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  • Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power by David Betz
  • Greg Simons (bio)
Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power. By David Betz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. 264. $55.

David Betz, a reader in warfare in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, has crafted a thorough and captivating book on the implications of connectivity on the practice of warfare. It is of relevance and interest to a broad academic and practitioner audience, including those engaged in the fields of war and armed conflict, international relations, communication studies, and technology studies. A commendably impressive number of sources and perspectives are used, giving the reader access to the full complexity of the various issues that he broaches. Betz manages to present the material in a clear and logical manner, whilst not oversimplifying the complex questions that are influencing the practice of warfare in the twenty-first century. The book is arranged into nine subject chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. Each subject is introduced, in turn, in a logical succession.

This work is well-researched, written, and argued. There is also an element of healthy critique of some of the assumptions that exist in both academic and military circles. One of these is the perpetual hope of finding a “magic bullet” that renders obsolete other forms of warfare, giving a decisive advantage to one party over others. Betz’s critique of such thinking is especially evident in his approach to the practice and promise of cyber warfare. Instead of seeing it as a stand-alone, winning weapon, he presents cyber warfare as something that must be combined with existing means of waging war. He gives the example of Israel’s raid on the Syrian nuclear plant without the loss of a single aircraft owing to the complementary use of a cyber attack on the formidable Syrian air defenses.

Betz maintains one concrete point that he continually revisits. “Connectivity has important implications for the practice of war but it does not substantially alter its nature as much as is commonly supposed” (p. 179). In this regard, the author contradicts those who argue, or assume, that new technologies can radically alter the way that “new” wars are fought. Such authors are brought to the reader’s attention and quoted to provide a [End Page 290] wealth of different views and interpretations. For example, air power once was thought by some to be a new magic bullet for waging quick, relatively cheap and victorious wars. B. H. Liddell Hart was one of the more enthusiastic proponents of the use of airpower and the idea that it could win wars alone (p. 140). The reality proved quite different.

Similar arguments continue to be made over time, repeating these “silver bullet–like” assumptions that a new technology will enable a rapid and victorious outcome in war—and that such technologies also will blur the distinction between war and something less than war. In shaping the argumentation of this book in this particular manner, Betz creates a clear connection between the past and the present, providing the background and support for his primary thesis that new technology does not change the way that wars are practiced as radically as is so often presumed.

I enjoyed and learned a lot from the book. In addition, I tend to agree with the fundamental underlying principles of the arguments presented, though there were some minor points of contention. In particular, on pages 32–33 under the section concerning “consolidation and fragmentation,” some disputable statements were made. For example, whatever one thinks of earlier struggles, in the twenty-first century in the Middle East, the West certainly was not acting to replace “illegitimate regimes” and “liberate” people in need. This is a simplistic and superficial narrative that has been proven false in real life. Libya was “liberated” with catastrophic results for the Libyan people, and the security of Europe has been compromised as a result. There seems to be very little concern for the welfare of Libyans in the wake of regime change in 2011. Similarly, one also must question the statement that Iraq...


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pp. 290-291
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