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    Default Difference of sensibilities

    Just to add a period note to reinforce the changing times-changing means, here is a note from the Boxer Rebellion, in other words why what worked in the past doesn't always translate too well today:

    Tientsin: Allied Proclamation to the Inhabitants

    To the Inhabitants of the City of Tientsin:

    In bombarding the city of Tientsin the allied forces only replied to the attack made by the rebels on the foreign settlements.

    At present, as your authorities, forgetting their duties, have deserted their posts, the allied forces consider it their duty to establish in the city a temporary administration, which you all have to obey. This administration will protect everyone wishing to deal in a friendly manner with foreigners, but will punish without mercy everyone who causes trouble.

    Let the bad people tremble, but the good people should feel reassured and quietly return to their houses and begin their usual work. Thus peace will be restored.

    Respect this.

    Tientsin, the 16th July, 1900.

    Approved by:

    Allemagne: Von Usedom, Capitaine de Navire.
    Autriche Hongrie: J. Tudrak, Lieutenant de Vaisseau.
    États Unis d'Amérique: Colonel Meade, American Marines.
    France: De Pelacol, Colonel.
    Grande-Bretagne: Le Général Dorward, Captain Bayly.
    Italie: G. Sirianni, Lieutenant de Vaisseau.
    Japon: Le Général Fukushima.
    Russie: Vice-Amiral Alexieff.

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    Well, this isn't quite the whole report - its a pdf of a draft on the subject that was to be presented at the 2006 Annual American Political Science Association Conference held last August:

    The American Way of War and Peace in Comparative Perspective
    Abstract
    Why do states lose to weaker foes in so-called “small” wars? The United States, for example, enjoys a reputation for unmatched tactical proficiency on the battlefield yet has witnessed a post-1945 decline in its ability to secure its political aims in war. Using a new dataset of small wars and insurgencies (1800-2003), we argue the paradox of tactical success but strategic failure has afflicted all states since 1900. While crude indicators of military and economic power are an excellent predictor of war outcomes in the nineteenth century, such variables are no longer tied to political victory after 1900. Indeed, we argue that as states embrace the “modern” way of warfare – typified by mechanized warfare that uses rapid decisive operations (RDO) to strike an adversary’s center of gravity – they become less capable of winning small wars and insurgencies. Two variables serve to lock states onto this suboptimal path: (1) the process of industrialization and the rise of market-based economies and (2) a cultural understanding of modern warfare as appropriate, indeed, required, for civilized states. The paper uses a nested research design that pairs large-N statistical test (including fractal pooling) with a within-case comparison of American operations in Iraq (2003-06).

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    Default 250 cases - what are they?

    Interesting article in the Post and thanks to Jed for the full draft article. I scanned the article for a list of the cases - haven't had time to read the whole thing yet - but could not find a list. That,alone, gives mepause.When Max Manwaring and I wrote our origninal piece in Small Wars and Insurgencies, wepublished the entire list of 43 cases. So, I wonder what the cases are. For example, do the authors address every single Indian War in the US beginning with 1800? I should note that the outcome, despite some significant setbacks for the US Army such as the Little Bighorn, was victory in every case! In all the post-WWII insurgencies in Latin America, there have only been 2 victories for the insurgents - Castro in Cuba and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (1979). So, the definition of victory and defeat is of importance as well. The track record of insurgents is simply not very good. So, at a minimum, caution is indicated when we read the paper in its entirety.

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    Council Member J Wolfsberger's Avatar
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    Also from Shankar Vedantam's article:

    Quote Originally Posted by SWJED View Post
    The Peninsular War interests us because it is one of the earliest examples of an asymmetrical war -- Spanish insurgents faced down the powerful French army by using stealth, deception and the support of civilians.
    Wasn't a gentleman named Wellington, commanding a few British troops, somehow involved?
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    Default Wellington

    At the time, he was merely Arthur Wellesley (sp?!

    Yea, verily!

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    I'd submit that Wellesley and the British were nowhere near as critical to the defeat of the French in Spain as the Spanish and Portuguese insurgents, and that British victories in Spain were largely made possible because of the actions of the insurgency.

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    Council Member J Wolfsberger's Avatar
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    The g's did tie up a lot of French troops who would otherwise have been fighting the allies. The allies did tie up a lot of French troops who would otherwise have been suppressing the g's. The French would, IMO, have been successful against either alone, but failed against the combination. Thus, the author's generality, that the g's won outright by themselves, struck me as false.
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    Default Classic support for partisans

    The Peninsula campaign is a classic example of Great Power support to partisans in a secodary theater of war. In this respect, it is not dissimilar to the anti-Japanese guerrillas in the Philippines supported by the US.Another example is the partisans in Yugoslavia supported by the UK, US, and USSR or the maquis in France before D-Day. In any event, if Great Powers are involved on opposite sides, the case is much more complex than a simple insurgency with carefully limited support from one Great Power or another. It is for this reason that I noted that someone else might break out the winners and losers among the Western Power supporters/participants differently than I did among out 43 cases.

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    Default Lions and Mice: "Ahem..."

    I regret to say that the Vedantam piece may need retraction. Lyall and Wilson presented the ideas cited by Vedantam at an American Political Science Association panel in 2006, where it was roundly criticized, not for the content of its arguments, but for the fact that they lifted almost their entire argument from another author's work. Ivan Arreguin-Toft published the same argument (including virtually the same empirical trend) in an essay entitled "How the Weak Win Wars" in International Security in 2001 (v26, n1). Toft later published his findings in a book in 2005. For those of you interested in the actual article Vedantam cites, it's available at Lyall's "personal web page" at Princeton.edu. I've attached pages 1–5 of Toft's paper (note the graphic on p. 97) so readers can judge for themselves. Lyall and Wilson appear to be moving forward with a new version of "their" argument, to be presented at a West Point conference next week. One can only hope they've re-framed their paper to acknowledge their debt to Toft (at the panel they presented, Toft was actually the panel discussant!).
    Last edited by odin; 03-15-2007 at 11:49 AM. Reason: forgot attachment

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