Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918-1941

Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918-1941

by Thomas G. Mahnken


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Intelligence operations face the challenging task of predicting the shape of future wars. This task is hindered by their limited ability to warn of peacetime foreign military innovation. Using formerly classified sources—in particular, the reports of military attachés and other diplomat-officers—Thomas G. Mahnken sheds light on the shadowy world of U.S. intelligence-gathering, tracing how America learned of military developments in Japan, Germany, and Great Britain in the period between the two world wars.

The interwar period witnessed both a considerable shift in the balance of power in Europe and Asia and the emergence of new ways of war, such as carrier aviation, amphibious operations, and combined-arms armored warfare. American attempts to follow these developments, Mahnken says, illustrate the problems that intelligence organizations face in their efforts to bridge the gulf between prewar expectations and wartime reality. He finds three reasons for intelligence's relative lack of success: intelligence agencies are more inclined to monitor established weapons systems than to search for new ones; their attention is more likely to focus on technology and doctrine already demonstrated in combat; and they have more success identifying innovation in areas their own country is testing.

Uncovering Ways of War substantially revises the perception of how American intelligence performed prior to World War II. Mahnken challenges the assumption that intelligence regarding foreign militaries had little influence on the development of U.S. weapons and doctrine. Finally, he explains the obstacles these agencies must still negotiate as they seek to understand foreign efforts to exploit the information revolution.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801475740
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 10/15/2009
Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Thomas G. Mahnken is Visiting Scholar at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University. He is coeditor of Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel and The Information Revolution in Military Affairs in Asia.

What People are Saying About This

Roger Dingman

"Uncovering Ways of War presents an important revision of the accepted wisdom about the character, scope, and success or failure of the American intelligence effort in the years between the two world wars. Thomas G. Mahnken makes extensive use of archival materials and thoroughly surveys the historical and theoretical literature to build a solid picture of military intelligence in peacetime."

June 2003 Choice

"Mahnken has written an interesting and provocative book that should be of great interest to historians, military professionals, and policy makers.... This book is a must-read for a broad audience. Highly recommended."

Richard K. Betts

"Correcting expert conventional wisdom, Mahnken shows that in a crucial period military intelligence was not obtuse, not blind to innovation, not useless. This fascinating study offers hope for the future."

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