Top positive review
An Essential Guide to the Age of Durable Disorder
Reviewed in the United States on January 26, 2019
The New Rules of War is an outstanding am long-overdue corrective to modern American strategic thinking, which remains obsessed with technology and the drive for decisive victory using conventional military force. It is not without flaws, but these are more than offset by the scythe that McFate brings to the conventional wisdom.
McFate’s essential premise is that conventional warfare is dead and that strategists need to focus on the tools that our adversaries use to circumvent conventional strength. This is not in itself a groundbreaking assertion—its become a de rigueur statement amongst strategists since the rise of insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as McFate points out, the chorus of voices making this point has done nothing to change the military’s emphasis on technical solutions to non-technical problems. This has only worsened since DoD reprioritized great power competition. McFate’s understanding of the coming “durable disorder” and the changing character of warfare is refreshing and should be considered deeply and at length by all involved in defense policy.
The book’s imperfections come not in McFate’s assessments, but in his tone and style. He often comes across as overly polemical, almost as though he has an axe to grind. While this doubtless makes for quicker reading--perhaps especially to a lay audience--it leads to blanket statements that undermine the strength of his arguments. For example, McFate dismisses the utility of Clausewitz to discussions of modern conflict, labeling him the “high priest of conventional warfare,” despite having recapitulated Clausewitz’s own distinction between the immutable nature of war and the changing character of warfare only a few paragraphs earlier. This is sloppy: while Clausewitz’s discussion on the conduct of warfare from the Napoleonic era is obviously divorced from conflict today, his understanding of war’s political nature, and that its conduct is governed by the blending of passion, reason, and chance remain as timeless as ever. Indeed McFate’s whole book could be read as an answer to the Prussian’s statement that the first and most important act of strategy is to understand the nature of war one is engaging in, neither mistaking it for nor attempting to change it into something alien to its nature.
Similar statements are sprinkled throughout the book, but they pale in comparison to the fresh thinking he brings to the table. Ultimately, the US and its allies are doomed to suffer failed strategies and increasing insecurity unless they understand, as McFate does, that the utility of conventional force is declining and that new method of advancing the national interest are required.