Thomas G. Mahnken - The Revolution in Military Affairs (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 316-317

The Revolution in Military Affairs. By Elinor C. Sloan. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7735-2394-4. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xi, 188. $24.95 Can.

Much ink has been shed in recent years over the question of whether the growth and spread of information, precision guidance, and stealth technology is producing a revolution in military affairs, or RMA. Much of the literature has been dominated by American authors writing about the U.S. armed forces. America's European and Canadian allies have received much less attention. Elinor C. Sloan, an assistant professor of political science at Carleton University and a former defense analyst in Canada's Department of National Defense, helps remedy this deficiency in her book, The Revolution in Military Affairs, which thoughtfully explores the implications of the RMA for Canada.

The scope and impact of the emerging RMA have been much debated. In Sloan's view, it is the product of new technology (including precision-guided munitions, stealth, advanced sensors, and command and control systems) and "revolutionary" doctrine and organizations. Of course, exactly which technologies, doctrine, and organizations qualify as revolutionary is difficult to determine. Discontinuous changes in the character of war are more easily discerned in retrospect than in prospect. Sloan adopts a rather broad definition, one that colors her assessment of U.S. and allied defense modernization programs.

After defining the current RMA, Sloan provides a useful discussion of the origins of the emerging RMA in the United States. She emphasizes the important role that former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Vice [End Page 316] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Owens played in advocating radical change. Surprisingly, however, she neglects the central (though quiet) role played by Andrew W. Marshall, the Pentagon's Director of Net Assessment, in sponsoring path-breaking research and analysis of the emerging RMA. In addition, while she notes the gap between the rhetoric and reality of U.S. defense modernization, the weight she accords to policy statements such as the Joint Staff's Joint Vision 2010 leads her to overestimate the amount of transformation that the U.S. armed forces have undertaken.

The book's strongest section deals with international approaches to the emerging RMA. Sloan provides a useful overview of the Australian, British, French, and German defense modernization programs. She discusses more generally the growing capability gap that separates the United States from Canada and the European members of NATO. She also explores the relevance of the RMA to peace operations. While she correctly notes the utility of precision-guided munitions and advanced sensors, particularly when coupled with innovative doctrine and organization, one wonders whether new technology promises such an advantage that states with small and shrinking defense budgets will be persuaded to invest in them.

In short, Sloan has produced a useful overview of an issue of vital importance to the United States and its allies. Both the specialist and the generalist will read it with interest.


Thomas G. Mahnken
U.S. Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island

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