Cover image for Dragonwars : armed struggle & the conventions of modern war
Dragonwars : armed struggle & the conventions of modern war
Bell, J. Bowyer, 1931-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Transaction Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
xviii, 455 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library U240 .B44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



For centuries international order has been troubled by small wars, insurrections, and revolts--low intensity conflicts. With the implosion of the Soviet empire many thought such violence could be eradicated through the growth of democracy, open societies, and increased productivity and education. Instead the world remains filled with turmoil, pogroms, famine, civil war, rebellion, and terror, often instigated by armed and dangerous zealots. To Americans such killers seem alien and inexplicable, fanatics without reason, beyond the reach of conventional containment or retaliation. J. Bowyer Bell here explores the psychological and strategic ecosystems (which he terms dragon worlds) of modern political violence and suggests how America might effectively deal with it.

Dragonwars combines analysis with historical examples drawn from America's involvement with armed struggle in Lebanon, Central Am-erica, Greece, and Vietnam. In each instance, Bell argues, American policy was flawed by lack of empathy and historical understanding combined with a belief that failure could be traced to mistakes in details and procedures. The break up of the old bipolar U.S.-Soviet confrontation released suppressed ambitions, tribal greed, and greater flexibility for the small player. With new technologies of terror, zones of security will become smaller, since open societies present attractive targets for zealots. Bell rejects the notion that massive force can effect a swift and final result. Instead, a new type of warrior will be required; one versed in history and empathetic to the belief-systems of the dragonworlds in which they are deployed.

Bell acknowledges that his proposals run counter to American belief and practice, but argues that in the face of insoluble conflicts, incremental advantages, through limited altered global arena, Dragonwars will prove an indispensable guide for policymakers, military planners, historians, and political scientists.

Author Notes

J. Bowyer Bell (1931-2003) was professor of international relations at Columbia University and president of International Analysis Center. He focused on problems of unconventional law, terrorism, deception, and crisis management. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and recipient of more than seven Guggenheim Fellowships. Bell's consultancy firm, The International Analysis Centre, which he founded, focused on problems of terrorism, deception, risk analysis, and crisis management and had many governmental clients including the United States Department of the State and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In this engaging and unconventional book, Bell declares that dragonwars are a growth area. That is not good news. For Bell, the dragonworld is the underground. The wars that take place in this world are not the "proper wars" the US military would prefer to plan for, but they are everything else: dirty little wars, revolution, civil war, insurrection, insurgency, rebellion, subversion, revolt, national liberation campaigns, tribalism, banditry, terrorism, pogroms, and chaos. In the past, these problems have been characterized, though inadequately and incompletely, as low-intensity conflicts. American military planners have not responded well to the challenges of unconventional conflict. Bell examines the revolutionary ecosystems--"the design and determinants"--of this underground, the faiths that motivate its protagonists, the dynamics of the struggles between orthodox centers and irregular challengers, the ineffectiveness of conventional responses to unconventional challenges, and the obstacles to effective response posed by the American way of war. In the end, Bell counsels greater reliance on America's own irregular, unconventional warriors and acceptance of the limits of orthodoxy. Those in search of compelling strategic advice will, however, be disappointed. For professionals and practitioners. A. L. Ross; Naval War College

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