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America'sConduct o f Small Wars I I t is the characteristic military dilemma of a world power that it finds itself forced to prepare for two entirely different kinds of wars, large-scale conflicts on the continent of Europe, on the one hand, and lesser battles on its periphery or on other continents, on the other. This difficultyperplexed British statesmen throughout the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it is now the problem of the United States, Britain's heir as the foremost global power. This article examines the constraints on America's ability to prepare for, wage, and win small wars. It is often argued that American statesmen will find themselves constrained from using force in the future by public and Congressional repugnance over a repetition of the Vietnam experience. There is some truth in this. What follows, however, will suggest that institutional constraints and to a lesser extent foreign pressures, rather than the vagaries of public opinion, will inhibit American leaders from commencing such wars, and from prosecuting them successfully. We begin by addressing three questions: What precisely do we mean by the term "small war"? Why is there reason to think that such wars are inevitable? How do the requirements of preparing for such wars differ from the normal military measures of a Great Power? The Small War Problem At the end of the last century, British strategists defined small wars as conflictswaged against the forces of the lesser powers, to include indigenous guerrilla-type movements.' Today, we would include in our definition wars The author is grateful to Robert Blackwill, David Cohen, JudithCohen, Aaron Friedberg, Samuel Huntington, William Kristol, Arie Ofri, StephenRosen,Andrew Ross, ScottSagan, and Stephen Walt for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Eliot A. Cohen is Assistant Professor of Government and Allston Burr Senior Tutor in Quincy House at Harvard University. 1. Definition derived in part from Cyril Falls, A Hundred Years of War (New York Collier, 1953); C.E. Callwell, Small Wars (London:HMSO, 1906), pp. 21-24. Jntentnthd Security, Fall 1984 (Vol. 9, NO.2) 0162-2889/84/020151-31$02.50/1 0 1984 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. 151 lnternational Security I 152 waged against the proxy forces of other Great Powers. For the British, this type of conflict-”wars of the second or third magnitude”-characterized by “relative unimportance, long duration, or unfavorable climatic conditions” posed the greatest challenge to their military system.* They tailored their military establishment and system of high command to cope with this problem , even at the expense of their capacity to intervene in European warfare. I will use the term “smallwar” rather than ”limited war” here for a number of reasons. First, I thereby exclude the consideration of limited nuclear warfare , which provided the subject matter for many of the first American treatises on limited war in the 1950s (for example, Henry Kissinger’s Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy). Although the possibility (a remote one) of controlled nuclear exchanges between the superpowers exists and should be studied, it must be considered separately from the much more likely contingencies of conventional warfare. Limited nuclear war involves consideration of means (theater and strategic nuclear weapons and advanced command and control technology), ends (above all, avoidance of escalation to cataclysmic levels of destruction), and political conditions (acute anxiety and extremely brief periods of time available for choice) quite different from those of conventional small war. The term “limited war” also includes the possibility of direct conventional engagement between the superpowers when such conflictsremain regionally contained. In public at least, soldiers and statesmen argue that programs and policies to prepare for conventional war on a less than total scale have as their primary purpose deterrence or containment of Soviet conventional aggression. This has been most noticeably true in the case of the Persian Gulf policymakershave justified the creationof the Rapid Deployment Force, since its inception, as a measure to counter Soviet conventional threats to the r e g i ~ n . ~ For a variety of political reasons, soldiers and statesmen find it easiest to justify force procurement aimed at deterring, or at least containing, Soviet aggression...