The US Military and the Challenge of Learning from Foreign Conflicts
Brent L. Sterling
Case studies explore how to improve military adaptation and preparedness in peacetime by investigating foreign wars
Preparing for the next war at an unknown date against an undetermined opponent is a difficult undertaking with extremely high stakes. Even the most detailed exercises and wargames do not truly simulate combat and the fog of war. Thus, outside of their own combat, militaries have studied foreign wars as a valuable source of battlefield information. The effectiveness of this learning process, however, has rarely been evaluated across different periods and contexts.
Through a series of in-depth case studies of the US Army, Navy, and Air Force, Brent L. Sterling creates a better understanding of the dynamics of learning from “other people’s wars,” determining what types of knowledge can be gained from foreign wars, identifying common pitfalls, and proposing solutions to maximize the benefits for doctrine, organization, training, and equipment.
Other People’s Wars explores major US efforts involving direct observation missions and post-conflict investigations at key junctures for the US armed forces: the Crimean War (1854–56), Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), Spanish Civil War (1936–39), and Yom Kippur War (1973), which preceded the US Civil War, First and Second World Wars, and major army and air force reforms of the 1970s, respectively. The case studies identify learning pitfalls but also show that initiatives to learn from other nations’ wars can yield significant benefits if the right conditions are met. Sterling puts forth a process that emphasizes comprehensive qualitative learning to foster better military preparedness and adaptability.
List of Maps
List of Abbreviations
1. The Crimean War: Partial but Precedent-Setting Probe
2. The Russo-Japanese War: Enthusiastic but Encumbered Exploration
3. The Spanish Civil War: Desired but Disputed Data
4. The Yom Kippur War: Ferocious and Fortuitous Fight
About the Author
"An impressive and detailed historical overview for both the general and professional reader. Sterling assimilates an extensive primary and secondary literature into a readable, coherent, and well-argued synthesis of the lessons the US military learned (and ignored) observing the conflicts outside its borders."—Brian McAllister Linn, professor of history and Ralph R. Thomas Class of 1921 Professor in Liberal Arts, Texas A&M University
"Sterling’s use of military history is specific, conceptually clear, and purposeful. And quite well done. He shows where, at key moments like the lead-in to the American Civil War, lessons from earlier battles in faraway lands were used to inform new weaponry, tactics, and operational concepts for those preparing for future wars. Alas, much of the story here is also how many lessons often go unlearned–with tragic results in ensuing conflicts."—Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research, Foreign Policy program, Brookings Institution
"Other People's Wars: The US Military and the Challenge of Learning from Foreign Conflicts is an extraordinary contribution to community, college and university library Military Strategy and National/International Security collections and supplemental studies curriculums."—Midwest Book Review
"Military professionals – and, for that matter, interested amateurs – who seek to explore the issue of how the Yom Kippur War, particularly the issue of how the experience of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) during that war, moulded the armed forces of the United States are enthusiastically encouraged to consult Sterling’s book, as are those professionals and amateurs concerned more broadly with the impact of foreign wars on these forces."—Israel Affairs
Brent L. Sterling is an adjunct professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors? What History Teaches Us about Strategic Barriers and International Security (Georgetown University Press, 2009). He has spent the past thirty years as a defense analyst, including positions at the Central Intelligence Agency and consulting firms that support the US Department of Defense.
336 pp., 6 x 9
336 pp., 6 x 9