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Engaging Ideas

Military Power?

The use of military force in the 21st Century

This Engaging Idea explores whether traditional views and classical thinking about the use of military power remain relevant in today's technologically advanced, interconnected global environment.


photo of Lewis K. Griffith Lewis K. Griffith holds a PhD in International Studies from Graduate School of International Studies (now the Korbel School), University of Denver. Specializing in the area of security studies, Dr. Griffith has done independent research and consulting in the areas of the utility of force, weapons proliferation, humanitarian intervention, classroom simulation and exercise, and the implications of globalization on the state security policies of non-Western states.

He joined the faculty at Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) in 2003 where he served as a Course Director for the Strategy and Warfare Course and the Inter/National Security Course before being named the Department Chair of the Joint Warfighting Department where he oversaw three core ACSC courses, three planning exercises/war-games, a number of external exchange programs, and 30+ faculty/staff. Also at ACSC, Dr. Griffith taught the War on Terror research elective and was the all school lecturer on globalization, terrorism, economics and national security, nuclear deterrence, stability and reconstruction operations as well as the role of the Geographic Combatant Commander.

In the fall of 2010, Lewis joined the faculty of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver where he teaches across the security curriculum at both the graduate and undergraduate levels and serves as the Director of the International Security Program as well as the faculty supervisor for the CENEX project. In addition, Dr. Griffith currently serves as the Speaker and Events Chair and Board Member of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations

More on the Subject

Questions for personal reflection or group discussion

  1. At its core, the utility of force debate is about norms and ideas with those arguing that war retains its utility seeing war and the use of political violence continuing as an acceptable vehicle to achieve national security objectives; and those arguing that war has lost its utility, pointing to fundamental changes in norms and acceptance of violence as brakes on what societies will do in the name of national security. Which argument do you think describes the US currently? China? Russia? What explains any differences and what does that imply about causes?
  2. One key element of the debate about the utility of force comes down to what the public, particularly democracies, will fight and die for. What issues can you personally see justifying mass mobilization and traditional war? Why those or why none?
  3. The last categorically big normal regular conventional war the US fought was the 90-91 Gulf War (and that was a UN collective security effort), but clearly there has been no shortage of us military operations since. One way this debate plays out in the real world is how and to what level the US military (or any other military) is organized, trained and equipped. Should the US military accept the new realities and put more emphasis on intra-state, peace enforcement, and irregular operations or does the massive US conventional military (and military advantage) still have value in itself?
  4. The utility of force debate in a US context stems from the perception that the US either misunderstood how or how much military force to use in Afghanistan and Iraq or that military force could not have achieved the desired results without using methods unacceptable to the public. What is your take on the Iraq and Afghanistan efforts and how do they fit in the utility of force debate we are discussing here?

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