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"The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 34, issue 3, pages 119-157

Winter 2009/10

Author: Jonathan D. Caverley, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2007–2008

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Quarterly Journal: International Security



A capital- and firepower-intensive military doctrine is, in general, poorly suited for combating an insurgency. It is therefore puzzling that democracies, particularly the United States, tenaciously pursue such a suboptimal strategy over long periods of time and in successive conflicts. This tendency poses an empirical challenge to the argument that democracies tend to win the conflicts they enter. This apparently nonstrategic behavior results from a condition of moral hazard owing to the shifting of costs away from the average voter. The voter supports the use of a capital-intensive doctrine in conflicts where its effectiveness is low because the decreased likelihood of winning is outweighed by the lower costs of fighting. This theory better explains the development of the United States' counterinsurgency strategy in Vietnam during Lyndon Johnson's administration compared to the dominant interpretation, which blames the U.S. military's myopic bureaucracy and culture for its counterproductive focus on firepower and conventional warfare.



For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Jonathan D. Caverley. "The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam." International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 2009/10): 119-157.

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