Understanding Victory and Defeat in Contemporary War.

Author:Lefebvre, Stephane
Position:Book review

Understanding Victory and Defeat in Contemporary War. Ed. by Jan Angstrom and Isabelle Duyvesteyn. London: Routledge, 2007. Tables. Illustrations. Index. Pp. xviii, 240. $150.00 ISBN 0-415-40457-6

The 2001 intervention in Afghanistan and 2003 intervention in Iraq have given rise to a continuing debate over exit strategies and the meaning of victory. Fortunately, there is no dearth of recent solid scholarship to help us conceptualize and understand the contemporary and historical determinants of defeat and victory, notably: Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, 2004; Ivan Arreguin-Toft, How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict, 2005; and Robert Mandel, The Meaning of Military Victory, 2006. This book is no exception. Divided into two parts and eleven chapters (each by different authors), it first explores the nature of victory and defeat in modern war--and the usefulness of these concepts in describing the outcomes of war; and, secondly, explains victory and defeat in war.

Angstrom opens by noting that, contrary to the bulk of the literature on the subject, this book pays particular attention to victory and defeat in the context of small wars, insurgencies, and terrorism. Victory and defeat in the latter contexts do not necessarily equal war termination. The outcomes of war are thus important to study not only because of their long-lasting influence over decision makers, but also because a better understanding of their nature could lead to more effective use of force and interventions.

Robert Mandel argues that the meaning of victory has changed across time, circumstance, culture, and agents, and analyzes two approaches to the notion of victory. The first approach considers that victory occurs if the outcome of war is aligned with the victor's predetermined objective end state prior to its entering into warfare. The second approach considers that victory can be declared if the cost-benefit ratio is positive in the judgment of the victor. Both approaches, of course, are not immune from perceptual bias and manipulation. Mandel thus argues that victory is an inherently subjective concept and not always as clear as one would like to expect. He suggests that it be split into two distinct time phases: the first (war winning) coinciding with the end of military clashes; and the second (peace winning) with the establishing of postwar stability once informational, political, economic, social, and diplomatic...

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