web site hit counter The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West

Availability: Ready to download

Just a few years ago, people spoke of the US as a hyperpower-a titan stalking the world stage with more relative power than any empire in history. Yet as early as 1993, newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey pointed out that although Western powers had "slain a large dragon" by defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, they now faced a "bewildering variety of poisono Just a few years ago, people spoke of the US as a hyperpower-a titan stalking the world stage with more relative power than any empire in history. Yet as early as 1993, newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey pointed out that although Western powers had "slain a large dragon" by defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, they now faced a "bewildering variety of poisonous snakes." In The Dragons and the Snakes, the eminent soldier-scholar David Kilcullen asks how, and what, opponents of the West have learned during the last quarter-century of conflict. Applying a combination of evolutionary theory and detailed field observation, he explains what happened to the "snakes"-non-state threats including terrorists and guerrillas-and the "dragons"-state-based competitors such as Russia and China. He explores how enemies learn under conditions of conflict, and examines how Western dominance over a very particular, narrowly-defined form of warfare since the Cold War has created a fitness landscape that forces adversaries to adapt in ways that present serious new challenges to America and its allies. Within the world's contemporary conflict zones, Kilcullen argues, state and non-state threats have increasingly come to resemble each other, with states adopting non-state techniques and non-state actors now able to access levels of precision and lethal weapon systems once only available to governments. A counterintuitive look at this new, vastly more complex environment, The Dragons and the Snakes will not only reshape our understanding of the West's enemies' capabilities, but will also show how we can respond given the increasing limits on US power.


Compare

Just a few years ago, people spoke of the US as a hyperpower-a titan stalking the world stage with more relative power than any empire in history. Yet as early as 1993, newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey pointed out that although Western powers had "slain a large dragon" by defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, they now faced a "bewildering variety of poisono Just a few years ago, people spoke of the US as a hyperpower-a titan stalking the world stage with more relative power than any empire in history. Yet as early as 1993, newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey pointed out that although Western powers had "slain a large dragon" by defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, they now faced a "bewildering variety of poisonous snakes." In The Dragons and the Snakes, the eminent soldier-scholar David Kilcullen asks how, and what, opponents of the West have learned during the last quarter-century of conflict. Applying a combination of evolutionary theory and detailed field observation, he explains what happened to the "snakes"-non-state threats including terrorists and guerrillas-and the "dragons"-state-based competitors such as Russia and China. He explores how enemies learn under conditions of conflict, and examines how Western dominance over a very particular, narrowly-defined form of warfare since the Cold War has created a fitness landscape that forces adversaries to adapt in ways that present serious new challenges to America and its allies. Within the world's contemporary conflict zones, Kilcullen argues, state and non-state threats have increasingly come to resemble each other, with states adopting non-state techniques and non-state actors now able to access levels of precision and lethal weapon systems once only available to governments. A counterintuitive look at this new, vastly more complex environment, The Dragons and the Snakes will not only reshape our understanding of the West's enemies' capabilities, but will also show how we can respond given the increasing limits on US power.

