Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
8 June 2021
Review by Gregory H. Winger, University of Cincinnati
Defense Engagement since 1900: Global Lessons in Soft Power
Ed. Greg Kennedy
Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas, 2020. Pp. vi, 312. ISBN 978–0–7006–2948–0.
Descriptors: Volume 2021, 20th Century, 21st Century, Diplomacy Print Version

In the 21st century, the place of military forces in world affairs has expanded beyond fighting wars and defending borders to encompass new missions related to, for instance, cybersecurity, global health, and disaster relief. Success in such arenas hinges not on a military's capacity for violence, but on its proactive engagement with foreign partners to solve problems through cooperation. Such collaborative undertakings have proliferated since the end of the Cold War but date back to the use of defense attachés and foreign military advisors at least since the turn of the twentieth century. To better understand the nature of military diplomacy and glean lessons from its use in the past, military historian Greg Kennedy (King's College London) has assembled an anthology of case studies clarifying the key role of defense engagement in historic events and the lessons to be learned from them.[1]

Taken together, the articles gathered in this collection[2] subject defense engagement itself to rigorous historical analysis intended to create

a synthesis of chronological perspectives, varying national experiences, a wide range of strategic and operational contexts, and a base of "reality" (the historical experience) and practitioner theory (the expectations of current actors) that provides a truly comprehensive and holistic commentary. (1)

The volume's contributors provide a needed corrective to the narrowly compartmentalized scholarship on defense engagement, elevating it from an afterthought to an essential tool of foreign policy.

In 1900, the purview of military attachés was so ill-defined that one early British attaché suggested the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as the best guide for such postings (6). But the nebulous nature of the job and its lack of clearcut institutional power could be a real asset. Enterprising individuals could and did seize on its ambiguities to craft a distinct role that was part diplomat, part intelligence agent, and part professional gadfly. Particularly instructive essays by C.J. Jenner and Kent Kotani on particular military attachés in, respectively Egypt and Sweden in World War II reveal how the right individual in the right place could advance his government's interests in critical ways.

A major contribution of the volume is its highlighting of the crucial role of personal relationships in sustaining partnerships. The significance of such ties to world events has been well documented: those between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt spring to mind. Kennedy and his fellow contributors demonstrate that these dynamics allow not only political elites but government officials to cultivate and leverage personal relationships. As Tyler Bamford puts it in his succinct discussion of the Anglo-American alliance at the onset of World War II:

Despite the close cultural links between Great Britain and the United States, America's neutrality, and its reluctance to make binding commitments made the exchange of military information a politically charged issue for British and American leaders. As a result, building the foundation for an effective military partnership demanded that liaison officers form bonds of trust and mutual respect that facilitated consistent cooperation on a daily basis. The challenges attachés faced provide an important reminder that the formation and sustainment of the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain required a great deal of skill among midlevel officers and diplomats executing directives from heads of state and chiefs of staff. (56)

After World War II, the ability to peacefully influence foreign governments became increasingly central to national security. Essays by Poppy Cullen, Geraint Hughes, and Athol Yates trace the United Kingdom's effective embrace of defense engagement in, respectively, Kenya, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, even amid decolonization and geopolitical transitioning. In each case the military's power to influence outweighed its ability to project force.

Greg Kennedy and his co-authors have significantly advanced our understanding of defense engagement. Their broad case-study approach should serve as a model for future studies of the subject. Defense Engagement since 1900 is filled with detailed historical analyses that improve our grasp of an understudied defense practice cultivated throughout the twentieth century. Given the ongoing growth of cooperative military undertakings, the book should be mandatory reading at military academies around the world and on the must-read lists of officers or officials posted abroad in advisory or liaison roles.

[1] See, too, Kennedy's earlier collection of essays: Imperial Defence: The Old World Order, 1856–1956 (NY: Routledge, 2008). He has also taught at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Joint Services Command and Staff College in Shrivenham, UK.

[2] See table of contents in the PDF version of this review.

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