I struggled with this, because most of my reading these days has not been too general but rather focused on things like Afghanistan, civil-military relations and the like. But I do have some ideas, including resisting some temptations.
One is tempted to say Thomas Schelling's Strategy of Conflict (see this list). The problem is that the abstract notion of bargaining between countries tends to lead to exaggerated senses of how responsive countries are to signalling, as compared to how responsive they are to domestic politics. I really do find this book to be most useful, but I would recommend instead Kelly Greenhill's Weapons of Mass Migration. I think this book is important and interest for several reasons:
- First, as we are seeing with Libya, countries may be more responsive to conflicts when there is a significant threat of producing refugees. This is not the first time, nor is it the last. And with the strengthening of anti-immigration forces around the world, it is important to understand these kinds of dynamics.
- Second, and more importantly, what Greenhill depicts in her book is the international equivalent of insurgency. The bad guys (Milosevic, etc) have realized that the democracies of the world do not like refugees but have values that make it hard to deal with them. So, creating migration crises is a weapon of the weak to use against the strong. Thus, this book is useful for explaining to leaders of advanced democracies how their potential adversaries are clever, how they fight an asymmetric conflict, and the traps that are out there for the big democracies. I simply see this kind of problem happening again and again, as weaker countries will not submit easily but instead convert their strong resolve into imaginative strategies that make it hard for the strong and the pure (relatively) to impose their will.
- It clearly teaches the consequences of arrogance. The book is chock full of tales of people who thought they knew so much making dramatic and tragic mistakes.
- It shows how complex the aftermath of a major military effort can be--far more complex than the battle itself. In the book, each chapter is dedicated to a different element of the effort (water, power, markets, education, etc). It would give an aspiring leader pause before dropping bombs somewhere, as the next steps are the most important and difficult ones.
What do my readers suggest?