30 review for The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The primary national security challenge for the United States in the coming decades will be to manage its relative decline following the brief moment of superpower primacy it enjoyed at the end of the Cold War. To manage a new reality first of all requires a realistic accounting of threats and capabilities. This is something that is surprisingly hard to find as there are great political benefits to exaggerating both. This book is a refreshingly sober and informed overview of the national securit The primary national security challenge for the United States in the coming decades will be to manage its relative decline following the brief moment of superpower primacy it enjoyed at the end of the Cold War. To manage a new reality first of all requires a realistic accounting of threats and capabilities. This is something that is surprisingly hard to find as there are great political benefits to exaggerating both. This book is a refreshingly sober and informed overview of the national security environment that has emerged since the end of the unipolar moment. What makes it especially unique however is that this analysis is done from the perspective of someone who is both a military expert and an anthropologist, applying tools from the latter field to understand the former. It used to be that non-state actors and states fought in ways that were clearly different. Over the past three decades however there has been a convergence. Today states often fight asymmetrically, utilizing stealth, deniability, pinpoint operations and various ambiguously-violent means of shaping the environment as opposed to marching large columns onto a battlefield. Meanwhile militant groups have been adapting many of the tactics and practices of states, learning from fighting the United States and other countries and copying some of their tactics and even aesthetics. In some cases these groups have even overreached by declaring themselves states themselves, as seen in the disastrous example of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Where effective, these changes on both sides have largely come as an adaptive response to a security environment defined by the United States. During the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, local militant groups were forced into a Darwinian battle for survival in which only the fittest and brutal actors survived. Militants who behaved in a way that got themselves killed ended up teaching their surviving comrades a lesson that they'd never forget. The U.S. quickly and effectively wiped out weaker and sometimes more conciliatory actors. But this often meant that the more ruthless, intelligent and capable counterparts could rise in their wake. The violent Darwinian competition imposed by the U.S. military in the theaters that it operates has often been terrible for the local people living there. But it has also forged powerful and adaptive militant groups who have been shaped by their battles with the United States. The most notable extant example at the moment is probably the Afghan Taliban, which has been significantly transformed over 19 years of intense conflict and is now negotiating a peace deal likely to grant it an unprecedented degree of legitimacy. One that I've often admired about analyses of sociological phenomena emanating from military sources is that they often exhibit a degree of precision lacking in other fields. This is because each death that takes place on a battlefield effectively serves as a painful lesson learned. Both armies and militant groups have learned many painful lessons over the past three decades. They’ve been honing their behavior accordingly. Following the Gulf War the United States solidified itself as the master of one particular style of war: direct confrontation with air power and armor. In response its rivals changed their own behavior to ensure that they never faced the U.S. military on turf that was so favorable to it. They have worked to fight on an asymmetric basis instead, moving the battle to terrain where the United States has been weaker like guerrilla insurgency, fighting using proxies, cyber warfare and legal and political measures. In this they have achieved considerable success, as evidenced by a string of strategic defeats suffered by the United States and a visible reduction in its power and influence. This book condenses a lot of analysis of the military fitness and adaptation of Russia, Iran, North Korea and China, as well as non-state groups like al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic State and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Like all of Kilcullen’s work it is refreshingly free of the politics and ideology that too often clouds the analysis that goes out to the general public. As an anthropological work this book leans heavily on biological metaphor to explain human behavior, but does so self-consciously and still nods towards ethical and moral considerations. I think it is useful to think at times about politics and military competition in Darwinian terms. The harsh truth is that humans learn and adapt in response to predatory environments and the experience of pain. So long as the stress that individuals and organizations experience does not take them past a point of collapse, it very often turns out to be constructive and ultimately makes them stronger and more adaptive. As a powerful country the United States has inflicted a lot of harm on its enemies. In doing so it has often wound up making them tougher and more ruthless as a result. But the same evolutionary logic also works in reverse: fighting weaker enemies has also made the United States weaker. If it is to hold onto its relative civilizational primacy in the coming century it will have to rise to the challenge of combating enemies that have been watching, learning and developing means of fighting that are precisely calculated to avoid its strengths and hit it where it is weakest. Doing so will require a flexible method of warfare that keeps others distracted and off-balance, while giving the United States the greatest possible space to develop its own strengths at home. This book is an excellent starting point to think about how one might accomplish that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    Disturbingly brilliant. David Kilcullen, ever the thoughtful observer of wars and the people who wage them, captures the changes in warfare that already confound — and threaten to overwhelm us. He correctly shows that we are mentally and physically unprepared for the new nature of conflict, and will likely pay dearly for it. Stan McChrystal, partner at McChrystal Group David Kilcullen has produced another thoughtful, important book. At a time when some believe that the return of competition with g Disturbingly brilliant. David Kilcullen, ever the thoughtful observer of wars and the people who wage them, captures the changes in warfare that already confound — and threaten to overwhelm us. He correctly shows that we are mentally and physically unprepared for the new nature of conflict, and will likely pay dearly for it. Stan McChrystal, partner at McChrystal Group David Kilcullen has produced another thoughtful, important book. At a time when some believe that the return of competition with great powers (i.e. dragons) might serve as an emotional cathartic to help forget the long war against jihadist terrorist organisations (i.e. snakes), the author exposes and transcends that false choice. His ideas about how to fight for peace in a dangerous world should be read and discussed not only by diplomats, defense officials, and military officers, but also by citizens concerned about securing a better future for their children. H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty and the forthcoming Battlegrounds To absorb Kilcullen’s insights is to be forced to rethink national and international security in this new century and to adjust military and nonmilitary institutions to a host of new realities. Senior policymakers have no choice but to do so. Gary Hart, member of United States Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees An eye-opening look at the state of strategic balance between the United States and its rivals, large and small … The author delivers a detailed and unsettling analysis of how America’s rivals have adapted to the modern strategic landscape — and how they hope to defeat us. Essential reading for anyone concerned with America’s future on the world stage. STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews This book should be read by everyone in uniform. The Times An impressive exposé on how terrorists and non-state actors outmanoeuvre conventional militaries … At the heart of The Dragons and the Snakes is a Darwinian dialectic between the mighty dragons and the snakes that seek to subvert and outflank them … The Dragons and the Snakes is based on a formidable array of military and political sources. Malise Ruthven, The Financial Times Interesting and provocative. The Sunday Times Kilcullen is a welcome guide, offering a neat summation of how both nation-states and terrorist groups alike learned to cope with America's conventional military primacy … Kilcullen's approach offers readers accessible insights into what are complex and dynamic trends. Diplomatic Courier David Kilcullen offers a wide ranging analysis of the strategic environment since 1993 ... compelling. Will Leben, Australian Outlook A dazzling performance ... This is a book that will keep you on your toes. It paints a breathtaking danger-laden picture of a world perennially at war, and of the strange and mesmerising process by which a snake eventually rears up, as fire-filled as a dragon. Peter Craven, The Saturday Paper Kilcullen argues persuasively that while the United States has been mired down in forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our current and potential adversaries have gotten the jump on us. His book offers readers a skilfully annotated road map of contemporary conflict, describing in clear, measured prose how and why the days of American strategic and military preeminence are now behind us. Daily Beast Kilcullen’s The Dragons and the Snakes is a timely invitation for the West to get its strategic house in order with some new thinking. The Bridge An incisive work that has deservedly garnered a great deal of attention and is likely to be of enduring importance in debates about the decline of Western power. RealClearDefense Timely … This book should be essential reading for anyone concerned about America’s future and Australia’s place in the global order it created. Peter Masters, Military Books Australia

