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Thread: The Last Warrior

  1. #1
    Council Member
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    Oct 2005

    Default The Last Warrior

    Just finished reading, "The Last Warrior Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy," by Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts

    forward by Robert Gates

    This was an interesting book, especially if you have an interest in strategy, modern history, innovation, and military bureaucracy at the upper levels. It is both a biography of Andrew Marshall and a military history from the Cold War to the Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. Andrew Marshall was not a warrior in the physical sense, but a dedicated patriot who served our nation well as a deep thinker on national defense. He led the Office of Net Assessments (ONA) in the Department of Defense for decades. His thinking on competitive strategies and deterrence is as valuable today as it was 30 years ago. Apparently, the Chinese military agrees, as one of their senior Generals said Marshall’s work at ONA did more to influence their thinking on deterrence in the 1990s and the 21st Century more than anyone else.

    I’ll start with the summary to capture the essence of the book. Over the years Marshall’s net assessments rested on a number of intellectual themes or lines of research. The summary identified six (all of which were addressed at length throughout the book.

    1. The importance of resource constraints in National Security decisions. While this is obviously a given, the take away throughout the book is each country can only afford a finite number of military areas that it can afford to compete in to remain dominate in those areas. That implies some sacred cows need to be sacrificed, which resulted in the services pushing back to protect their pet projects. This reality limited the ability to innovate and compete effectively.

    2. Perhaps another given, but he emphasized the criticality of understanding your adversary and recognizing that the adversary can change considerably over time. He emphasized during the Cold War understanding how the Soviets intended to fight, how they compared their forces to the West (did their net assessments differ from ours?), and later the Chinese. Deterrence and competition would not work if we didn’t understand our adversaries in a very deep way. His points on the USSR and now modern China proved to be very accurate and against the grain when he made them. What was key throughout the book, is he didn’t rely on quantifiable measurements, because he found those almost irrelevant and an oversimplified way of doing net assessments (comparing advantages and disadvantages). Assessments had to include doctrinal considerations, level of training, economic conditions, etc. He dismissed Game Theory and the Rational Man theory, both of which were disproven in a number of cases. At the end of day, unlike others who worked on the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) or the Military Technical Revolution (MTR), he insisted that technology wouldn’t make war less complex, it wouldn’t remove the fog of war, it wouldn’t remove friction, and it would remain unpredictable.

    3. It was always interesting to read how he explored different ways to frame or structure his thinking about military competitions. Who were the actors that needed to be accounted for in each country (in the U.S. it included Congress, the President, DoD, etc.). No surprise he worked closely with Grahm Allison who wrote Essence of Decision and how different models can be used to assess how different actors can influence decision making.

    4. Viewing the competition from a long term perspective, which led to seeking a long term position of advantage and exploiting adversary weaknesses, versus the fight tonight focus.

    5. As stated about he emphasized the non-rational aspects of human behavior.

    6. The difficulties of thinking about the future, he clung to his conviction that strategic outcomes of actual conflicts or military competitions cannot be predicted due to the level of uncertainty, but war games can be useful in exploring problems and potential responses.

    His thinking was considered way outside the box for the Pentagon, but they kept him on board because his ideas about the future of conflict were proven to be correct most of the time. I'll explore some of his ideas further in the Strategy in the 21st Century discussion.

  2. #2
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006



    Good catch. A friend worked for Andrew Marshall at the ONA for a long time and was always complimentary about him.

    His name appears in two threads:
    1) Recognizing and Understanding Revolutionary Change in Warfare a 2006 thread:

    2) A 2008 thread RMA/Andrew Marshall/Donald Rumsfeld/Iraq 2003:

    The current strategy thread you refer to is:

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