Book Review: Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States


by Mara E. Karlin

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Pp. x, 286. Map, tables, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $75.00. ISBN: 0812249267

Helping Fragile States Defend Themselves

Prof. Karlin (Johns Hopkins), a former Deputy Assistant SecDef, was inspired to write this study after seeing the poor results of American and Allied efforts over the past 18 years to create effective local military forces in Afghanistan and particularly in Iraq.

In this work, Prof. Karlin examines the results of America’s efforts to build effective military systems in three “fragile” states, Greece (1946-1950), Vietnam (1954-1960), and twice in Lebanon (1982-1984, 2004-2008). She concludes that the result was two successes, Greece and Lebanon in 2005-2008, and two failures, in Vietnam and in Lebanon in 1982-1984. Karlin then attempts to elicit from these experiences “what circumstances would make it more likely for these programs to succeed”.

Her conclusions are that “we’re doing it wrong”. Too much emphasis has been places on tactical training and the use of equipment and not enough on key political issues or on the cultural and social roots of military effectiveness. Karlin then outlines some useful measures that may improve the outcomes, particularly given that the United States prefers to make more use of local forces in regional non-conventional conflicts.

This is quite useful, and Karlin’s methodology would be worth extending to examining other examples of efforts to build military forces in fragile states, the Republic of Korea and several African and Latin American nations coming to mind.

Building Militaries in Fragile States is a timely work for those interested in understanding our current series of small wars in fragile sates.


Note: Building Militaries in Fragile States is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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