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nick Frazier

    Military Adaptation Great read on how societies/militaries take steps to defend themselves but frequently adapt from stress or observations. Without stress, they become complacent and risk being outclassed. Too much stress, and they risk organizational collapse. Take the model and observe how the United States, Russia, and China perceive each other and attempt to adapt.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    A perceptive work that is rather worrying and alarming for our current world. Indeed, the chapter on non-state actors adapting akin to species under threat was fascinating as were the chapters on Sino- Russian moves to adapt and cherry pick the most effective methods employed by non-state actors coming into contact with the 'West'. Incredibly well written and accessible even if there was a fair undercurrent of foreboding with the conclusions made A perceptive work that is rather worrying and alarming for our current world. Indeed, the chapter on non-state actors adapting akin to species under threat was fascinating as were the chapters on Sino- Russian moves to adapt and cherry pick the most effective methods employed by non-state actors coming into contact with the 'West'. Incredibly well written and accessible even if there was a fair undercurrent of foreboding with the conclusions made

  5. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is a superb examination of the disconnect between America’s conception of our own superlative military capabilities and our adversaries’ understanding of how to fight us, not in battle, but in war. The eponymous dragons, Russia and China, while more or less at peace with the West since the end of the Cold War, have themselves been on a war footing and adapting to what they perceived as their pacing threat: the United States and its like-minded allies and partners in Europe and East Asia. At This is a superb examination of the disconnect between America’s conception of our own superlative military capabilities and our adversaries’ understanding of how to fight us, not in battle, but in war. The eponymous dragons, Russia and China, while more or less at peace with the West since the end of the Cold War, have themselves been on a war footing and adapting to what they perceived as their pacing threat: the United States and its like-minded allies and partners in Europe and East Asia. At the same time, the titular snakes, which encompasses failing states, rogue states, and non-state actors, have been in direct confrontation and at war with the West for a quarter-century and learning and adapting along the way. By using the language of IR theory about innovation and adaption and combining it with Darwinian and anthropological terms, Kilcullen provides a helpful study of why our way is failing and how our adversaries are exploiting those failures. First, adaptation and innovation are not the same thing. Adaptation is in direct response to a stimuli, often in wartime, sometimes after a loss, but always because of how an adversary is engaged against you. It is driven by the need to survive in a violent, resource- and time-deprived environment. Innovation is normally a peacetime activity, and is usually grounded in observation of how an adversary is fighting someone else or how they are arrayed against you. It is conceptually driven, and uses the time and space afforded by peace to get out in front of a battlefield challenge. It is not always successful, because unlike adaptation, testing is not always possible before the first shots ring out. Second, Kilcullen’s use of evolutionary terms flows from that differentiation—most notably in how non-state actors approach the West. He looks at social learning—our adversaries observing or suffering failure, learning from it, and spreading the word within and across organizations, thus creating a military culture of sorts; natural selection—successful units learn, unsuccessful units are punished, and weaker states fight and learn on their own battlefields while stronger sides rotates in and out, losing some of that expertise; artificial selection—wherein changing patterns of prey (terrorists, for example) and predators (counter-terrorism forces and concepts, for example), lead to fluctuations and adaptation in the capabilities of the former [killing the leadership of terror groups, for example, culls inexperienced leaders at the start of a conflict who are replaced over “generations” by more savvy, more skilled, more experienced leadership]; and finally institutional adaptation—involving after action reports, lessons learned exercises, and the creation of formal doctrine. Where the West comes into play is how it has sought to combat the snakes with one hand tied behind its back, a physical handicap of which the snakes are aware and plan according. The Western reliance on airpower in battle, combined with tight legal, political, and moral guidelines, provides space for the snakes to operate and weaknesses to exploit. The proliferation of smart consumer electronics has allowed a level of technological connectivity and expertise that at times rivals Western conventional capabilities. These three phenomena reward stealth, dispersion, political and media warfare, and autonomy, to name a few. These patterns are observable across different political, social, and geographical domains; Kilcullen looks at Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Lebanese Hezbollah, specifically. The Dragons, on the other hand, are engaged in something else, but they have spent decades observing how the West has fought the snakes, and have innovated and adapted at different paces throughout the past 30 years. Russia, for instance, has engaged in “liminal warfare”, living close to the threshold of conflict, only crossing it when detection or attribution are challenging, and quickly dropping back below the threshold when observed. In short, Russia—a nuclear-armed state with strong conventional and nonconventional capabilities—is engaging in warfare that border militants would recognize in a different age. A dragon is behaving like a snake. Russia has learned profound lessons from its wars in Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine over the past two decades. Indeed, the conflict in Ukraine is perhaps the most striking window into future warfare present in the world today. How NATO first understands the threat—how Russia seeks to manipulate questions of time, detectability, and attribution—will be critical to confronting it. A conflict with Russia will not be something out of Tom Clancy, but will much more complicated to observe, react to, and win in a time-constrained environment. Russia, it must be said, is exploiting the vertical aspect of conflict, seeking to remain below certain thresholds while acting offensively or kinetically. China, the West’s largest geopolitical challenge of this century, has learned the lessons of the last 30 years differently. Unlike Russia, China has not had venues in which to adapt and learn from failure and success on the battlefield, but it would be a mistake to believe that China is not interested or engaged in conflict with the West (Trotsky, anyone?). China observed the West’s destruction of Saddam Hussein’s military twice in 12 years, and decided that they would not fight the United States in that kind of war. As such, their strategy of building island bases, exploiting new technologies, building robust missile and air forces capable of engaging at long ranges, and of exploiting questions of economics, law, technology, alliance-structures, and information, to name just a few, is stretching the horizontal aspect of conflict to involve areas that the West is unwilling to conceive. Kilcullen calls this “conceptual envelopment.” Thus, to the Chinese Communist Party, winning the leadership position of the U.N.’s standard-setting body for intellectual property was as important as commissioning a new class of warship (and something which the West was fortunately able to stop). Similarly, pouring $60 billion of investment into Pakistan is not just a means to a better economic future, but is an active means of preparing for and engaging in conflict with the United States in the Middle East and with their long-time rival India in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The danger for the West here is that China may be engaging in its own definition of war long before we are aware we are fighting. By the time we do, we may already be losing. This just touches the surface of the many challenges, and fewer opportunities, which Kilcullen lays out. He provides several alternative solutions, ranging from poor to least-bad (by his own concession). But fundamentally he makes an important point about how the West fights. Our strength is not in our way of war, but in our way of battle. Our military capabilities are, as I said at the start, still superb, even if badly in need of improvement to face present and future challenges. Where we fail, and have done so regularly since the fall of the Soviet Union, is in our conception of war as best understood as a Clausewitzian exercise in national interest and political desire. Our failure to align battlefield success with political resolve, diplomacy and development, robust alliance commitments, and informational warfare is understood by our adversaries, who will continue to exploit the gaps. Figuring that problem out, which won’t be easy, is the first step in ensuring that we are up to the present challenge. Neither the dragons nor the snakes are going anywhere, and as they learn from one another and their models of warfare converge, understanding them better will be key. Kilcullen goes a long way in trying to solve that riddle here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    Always insightful writing from David Kilcullen. An easy read with very interesting concepts that are very germane to the current security environment the west find itself operating in.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Scott Simpson

