Economics of Warfare 10

Examining the tenth lecture from Professor Michael Spagat’s Economics of Warfare course that he gives at Royal Holloway University. It is posted on his blog Wars, Numbers and Human Losses at:

This lecture starts with a discussion of coups and assassinations, specifically focusing on a study of “CIA-supported coups.” There are five of them: Iran (1953), Chile (1973), Guatemala (1954), Congo (DRC) (1960) and Cuba (1961). All of these are over 40 years ago.  The chart on page 4, listing some of our nefarious operations is worth a glance. I find it curious that “Project Camelot” is listed, which was simply a research project done being done by the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) that got bad press. A timeline for the five coups are provided on slide 6. Of course, being economists, they tie all these events to stock prices. Still, it is worth looking at slide 8, discussing some points related to the Guatemala coup, as is the following slide, listing expropriated companies. They then look at the effects of secret coup authorizations on stock returns (hey, I thought they were secret !!!). The kicker is slide 16 “The results suggest that US foreign policy was operating as a tool of a handful of private companies and the individuals involved were profiteering off their influence on the US government.” Having never really analyzed this issue myself, I am hesitant to comment on it.

On slide 17 they switch to a study on assassinations. On slide 19 it is stated they came up with 298 assassination attempts since 1875 (to 2002) of which 59 were successful and 47 were not “serious attempts.” So, 23.5% of serious attempts succeed? How many times did they try to assassinate French president Charles De Gualle? Oh, and 55% of them were done by gun, 31% by explosive device (slide 20). Guns succeeded 31% of time, while explosive devices only succeeded 7% of the time. The “other category,” which apparently includes “stoning” succeeded 44% of the time! Slide 23 provides assassination attempts (and successes) over time, with World War II (1939-1945) being a particularly peaceful period of time (as far as assassinations go). The presentation then goes into a long discussion on the impact of assassinations on war, with their conclusions presented on slide 33. Basically it is 1) “There is some evidence that having a successful assassination attempt rather than a failed one increase the probability that an intense war will end.” and 2) “There is evidence that having a successful assassination attempt rather than a failed one increases the probability that a moderate war will turn into an intense war.” So….might work for you, might work against you?

In my book America’s Modern Wars, we do briefly discuss decapitating insurgencies (page 151-153). We also did not come up with a clear answer. We only had about dozen cases to look at, and of the four we examined in depth, in all cases the insurgency still won. Our conclusions were (page 153): “Now this is not to say we should not go after insurgent leadership when we have the chance. We obviously should. But, it is to stress that you should be careful about giving ‘decapitation’ too much importance as a strategic answer to your counterinsurgent problem.” and “Still, if you have the means to try decapitation, it is important to do so in such a way that you do not kill civilians or give them propaganda tools that they can use. In the end, if you are losing the propaganda war while you are trying to decapitate, then you are working against yourself.”  

The link to the lecture is here:

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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