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What's Behind Limited Military Force?

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
November 16, 2010
The Washington Post

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Micah Zenko guest blogs on Political Bookworm:

When facing with a persistent foreign policy problem requiring a response, civilian officials often turn to the low-cost tool of limited military force. As President Obama's Counterterrorism Czar, John Brennan, noted over the summer: “We will exercise force prudently, recognizing that we often need to use a scalpel, not a hammer.”

However, limited force is rarely as surgical or precise as one would imagine from Hollywood blockbusters or Pentagon YouTube videos. In reality, the intelligence used in targeting sites can be wrong, weapons systems fail, weather interferes, and humans routinely make mistakes.

Furthermore, while limited force is often an effective military tactic, it is a poor substitute for longer-term strategies intended to counter threats from targeted groups or states. Such strategies require political reconciliation, economic development to provide jobs for the unemployed, governance that is both honest and capable, and effective security forces that protects the population.

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