    An engaging and enlightening read from Australia's own warrior-scholar. Typical of his other books, it's the small but significant details which makes this so valuable. His personal connection to the people doing the fighting is on display, as is his access to those in the high seats of power. It's a rare combination. Kilcullen puts three decades of military and political history into an interesting context - we see the USA as the dominant world power, but he argues that they are only dominant in An engaging and enlightening read from Australia's own warrior-scholar. Typical of his other books, it's the small but significant details which makes this so valuable. His personal connection to the people doing the fighting is on display, as is his access to those in the high seats of power. It's a rare combination. Kilcullen puts three decades of military and political history into an interesting context - we see the USA as the dominant world power, but he argues that they are only dominant in a very narrow military space. Adversaries have, either by direct conflict or observation, sought to compete in different spaces, rendering the military advantage less important. The climax of the book is worth waiting for, and underscores the danger of assigning your assumptions to those of your adversary. We are at war, we just don't know it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael Roberson

    This book is a must-read. David does an amazing job of synthesizing the surprising effects of Western battlefield dominance in a book that straddles evolutionary biology and geopolitical strategy. It includes deep dives on Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, as well as shorter case studies on non-state actors. I personally loved the case study on Hezbollah--completely fascinating. The book is really a three-for-one deal: it's a short survey of conflict since the Cold War, it's a primer on the co This book is a must-read. David does an amazing job of synthesizing the surprising effects of Western battlefield dominance in a book that straddles evolutionary biology and geopolitical strategy. It includes deep dives on Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, as well as shorter case studies on non-state actors. I personally loved the case study on Hezbollah--completely fascinating. The book is really a three-for-one deal: it's a short survey of conflict since the Cold War, it's a primer on the competitive landscape for the West, and it's a piece of guidance for forward-looking policy with regard to both the metaphorical "snakes" (smaller, non-state adversaries) and the "dragons" (larger, state adversaries including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea) and with regard to the United States' general military purpose. David recently was kind enough to join my podcast, where we explore the content of the book. After you hear him talk about it, I guarantee you'll want to read the whole thing. Here's the podcast link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast... If you want to understand the geopolitical landscape, definitely check this book out!

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Poole

    Where Kilcullen wrote an excellent analysis on the rise of ISIS in 2014 and 15 this work provides an even more interesting framework understanding state and non-state actors and the changing geo political scene. He intertwines key historical lessons with an understanding of strategy which is amazingly insightful (borderline humourous at points) and unpacks these with ease. Worth a read for both these frameworks, which can be broadened to look at wider society, and for the examination of the idea Where Kilcullen wrote an excellent analysis on the rise of ISIS in 2014 and 15 this work provides an even more interesting framework understanding state and non-state actors and the changing geo political scene. He intertwines key historical lessons with an understanding of strategy which is amazingly insightful (borderline humourous at points) and unpacks these with ease. Worth a read for both these frameworks, which can be broadened to look at wider society, and for the examination of the idea: Just because we see something one way, does it mean it is true?

