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How Democracies Lose Small Wars


  • 2 b/w illus. 16 tables
  • Page extent: 310 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.63 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 355.02
  • Dewey version: 21
  • LC Classification: U241 .M47 2003
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Low intensity conflicts (Military science)--France
    • Low intensity conflicts (Military science)--United States
    • Low intensity conflicts (Military science)--Israel
    • Military doctrine--France
    • Military doctrine--United States

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521804035 | ISBN-10: 0521804035)

In this 2003 book, Gil Merom argues that modern democracies fail in insurgency wars because they are unable to find a winning balance between expedient and moral tolerance to the costs of war. Small wars, he argues, are lost at home when a critical minority mass shifts the center of gravity from the battlefield to the market place of ideas. Merom analyzes the role of brutality in counterinsurgency, the historical foundations of moral and expedient opposition to war, and the actions states traditionally took in order to preserve foreign policy autonomy. He then discusses the elements of the process that led to the failure of France in Algeria and Israel in Lebanon. In the conclusion, Merom considers the Vietnam War and the influence failed small wars had on Western war-making and military intervention.

• A critical analysis of the impact of domestic criticism about the war • An explanation of the paradox of ineffective military superiority • A unique historical, theoretical, and comparative account of the foundations of Western military intervention


1. Introduction; 2. Military superiority and victory in small wars: historical observations; 3. The structural original of defiance: the middle-class, the marketplace of ideas, and the normative gap; 4. The structural origins of tenacity: national alignment and compartmentalization; 5. The French war in Algeria: a strategic, political, and economic overview; 6. French instrumental dependence and its consequences; 7. The development of a normative difference in France and its consequences; 8. The French struggle to contain the growth of the normative gap and the rise of the 'democratic agenda'; 9. Political relevance and its consequences in France; 10. The Israeli war in Lebanon: a strategic, political, and economic overview; 11. Israeli instrumental dependence and its consequences; 12. The development of a normative difference in Israel and its consequences; 13. The Israeli struggle to contain the growth of the normative gap and the rise of the 'democratic agenda'; 14. Political relevance and its consequences in Israel.


'Anyone who thinks the recent victories in Afghanistan and Iraq show that America's military machine is invincible should read Gil Merom's terrific new book. It not only reminds us that powerful democracies sometimes lose wars against weaker foes, as happened with the United States in Vietnam and Israel in Lebanon, but it also provides a compelling explanation for these surprising outcomes.' John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago

'This brilliant and unconventional book about the domestic sources of war combines broad historical sweep with sharp analytical insights. As American military power reigns supreme, this book argues that many Western governments are so deeply constrained that even wars that can be militarily won have become politically infeasible. The strength of the weak in international relations derives from a shift in the relations between state and society in the First World rather than the unifying force of nationalism in the Third World. The implications of this far-reaching claim for our understanding of world politics are worth pondering for all students of war and contemporary world politics.' Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University

'Merom's argument is highly timely and his theoretical framework is more developed (both formally and with historical evidence) than that of others who have made a similar argument.' Journal of Peace Research

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