Review: Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine

Review: Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine

The concept of command, as a way to decide on strategies to achieve objectives, or as an assertion of authority, has been essential to military action and leadership. Sir Lawrence Freedman pursues that proposition and shows how it is also deeply political.

This book was largely written during the enforced solitude of the Covid pandemic. It is all the more remarkable (at 590 pages) as the author, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College, London is “supposedly retired”.

Military command has been reconstructed and revolutionised since the Second World War by the enduring threat of nuclear warfare, conventional war, small-scale guerrilla land operations and increasingly cyber interference.

Sir Lawrence takes a global perspective, systematically investigating the business of ‘command’ and politics since 1945 through a wide range of conflicts from the French Colonial Wars, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bangladesh Liberation War to North Vietnam’s Easter Offensive of 1972, the Falklands War (for which Sir Lawrence was the official historian), the Iraq War and Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Ukraine.

The political nature of command and related strategy, in this analysis, results in military decision-making that cannot be separated from civilian priorities and that commanders must now have the sensibility to navigate politics as well as warfare.

The book concludes with a reflection on the future of command in a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technologies, such as artificial intelligence. The lesson from the study is not that civilians and military must stick to their own spheres of influence, and stay away from the other’s area, but that they must engage constantly with each other.

This is an insightful history of the changing nature of command in the postwar era, and it is most likely to stand as the definitive account of a foundational concept in both military affairs and politics.

Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine by Sir Lawrence Freedman, Richard Burnip

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