  10. 5 out of 5

    George Siehl

    This is not your usual look into warfare's dark corners; it is an enlightening but worrisome book. As such, it is important reading for those interested in the nature of competition to the point of conflict among state and non-state global actors. My rating is a very solid 5 stars. Author David Kilcullen, an Australian infantry officer who has served with U. S. forces in recent conflicts, provides several new lenses through which to view the spectrum from international competition to combat. The This is not your usual look into warfare's dark corners; it is an enlightening but worrisome book. As such, it is important reading for those interested in the nature of competition to the point of conflict among state and non-state global actors. My rating is a very solid 5 stars. Author David Kilcullen, an Australian infantry officer who has served with U. S. forces in recent conflicts, provides several new lenses through which to view the spectrum from international competition to combat. The "dragons" of his title refer to the large, technologically advanced national competitors, i.e. Russia and China. The "snakes" include smaller nations, such as Iran and North Korea, as well as the terrorist organizations that have proven venomous in this century. A central theme is how, increasingly, the two entities have co-evolved to resemble one another as a result of their conflicting interactions; terrorist groups have become more technologically proficient, while states have adopted smaller scale, more flexible modes of confronting enemies. Kilcullen draws on a surprising range of disciplines in this informative analysis of the trends he narrates: sociology for the formation and interactions of groups, anthropology for its nuance in understanding boundaries, ecology for its insights of predator-prey relationships, and evolutionary theory as it relates to natural selection and behavioral adaptation. Two of the new lenses presented are elaborated in chapters titled "Liminal Warfare" and "Conceptual Envelopment." The first uses Russia as its focus, the second, China; both present numerous examples of their use by these nations. Boundaries are usually considered to be sharp lines of delineation, but liminal warfare recognizes the frequent presence of ambiguity, of blurring, in a boundary, then proceeds to take advantage of that ambiguity. Kilcullen explains, "Things that are in limbo, transitioning, or on the periphery, that have ambiguous political, legal, and psychological status--or whose very existence is debated--are liminal." In application, "the approach exploits undefined or legally ambiguous spaces and categories--using these as cover for action without retaliation." The author includes as example Russian unauthorized movement across the remote border into Norway to gather information or communicate with friendly parties living there. In military terms, envelopment refers to outflanking or surrounding an enemy. Kilcullen describes how China's us of conceptual envelopment employs the idea beyond the battlefield, but as part of the competition. He defines it as, "a situation in which an adversary's conception of war becomes so much broader than our own " with two dangerous eventualities. "First, that adversary may be acting in ways it considers warlike, while we with our narrower notion of warfare remain blithely unaware of the fact, so that by the time we realize we are at war, we have already lost." A second danger is that we may be doing something we don't consider warlike, but the adversary does, "and responds accordingly." Examples of the first danger include Chinese business efforts to acquire property near sensitive Western military sites, or to acquire interests in operating such sites, in Australia, San Diego, and Scotland. Chinese efforts to secure control of rare earth mineral deposits around the globe could easily have strategic consequences as such elements are crucial to many high technology applications from military equipment to wind towers. This is an important book that informs, but raises concerns about the need for close attention by Western national leaders.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A compelling and insightful argument about modern warfare. Kilcullen, whose book the Accidental Guerrilla I absolutely loved, uses evolutionary theory to explain how non-state actors and states have adapted to an environment defined by US military dominance. This book really starts with the end of the CW and the Gulf War, where American conventional military superiority was demonstrated in a stunning way. This prompted America's various foes and rivals to adapt to this environment in large part A compelling and insightful argument about modern warfare. Kilcullen, whose book the Accidental Guerrilla I absolutely loved, uses evolutionary theory to explain how non-state actors and states have adapted to an environment defined by US military dominance. This book really starts with the end of the CW and the Gulf War, where American conventional military superiority was demonstrated in a stunning way. This prompted America's various foes and rivals to adapt to this environment in large part through convergent evolution; in short, we saw non-state actors and states like RU and CH start gravitating to very similar tools and strategies: information operations, political interference, unconventional/asymmetrical attacks, cyberwarfare, and capabilities (like China's development of anti-carrier missiles) that offset American strengths. These strategies have largely succeeded (more for the state actors than the terrorist groups) in eroding American power, especially as we spent more than a decade hyper-focused on the Middle East and terrorism. The most interesting concept in the book was liminal warfare, which Russia has come to master. This involves using proxies, intelligence operatives, cyberwarfare, and other tools to walk right up to the line, and sometimes briefly over the line, where the other side (AMerica) can detect where the attack is coming from and respond effectively. This is as much a media/information manipulation strategy as a military one, designed to sow confusion and disinformation on the target side while establishing plausible deniability of the offender's guilt. It leads to a global military environment where attacks on other societies may involve very little overt force, as other states don't want to mess with America's overwhelming conventional strength. Kilcullen uses lots of other different and fascinating evolutionary bio concepts to illustrate adaptation and learning in armed groups from small insurgent cells up to nation states. He ends with a fairly convincing argument that the US should move to a "Byzantine" strategy that emulates this highly durable empire's grand strategy. This book is very concept-heavy and not particularly narrative. It is well structured and well written, but I have a limit for reading about weapons systems and force structures and that kind of stuff. It is concise enough that this wasn't really a problem. I also only had one significant disagreement with DK: in the conclusion he argues that the US can copy many of the adaptive strategies of Russia and China. However, this seemed to be an invitation to return to COld War strategies of electoral interference, subterfuge, information ops, and other things we have spent the last few decades trying to distance ourselves from. He also doesn't address the problem of how a democratic society can adopt the tactics of two autocracies. Can the US really do things like undermine the infrastructure of other societies or support separatist partisans? I mean, we have at times in the past, but there's still a problem here to be addressed. Recommended for people looking for a good survey of the modern evolution of warfare as well as ow Russia, China, and non-state groups like AQ have adapted to US military supremacy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

    Every soldier and every person at all interested in national security and strategy should read, not only The Dragons and the Snakes, How the Rest Learned to Fight the West by David Kilcullen, but they should read everything that he writes from his regular contributions to The Australian and his earlier books Accidental Guerrilla, Out of the Mountains, and Blood Year . In his latest book, which has been many years in the writing, Kilcullen posits a thesis that adversaries, especially those that h Every soldier and every person at all interested in national security and strategy should read, not only The Dragons and the Snakes, How the Rest Learned to Fight the West by David Kilcullen, but they should read everything that he writes from his regular contributions to The Australian and his earlier books Accidental Guerrilla, Out of the Mountains, and Blood Year . In his latest book, which has been many years in the writing, Kilcullen posits a thesis that adversaries, especially those that have recently been defeated, adapt their warfare to improve their chance of success in the next battle. This is not a new or revolutionary idea. Whilst reading the book I was reminded of the aphorism of ‘Don’t fight the last war’ and ‘Surfaces and gaps’ from manoeuverist warfare theory. He uses examples from the fall of the Soviet Union through to the present day to support his argument. The title, ‘Dragons and Snakes’ makes reference to a metaphor that former CIA Director James Woolsey described in Senate confirmation hearings in 1993. The ‘Dragons’ are the great power adversaries such as Russia and China and to a lesser extent Iran, Iraq and North Korea. While the snakes are typically non-state actors such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Hezbollah. According to the metaphor, both dragons and snakes are dangerous, but they will do you harm in different ways. Kilcullen describes how the dragons have looked at the US military successes in the 1991 Gulf War and the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and have concluded that they have neither the hardware nor the expertise to defeat the US in a head-to-head battle. On the other hand, they have observed how the US and its’ allies have struggled in warfare where the overmatch in technology is less effective, such as in Afghanistan and during the post 2003 phases of the Iraq War. The key message that I took away is the need to constantly adapt and that counter-intuitively, success doesn’t necessarily breed success, but it can in fact breed failure. Success in this war is punished in the next if the enemy adapts and you fail to adapt. As with all Kilcullen’s work, the clarity and flow of the writing make for easy reading and a ready comprehension of the argument being put forward. He does not shy away from criticism of politicians and political decisions (war is after all an extension of politics) but he has a brilliant capacity to avoid perceptions of partisanship and this is well managed in The Dragons and the Snakes. Even in the bipolar world that we occupy, I challenge anyone to read this and label it ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. David Kilcullen is smart (he did a PhD in anthropology whilst serving as an infantry officer in the Australian Army), he is experienced (he has seen warfare as a participant or observer in Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia amongst others), and he is educated (he applies the historical context to contemporary events). In my view David Kilcullen is emerging as one of the superior thinkers on strategy and warfare in the early 21st century. Very well written, a ‘must read’ in my humble opinion. I give it 5 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tim Gayton

    A thorough and excellent examination of the unclear adversaries currently, facing the west. The collection of alarming, open sourced knowledge that is thoroughly explained through each of these chapters is confronting and compelling. Growing non state and state actors from such traditional threats as Russia and China, are explored in depth, and due to their own previous miscalculations or shortfalls, "Where threats emanated mostly from week or failing states and from non-state actors (snakes) ra A thorough and excellent examination of the unclear adversaries currently, facing the west. The collection of alarming, open sourced knowledge that is thoroughly explained through each of these chapters is confronting and compelling. Growing non state and state actors from such traditional threats as Russia and China, are explored in depth, and due to their own previous miscalculations or shortfalls, "Where threats emanated mostly from week or failing states and from non-state actors (snakes) rather than from capable state adversaries (dragons)," and these actors have learned to adapt and grow in increasing threat. All of this is articulated well by the author applying Darwinian and anthropologic terms, indicating how these varying state and non state actors have evolved, through deceptive tactics and while the west is distracted by weary, inconsequential never ending wars. The authors own lengthy military experience, coupled with his government work, and with connections and networks still sound in both, allows the author the unique position. Not tied directly to either, but with first hand knowledge, really allows the author to provide such in depth, unbiased tactical insights, as well accurate predictions through on the ground knowledge and insight. Overall the understanding that is gained from these chapters is second to none, and provides sound awareness of just how, "The adversary may be acting in ways it considers warlike, while we with our (the West) narrower notion of warfare remain blithely unaware of the fact, so that by the time we realise we are at war, we have already lost." This is a worthy read, and really helps understand the current threats, through analysis and on the ground experience Some stand out highlights, 'While those that exhibited strongly adaptive traits prospered and grew, surviving to pass their ideological and tactical DNA onto the next generation.' 'In Iraq, Abrams tanks worth nine millions dollars apiece were disabled by IED’s, at most, thirty bucks to make.' 'State adversaries took advantage of our tunnel vision on terrorists, and blindsided us with new subversive, hybrid, and clandestine techniques of war.' 'Social learning, along with natural selection, artificial selection, and institutional adaption, is the one of the four key dynamics that we can observe when watching how adaptive enemies adapt' 'Media manipulation – the ability to goad, provoke, or trick and adversary into inflicting disproportionate civilian casualties or property damage, and then exploit such errors through a manipulated media backlash.'

  14. 4 out of 5

    Matias Singers

    "The Dragons and the Snakes" was an easy and enjoyable read on a complex topic spanning the current geopolitical landscape, historical events, and strategy as it relates to military developments of key players (Russia, China, Hezbollah, etc.). It provides a somber and honest look at "the decline of the West" and how to manage this decline from a warfare, strategic, and foreign policy perspective. David Kilcullen takes an evolutionary lens to look at how state players like Russia and China develop "The Dragons and the Snakes" was an easy and enjoyable read on a complex topic spanning the current geopolitical landscape, historical events, and strategy as it relates to military developments of key players (Russia, China, Hezbollah, etc.). It provides a somber and honest look at "the decline of the West" and how to manage this decline from a warfare, strategic, and foreign policy perspective. David Kilcullen takes an evolutionary lens to look at how state players like Russia and China developed and adapted their strategies as they observed the US in various conflicts starting from the Gulf War in 1991. The key argument of the book is that the West has inflicted a lot of harm on its enemies, thereby making them more robust by weeding out weaker elements within. Chapter 4+5 provides a fascinating in-depth look at the vast differences in military strategy and structure across two state players like Russia and China. Kilcullen does a superb job at tracing back through history key events (Kosovo, NATO's bombing of Serbia, and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade) that lead to the military strategies and policies today. Throughout the book, I realized that my prior historical understanding of topics like Hezbollah and "post-Cold War Russia" was very flawed and filled with a significant bias. David Kilcullen ends with a great paragraph: [...] it's entirely possible that none of us actually know what we're doing, that far from having cunningly executed master plans we are all reacting instinctively, often incompetently in the moment—stumbling around in a fog, bumping into things without really understanding each other. This mutual incomprehension is a recipe for miscalculation, and nuclear miscalculation at that.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tomasz Onyszko

