Tuesday, July 15, 2014

King, 2011. Transformation of Europe’s Armed Forces from the Rhine to Afghanistan (military sociology)

Anthony King was a promising young sociologist writing about European football and social theory until 9/11, when he was inspired to turn his attention to the military. With European Security and Defence Policy ground well-trodden, he decided to focus on the transformation of Europe’s Cold War armies into expeditionary forces. Following the Huntington (1957)  and Janowitz (1960) classics, and the theories of Posen (1984), Rosen (1991) and Avant (1994) relevant to innovation, King aims to provide a historically specific interpretation of European military innovation at the tactical (brigade) and operational (division/corps) levels. The three parts of the book address the strategic context, and the operational and tactical levels, drawing on documentary sources, interviews, and field observation. Although it was his intent to address Britain, France, and Germany equally, in practice the collection is tilted towards Britain for ease of access.  [As an aside, this is a general issue in global scholarship - not only is more published in English, but subjects accessible in English are disproportionately researched.] 

In addressing the strategic context of Europe’s new wars, King references Kaldor, Kalyvas, Keen, Berdal, Duffield, Glenny and other critics of neo-liberal war in the post-Cold War era, before digging into White Papers and defence ministry documents to describe the institutional intent behind the shift towards expeditionary forces. Iraq features heavily, but there is little mention of the American-led “war on terror”, and comparatively few mentions of American influence at the strategic level. In the Chapter questioning the capacity for autonomous action, his starting point is Seth Jones (2007) on rising European cooperation, then critiques of EU capacity and motivation for autonomous military action. He analyses Europe’s forays into Africa, mentioning gendarmes, but missing the European Gendarme Force (Armitage and Moisan, 2005), legitimately with a focus on the military. In the end, he seems to be on the fence about NATO versus a European force.  I think this section would be sharper if it were couched not as pro-Europe or Euro-skepticism, but as acquiescence to or rejection of American leadership.  I think it was primarily European unease with American direction from the Iraq venture forward that drove European military leaders towards each other. As an outsider doing interviews, he might not have heard as much of the griping as an insider hanging out in officers’ messes. 

In the second and third parts of the book, King does an admirable job of describing transformation from an outsider’s perspective. It would be difficult for a staff-trained colonel or participant observer to provide such a sweeping overview without getting lost in the details of headquarters functions, command authorities, and division of responsibilities, which are the nuts and bolts of multinational cooperation.  Drawing on Latham’s (2002) analysis of the RMA, King sees the operational renaissance of the Rapid Reaction Corps as an outgrowth of air-land battle concepts initiated in the 1970s; it all comes back to Depuy. I have argued elsewhere that the RMA was largely a tech-driven fad, but I can see the continuity King describes, and this is a useful part of organizational history. 

King concludes that the trajectory of NATO forces is towards smaller, more potent elite forces.  He notes that national sovereignty and culture remain important, and recounts fascinating stories of brits slagging german timidity.  Much of the final chapter is an extended post-mortem on particular Afghan operations, with deductions about what these say about national styles of warfare. But Afghanistan is already almost in the past. “NATO, Europe, and the International Community will eventually define success in very generous terms in order to minimize the negative political implications of the campaign...”  And Afghanistan, King says, may promote European military integration under NATO, becoming a transnational force that cooperates increasingly and enjoys increasing commonality of professional concepts and practices, notwithstanding the continued importance of sovereignty and national culture. 
David Last, 17 January, 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment