WAR: Controlling Escalation by Richard Smoke

WAR: Controlling Escalation

Email this review


The notion of a ""limited war"" has been around for a while; Henry Kissinger, for one, got a lot of mileage out of it. But how to keep a limited war limited is the question--to which Smoke gives no clear answer. First he arrives at a properly ""operational,"" barely penetrable definition of escalation--""an action that crosses a saliency which defines the current limits of a war, and that occurs in a context where the actor cannot know the full consequences of his action, including particularly how his action and the opponent's potential reaction(s) may interact to generate a situation likely to induce new actions that will cross still more saliencies."" Next, Smoke investigates five historical cases of previous wars; the Spanish Civil War, the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars, the Crimean War, and the Seven Years' War. This is the book's most interesting section, as Smoke reconstructs the multi-faceted aspects of strategic decision-making at every step, but he has relatively few generalizations to draw beyond the rather trivial observation that the ""framework of conflicts"" counts--i.e., tacit agreements between belligerents, short-term and latent military objectives, relative strengths, etc. -- and that ""analysts"" have to figure out the framework for any particular conflict. In other words, despite the scientific jargon, Smoke is unable to provide a positive theory of escalation, and fails back on an ""evidence suggests"" type of argument, which leaves the problem of escalation at a dangerously ad hoc level.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1978
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press