    Picked it up from recommendation of a friend who has military background - this field is new to me. This book provides good (at least from my point of view as a new in this field) general overview of how the United States (and West) military doctrine evolved and how it gave a rise to changes in military doctrines of key players (Russia, China) and rise to "snakes" - non-state actors and their tactics. It gave me a different perspective on events of Gulf war and what unfolded later, developments Picked it up from recommendation of a friend who has military background - this field is new to me. This book provides good (at least from my point of view as a new in this field) general overview of how the United States (and West) military doctrine evolved and how it gave a rise to changes in military doctrines of key players (Russia, China) and rise to "snakes" - non-state actors and their tactics. It gave me a different perspective on events of Gulf war and what unfolded later, developments in Russia and China, which I mostly observe through fragments in the news or press. In the light of the facts of last few years this book is really relevant as it explains how the conflict evolved and covers not only pure military field, but also other aspects - information, cyber warfare, economy. It is relevant and resonates with what happened in US over last few years and direction one can observe for US as a country in loosing it key player card and status (slowly). I really liked the last part which deals with "what we can do about it". I also found some analogies from these processes to what is happening in business / IT domain (believe or not). Author style is a bit dry (maybe because of style of military writing) and the book is dense in facts, conclusion and citations. It is not exactly a page turner but it is not boring, if you are looking for a book of information, not a story of fiction.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Luddite

    Precisely the kind of book I enjoy, from a boots-on-the-ground practitioner who now surveys the field of his expertise with a scholar's eye, and renders his narrative with a story-tellers delight. Beginning with evolutionary theories about reactive adaptation to explain the downfall of Western military adventurism in the past quarter century, the author draws in broad sweeps of history to frame his argument, and targets notable pivot points in this decline, such as the bombing of the Chinese Emb Precisely the kind of book I enjoy, from a boots-on-the-ground practitioner who now surveys the field of his expertise with a scholar's eye, and renders his narrative with a story-tellers delight. Beginning with evolutionary theories about reactive adaptation to explain the downfall of Western military adventurism in the past quarter century, the author draws in broad sweeps of history to frame his argument, and targets notable pivot points in this decline, such as the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, or the failed first targeted strike to kill Saddam Hussein and his sons. He seeks to re-define and peg-down the increasingly fuzzy concept of hybrid warfare by delineating for our times his own - that of 'liminal warfare,' whose most inventive practitioners are the Russian and Chinese states. For those of us who matured to deeply suspect the pronouncements of our military and political leaders, and who as professionals are now coping with societies considerably weakened by post-Cold War arrogance and blunderbuss overreach, this is an authoritative analysis crafted with lively prose by a man with a capacious mind. If one is interested in building resilient societies for our children in the age of nuclear and weapons proliferation, economic decline, renewed great power contestation, and pandemics, this book is indispensable salt to the broth.

  17. 5 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    Kilcullen discusses the manner in which Western governments and militaries have become focusses on fighting terrorism, at the expense of other security concerns. Kilcullen argues that the 1991 Gulf War and the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 are the highwater marks, and showed the world how NOT to fight the West. These events showed that any country that stood up to the West in a conventional sense would be obliterated. Other states, therefore, learned from the insurgents and terrorists who suc Kilcullen discusses the manner in which Western governments and militaries have become focusses on fighting terrorism, at the expense of other security concerns. Kilcullen argues that the 1991 Gulf War and the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 are the highwater marks, and showed the world how NOT to fight the West. These events showed that any country that stood up to the West in a conventional sense would be obliterated. Other states, therefore, learned from the insurgents and terrorists who successfully stood up to the West. States like Russia moved into the 'liminal' space of conflict, using techniques learned from insurgents. Russia therefore began to use nonconventional means in the Caucasus, Ukraine, and Syria, while also beginning the use of cyberwarfare. Likewise, China began adopted similar measures, although less aggressively in the case of military intervention. Overall, its an interesting take on how confrontation between the West and Russia especially has evolved through the 2010s.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    David Kilcullen is a former Australian soldier who rose to fame as one of Gen David Petraeus's group of informal advisers on handling the insurgency in Iraq from 2004-2008. Since then he has written numerous books on counter insurgency and evolving trends in guerilla warfare. IN his latest, "The Dragon and the Snakes" Kilcullen is focused on more state actors like Russia and China to see how they adapted their approach to warfare to reflect their lessons from watching the US military over the l David Kilcullen is a former Australian soldier who rose to fame as one of Gen David Petraeus's group of informal advisers on handling the insurgency in Iraq from 2004-2008. Since then he has written numerous books on counter insurgency and evolving trends in guerilla warfare. IN his latest, "The Dragon and the Snakes" Kilcullen is focused on more state actors like Russia and China to see how they adapted their approach to warfare to reflect their lessons from watching the US military over the last 30 years. After the 1991 Gulf War it became obvious that country could stand toe to toe with 7 heavy US divisions and stand a chance of winning. Countries like Russia and China looked at that and saw how the US struggled with low intensity warfare and insurgency and adapted their future military plans to those lessons

