The Utility of Force : The Art of War in the Modern World, Paperback

The Utility of Force : The Art of War in the Modern World Paperback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Why do we try to use military force to solve our political problems? And why, when our forces win the military battles does this still fail to solve those problems?

It is because the force lacks utility. From Iraq to the Balkans, and from Afghanistan to Chechneya, over the past fifteen years there has been a steady stream of military interventions that have not delivered on their promise for peace, or even political resolution.

The "Utility of Force" explains this anomaly at the heart of our current international system.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Warfare & defence
  • ISBN: 9780141020440



Free Home Delivery

on all orders

Pick up orders

from local bookshops


Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Generals aren't selected for their literary abilities, which is probably a good thing. Nevertheless, Sir Rupert presents his case in a clear, straightforward way, well-supported by historical evidence. Although he warns us in the introduction that we may wish to skip the more technical chapters, this is a very approachable book for the general reader. On the other hand, without direct experience of the way modern armed forces are organised and the operations they carry out, it's hard to assess how radical his arguments really are. He argues, not so much that modern armies are still preparing for the last war, but rather that they are preparing for a type of war that can never take place in a world where atomic weapons exist. The "little wars", conflicts in which the armed forces of industrial nations are opposed by guerrillas or terrorists, which Smith designates as "war amongst the people", have become the main raison d'être of modern armies, but are still (he argues) seen as a secondary part of their work.To me, most of the conclusions he comes to and advice he gives his successors sound like basic common sense: before sending in troops, we should be sure we know what we want to achieve politically, decide whether and how armed force can contribute to that aim, and set up coordinated planning and command structures that allow the military operation to work in concert with diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and other operations towards that goal. Surely these are desiderata that any political leader contemplating armed intervention would attempt to achieve, even if they aren't always possible when there is strong pressure to "do something". Given recent history, armed intervention clearly isn't something that industrialised nations do particularly well at present, whilst those on whom we try to impose our ideas have evolved rather successful tactics for winning the hearts and minds of those they fight amongst, and in many cases also manage to undermine support for the intervention among the people whose nations have contributed troops. If books like Smith's can help our leaders rethink the way they go about launching such interventions, so much the better. But I'm not holding my breath...

Review by

With the invention of the nuclear bomb, industrial warfare as it was known came to an end. But the thinking behind the use of military force remained mired in conceptions of industrial warfare. Today, General Rupert Smith compellingly argues, nations need to be concerned much more with what he calls 'war amongst the people'. The Evening Standard's blurb on the front cover compares Smith to Clausewitz and Sun Tsu, and to those you can add an element of Machiavelli as well. In war amongst the people the relationship between oneself and the people and one's enemies and the people are crucial. The prince must tread carefully and depend much more on intelligence than bombs.

Also by Rupert Smith   |  View all