Catch the recent “Politics, Power, and Preventative Action” podcast interview with RTJ founder Mark Mateski.

Military Innovation (or the Lack Thereof)

I have been looking forward to Dima Adamsky’s The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the United States, and Israel (very wordy title) for a while, so I was very excited when Stanford University Press sent me a review copy (I suppose I should note as a full disclosure that I regularly receive review copies from them as well as other publishers, free of charge). I have followed Adamsky’s work on the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and operational theory generally and have been eagerly awaiting his summary of how the RMA (or, the Military-Technical Revolution in Russia) concept diffused through three military cultures.
      Adamsky’s book does not disappoint. It synthesizes an impressive array of primary source literature as well as fifteen years worth of research by various thinkers in the fields of strategic culture and defense innovation. The book attempts to answer the question of how cultural factors influence military innovation, using the RMA as a case study. Adamsky’s argument is that a combination of strategic culture, institutions, and a loose “cognitive style” put together determine how nations receive and implement strategic concepts. On its surface, this seems rather banal (especially given the weight of strategic diffusion research), but Adamsky develops this argument through a rigorous comparative case study.
      The real strength in his case study, however, is examining how the aggregation of factors produced vastly different RMAs. The Soviet Union’s General Staff functioned as an institution capable of generating innovative and futuristic concepts–out of proportion to the sclerotic Red Empire’s ability to actually implement them on the battlefield. The United States attempted to use the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) as a similar body but it lacked the central coordinating power, and RMA-oriented concepts instead were driven by technology. Israel, in turn, with a defense structure heavily oriented towards improvisation, ended up getting a confusing concept of operations that even IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz did not understand.
      The book’s weakness, however, lies in the integration of cognitive and epistemological factors with the more familiar discipline of strategic culture. Adamsky’s discussion of “high context” and “low context” cultures and cognitive style is fascinating but underdeveloped. Perhaps this is the “final frontier” for strategic culture as well–how best to integrate cognitive factors into the familiar anthropological, organizational, political, and material combination often seen in discussions of strategic culture and military innovation.
      What the book suggests for the future is that what we may have not seen the last of the RMA concept. In an era when defense discussion focuses heavily on varying forms of irregular warfare, Adamsky suggests that the issues raised by the RMA–the radical conventional extension of the battlefield inherent in Air-Land Battle, Follow-on-Forces Approach and the Soviet Reconnaissance Strike Complex constitute an emerging issue that has still not satisfactorily been addressed in defense theory.