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jwduke

    This book is for you if you are familiar with the threats posed by nation state actors. If you understand the terms threat, adversary, competitor, and enemy - for you. If you do not know those terms or are not familiar with nation state actor threats - not for you. If you have interest in this topic but are not familiar - this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the topic. There are several others out there, check out my book shelf. This is an advanced book on complex national and internationa This book is for you if you are familiar with the threats posed by nation state actors. If you understand the terms threat, adversary, competitor, and enemy - for you. If you do not know those terms or are not familiar with nation state actor threats - not for you. If you have interest in this topic but are not familiar - this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the topic. There are several others out there, check out my book shelf. This is an advanced book on complex national and international problem sets. To me, it seems odd to call it advanced because the book is formatted into brief summaries on similar topics, hitting a wide breadth but not going too deep. When the topics do get deep, they are advanced.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kenton

    Kilcullen offers an excellent description of how adversaries co-evolve in context of military tactical and operational improvements. His analysis of both Russia and China as risen powers challenges the wisdom of many conventional Western choices during the emerging period of competition from 2003 (starting with the invasion of Iraq) to the present day. Kilcullen explains in rational and readable argument for a reshaping of Western strategy (perhaps arguing for its establishment) in dealing with Kilcullen offers an excellent description of how adversaries co-evolve in context of military tactical and operational improvements. His analysis of both Russia and China as risen powers challenges the wisdom of many conventional Western choices during the emerging period of competition from 2003 (starting with the invasion of Iraq) to the present day. Kilcullen explains in rational and readable argument for a reshaping of Western strategy (perhaps arguing for its establishment) in dealing with the multi-polar world of today and tomorrow.

  21. 4 out of 5

    James

    A good read, especially the part where it discusses the possibility of rivals to the West having wider definitions of warfare, meaning that they (or indeed we) could be engaging in actions we perceive as below the conflict level that they perceive as being acts of war. I don't entirely agree with the conclusions (or his judgement of the Trump presidency's competence in international affairs), but worth reading for the insights it has. A good read, especially the part where it discusses the possibility of rivals to the West having wider definitions of warfare, meaning that they (or indeed we) could be engaging in actions we perceive as below the conflict level that they perceive as being acts of war. I don't entirely agree with the conclusions (or his judgement of the Trump presidency's competence in international affairs), but worth reading for the insights it has.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Will Atkins

    In 18 years of military service and countless professional military education programs, I have had to read a lot of books on military strategy. This book is, by far, the best I’ve ever read on the topic. It’s a relatively short read, but covers Russia and China (the dragons) as well as terrorism/non-state actors (the snakes). It argues for changes in American defense policy that are both intuitive and genius. Highly recommend for the entire national security enterprise!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robbo

    Great read. 4.5 stars for me. I would have liked to give it 5 stars but a lack of maps showing the places he was talking about was disappointing. Some pictures also of the weapons would have been good - we're not all reading this on internet connected devices. However those gripes aside it was a fascinating read with some very thought provoking insights. Great read. 4.5 stars for me. I would have liked to give it 5 stars but a lack of maps showing the places he was talking about was disappointing. Some pictures also of the weapons would have been good - we're not all reading this on internet connected devices. However those gripes aside it was a fascinating read with some very thought provoking insights.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nick Lucarelli

    A superb look from an ex-military intelligence officer at how state and non-state actors have adapted to each other's methods throughout the course of the 20th and 21st century. David's contention that we will be at war with China within a dew decades is probably an exaggeration, but this is nevertheless a cool read into the ways in which governments vie for power in the global arena A superb look from an ex-military intelligence officer at how state and non-state actors have adapted to each other's methods throughout the course of the 20th and 21st century. David's contention that we will be at war with China within a dew decades is probably an exaggeration, but this is nevertheless a cool read into the ways in which governments vie for power in the global arena

  25. 5 out of 5

    Scuba

    Kilcullen knocks the ball out of the park with his well laid out facts and fascinating insight into how the US's major competitors, Russia and China (as well as our current battlefield adversaries) respond to and evolve in an ongoing survival of the fittest contest. This is an excellent book, well worth the read! Kilcullen knocks the ball out of the park with his well laid out facts and fascinating insight into how the US's major competitors, Russia and China (as well as our current battlefield adversaries) respond to and evolve in an ongoing survival of the fittest contest. This is an excellent book, well worth the read!

  26. 4 out of 5

    William J

    Broad and deep analysis of our current military situation Kilcullen" identifies problems with our current global military/political strategy and offers positive suggestions for change, based on extensive interviews with civilian and military experts. Broad and deep analysis of our current military situation Kilcullen" identifies problems with our current global military/political strategy and offers positive suggestions for change, based on extensive interviews with civilian and military experts.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carl Holmes

    Good Overview Well written by someone who has been in the intelligence community for a time. Could do better with a suggested way forward. Still informative none-the-less.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Thor Toms

    This is the first book of Kilcullen that I have read and it was well worth my time. Solid research and some scary predictions for the future.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert Jr.

    Modern day work on the age-old challenge and response dynamic.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Guillet

    Brilliant ! Will probably start reading all over again soon

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.