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Abstract

Why are some military organizations capable of executing an operational strategy of maneuver warfare? Conversely, why do other militaries remain wedded to an operational strategy of positional warfare? These questions speak to a larger empirical puzzle that regularly frustrates American policymakers attempting to support the militaries of oversea allies; namely, why do the military forces of developing states so often adhere to defensive positional strategies in the face of highly maneuverable opponents? To explain the relatively mixed battlefield performance of military organizations in the developing world, academics have generally turned to the civil-military pathologies of developing states for answers. Within the strategic studies literature, scholars point to the prevalence of coup-proofing strategies that seek to politicize military organizations in an effort to contain disloyal sentiments and bolster trustworthy elements. Purges of the officer corps, loyalty-based promotions, and limited horizontal communications between commanders can be effective tools for subordinating the military to a political authority but can also severely curtail the military’s capacity for executing complex mobile operations. Nonetheless, explanations that point the finger at mechanisms of military politicization still fail to explain a number of anomalies. Why, for instance, were Chinese Nationalist forces successfully able to implement mobile warfare against invading Japanese armies from 1939-1941 when the ruling Guomindang government had already politicized its military through the use of coup-proofing strategies? Additionally, if military politicization explains the eventual trend towards defensive positional warfare amongst Nationalist armies, then why did Chinese Communist forces under the command of equally politicized party cadres manage to sustain mobile military operations for over a decade from 1937-1948? And why did U.S.-led efforts at reforming and de-politicizing the armed forces of the Guomindang fail to coincide with any noticeable pivot towards the strategies of maneuver warfare that said reforms were supposed to facilitate? The answer to these empirical anomalies, I argue, lies in an understudied relationship between the development of a state’s infrastructural capacity – i.e. the capacity to enforce the state’s dictums of taxing and regulating society – through the process of state-building and the amount of logistical support that military organizations can readily draw upon. Put simply, the method by which a developing state can mobilize and distribute war-time resources influences whether military organizations can meet the heavy logistical demands of executing a maneuver-based operational strategy or if militaries must settle for a less logistically demanding strategy of hardening existing assets through the use of fortified strongpoint positions.

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